An engine doesn't necessarily make a car, but it can certainly give it swagger.
Take the Nissan Sentra for example. Earlier this summer, I tested the Sentra and mostly liked it. But, when Nissan mentioned shoving the Juke's turbocharged engine under the hood, stiffening the suspension, quickening the steering, and sporting out its exterior, I was ready for a drive. At the recent Rogue and Rogue Hybrid preview in Georgia, I had my chance.
Let's just get to the heart of the matter. Driving the Sentra SR Turbo is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 188 horsepower 64 horsepower more than the normally-aspirated 1.8-liter engine in the "regular" Sentra. A robust 177 lb.-ft. of torque gives the car scoot off the line. Both six-speed manual and Xtronic continuously-variable transmissions are available. Rev it, listen to it sing and drop it down the road!
Engineers went to town on the chassis and handling, too. Like other Sentras, the SR Turbo rides on an independent front, torsion beam rear suspension system. It's not complicated, but it's been firmed and finessed with revised steering and suspension tuning for strafing backroads. Larger front brake discs bring the car to a halt quicker. Look deeper, and you'll find a stiffer body structure better suited for handling the stiffer underpinnings. It's a more mature design, ready for a more mature driver.
The first clues you get to this more invigorating Sentra come from a quick glance. Look for standard LED low beam projector headlights with LED accents and LED turn signals. Accentuated lower body sills, fog lights, rear spoiler with LED brake light, and chrome exhaust tip continue the sporty vibe. Place it all over 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with all-season tires.
Moving inside, the SR Turbo reflects its athletic nature and a more luxurious side. Buyers get premium sport cloth seats ( leather optional ), heated front seats, and faux-carbon fiber dash trim. A soft-touch instrument panel and armrests keep hard plastic in the background. Push button ignition, adds convenience. Throw on the tech with a rear camera, Siri Eyes Free, and available safety tech that includes Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Bose premium audio.
But, on those two-lane backroads in East Georgia, it wasn't the Bose audio system or suite of safety equipment that impressed my co-driver and I. We could have driven an SR Turbo with the continuously-variable transmission, but we chose the six-speed manual instead. A light clutch and click-throw shifter encourage shenanigans. Rev it, drop the clutch, and hone in on the next corner where the suspension is ready to grab it by the scruff. OK, this is still a tall and narrow compact, but it delivers substantial fun. And when my co-driver accidentally took aim at a fence post, she was just as quick to avoid it with the Sentra SR Turbo's reflexes.
I like the idea of a car that can take you to work or school and back, run errands, fit down tight city streets, sip fuel, and still retain a fair amount of driving pleasure for those quick shoots coming and going or on weekend fun runs. During the drive, my friend and I were guessing the price tag. She guessed $28,000; I pegged it closer to $25,000. We were wrong. It starts at $21,990for either transmission. At that price, Nissan better make 'em like Doritos because that's a really good deal. Competitors include the Chevy Cruze RS, Subaru Impreza Sport, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra Sport, and VW GTI.
2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo
Five-passenger, FWD sedan
Powertrain: 184 hp 1.6-liter Turbo-4, six-speed manual trans Suspension f/r: Ind/Torsion beam
Wheels f/r: 17"/17" alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Performance
Fuel economy: 23/36 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Aguascalientes, Mexico
Base price: $21,990
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