The Middle Child: 2015 Nissan Sentra

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Nissan Sentra
The 2015 Nissan Sentra.

Nestled between the small Nissan Versa and the midsize Nissan Altima is the Nissan Sentra.  Park them next to each other and stand back 20 feet and you might have trouble telling which is which.  The family resemblance is that strong.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Nissan Sentra
2015 Nissan Sentra.
All three are strong enough sellers.  The Altima is the #4 car in America year-to-date, the Sentra #11 and the Versa #16.  But the gap between the Altima's sales and the Sentra's is more than double that between the Sentra and the Versa.  Toyota is able to group its Camry and Corolla as a one-two punch at the top of the sales chart (the baby Yaris trails at #75) and Honda is selling the Accord and Civic at levels that get them #3 and #5 respectively (the Fit is #41).

Short version:  Why isn't the Sentra up there with the Altima?  Looking at the Versa-Yaris-Fit numbers,it could be argued that the Versa is taking sales away from the Sentra.  And the Altima might be too. A loaded Versa is almost as nice as a Sentra, performs almost as well (it has 21 fewer horsepower, but it's also lighter) and there's not a lot of difference between the Versa's EPA fuel economy estimate of 31 city/40 highway and the Sentra's 29/39. Nor, if you can afford the leap in base price, do you give up much by going for the Altima (27/38) and its 52-horsepower advantage over the Sentra.

Interior view of 2015 Nissan Sentra
2015 Nissan Sentra interior.
The model we tested for a week was the second from the top-of-the-line, the SR. It comes with Bluetooth, cruise control, smart key and pushbutton ignition, NissanConnect with a 5-inch color display, 17-inch sport alloy wheels, and heated premium sport cloth seats for a base price of $19,910.

Ours also had the $2,200 Premium Package (leather-appointed seats, power glass moonroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink and a Bose 8-speaker audio system) as well as the $725 Navigation Package (including voice recognition and SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link) plus $180 worth of carpeted trunk and floor mats.  With $825 destination charges, the as-tested price was $23,945---well above what any Versa will cost no matter how liberally you check the option boxes, but only $775 less than the second-from-the-top four-cylinder Altima, the SV, which gets you everything in our Sentra except leather and the Bose audio system.  And that $775 would be hard to notice spread out over a 60-month-plus car loan.

The Sentra is a nice car, especially equipped like the one we drove.  But it's not different enough from its big or its little sibling to allow it to sell the way it could.