New Millenium 510? The 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
The 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO.
Half a century ago---Lord help us---Datsun (the marketing name for Nissan in North America at the time) set the economy car world on its ear with the 1968 Datsun 510 sedan.   When a simple economy four-door would have done, Nissan sweated the details, focused on suspension bits and handling and came up with a car that was a budget alternative to BMW's 2002.

Rear 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO.
Nissan pretty much lost the plot after the original 510's run ended in 1973, allowing its successors to be simple economy four-doors.  But now, they're putting some new-wave magic into the Sentra with a NISMO version.  NISMO is Nissan's in-house performance division, and some very good stuff has made its way into the 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO.

The best of those is the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.  It replaces the 1.8-liter normally-aspirated four in the Sentra SR, and that makes a huge difference in power.  The 1.8 makes 124 horsepower, the 1.6 turbo makes 188.  And in a car this size and weight, an extra 64 horsepower doesn't go unnoticed.  Yes, there's a fuel economy penalty (29 city/39 highway becomes 25 and 31, respectively), but you're not buying a NISMO for fuel economy.  And 25/31 is very respectable for the power you're getting.  This little sedan flies. And it has the handling and braking to go with.

Interior view of 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO interior.
And you're getting a lot more for your $24,990 base price.  There's also a six-speed manual (you can get a CVT, but why?), 18-inch NISMO alloy wheels, NISMO-tuned suspension and steering,  tons of unique NISMO styling touches, a leather shift knob, an Alcantara and leather-wrapped steeering wheel, air conditioning, a six-way adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a six-speaker audio system, rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio and Siri Eyes Free text messaging.

$24,990 is well below the average price of a new car these days, and the Nissan Sentra NISMO is well above the average small sedan.  It's also $8,460 below the base price of the entry-level BMW 320i (and good luck finding one of those with zero options)...whose 7.1-second zero-to-60 time is only two-tenths of a second quicker than the Sentra NISMO.

In many ways, this is an echo of the autumn of 1967.  Only time will tell if the 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO becomes our era's Datsun 510.