The 2017 Sentra SR Turbo kicks up the performance level by about 64 clicks, Nissan likes to say. With its new turbocharged and direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, the SR Turbo has 64 horsepower more than the standard Sentra SR with its non-turbocharged 124-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder.
Nissan has grown its compact Sentra sedan into a classy economy car, which is the company’s second-best-selling sedan behind the Altima. And it is No. 3 in the brand’s overall sales, slotting between the Rogue and Murano crossovers. So another flavor of Sentra on the dealership lot could be a purchase incentive. The SR Turbo joins the just-revealed Sentra NISMO model, along with four other trim levels.
Sentra starting prices begin at $17,855 for the entry S model with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Add the continuously variable Xtronic transmission for $1,000. The midrange SV, SR and SL trim levels, also with the non-turbo 1.8-liter engine and CVT, have starting prices of $19,655 to $23,365. All pricing includes the $865 freight charge from Aguascalientes, Mexico.
The front-wheel drive SR Turbo and Sentra NISMO have a six-speed manual transmission or a no-cost option for the Xtronic CVT. The NISMO model starts at $25,855. The SR Turbo tester with six-speed seemed to be a good value at $23,095, with one option for carpeted floor mats and a trunk liner for $200.
The SR Turbo treatment includes larger front disc brakes (11.7-inch vented rotors; same as on the NISMO model) with an Active Understeer Control system to give more of a rear-wheel drive balance. There also are stiffer front springs, and there is specific front and rear damper tuning to go with the 17-inch wheels and tires. Body rigidity was enhanced by such tricks as a thicker front cowl and a new steering gear mount.
I like the engineering and layout of the Sentra, but the SR Turbo’s exterior styling is still too polite and mature to call out its sporty intentions. The body looks big for its 17-inch wheels (like the little brother wearing big brother’s coat), but the cabin is very quiet. It has a perky performance without penalty.
The clutch is light and easily slots the gears, but it has no hill holder. Manuals today are easy to get the hang of, but a hill holder — an ABS action that brakes the car for a few seconds on takeoff — is just a humane feature for any level of driver.
The 188-horsepower turbocharged and direct-injection 1.6-liter engine has eager force, though it won’t slap a grin on your face until you stab a downshift and torture the tires on a looping exit ramp. The engine revs high, but there’s no buzz or wail in the cabin.
The 177 foot-pounds of torque has a low and flat peak from 1,600 to 5,200 rpm, which gives good pull all the way to fifth gear, though you will be clutching frequently to stay in the power band. First gear is quite low. In routine traffic I would skip-shift from first to third and fifth. Sport mode was my preferred domain.
Fuel economy is a priority over performance with EPA mileage ratings of 26 mpg city, 32 highway and 28 mpg combined for the manual. I was averaging 33.1 to 34 mpg using the recommended premium fuel. The CVT has ratings of 27/33/29 mpg.
Other Turbo upgrades include LED low-beam projector headlights with LED accents, lower body side sill extensions, rear spoiler with LED brake lights, fog lights, chrome exhaust tip and heated side mirrors with LED turn signals. Interior modifications include premium sport cloth seats, driver seatback pocket and heated front seats.
While the standard equipment list is long, the Premium package, which costs $2,590, adds up-level extras. Among them are some advanced safety technologies (blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert). And there are some commuter essentials, including NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps and a 5.8-inch color touchscreen display. The package also includes amenities such as a power moonroof, illuminated vanity mirrors, an auto-dimming inside mirror with HomeLink garage-gate opener, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, leather-trimmed seats and a six-way power driver seat with lumbar.
The interior seems larger than a compact, and the SR Turbo cabin is premium in materials with a budget runabout. The fabric upholstery is attractive and appears durable with sturdy blue stitching and straight seams. It is so much better than a low-grade leather-trimmed option.
There is subtle use of Piano Black and metallic trim, and all of the plastics used throughout are of good quality. (Manufacturers sometimes use a cheaper grade of plastic in lower interior areas that are less visible and suffer more scuffing.)
The modestly bolstered sport seats are supportive but without backside binding on entry and exit. The driver has clear sightlines and controls. Switches and a 5-inch display are arranged for a quick assessment to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
Contemporary touches for on-the-go access include smartkey locking and push-button ignition, a phone slot with a 12-volt plug (aka ashtray in global markets) and a USB and audio input in the little armrest console. Large visors with extenders have a big nonlighted mirror.
The back seat and trunk are generously proportioned. Even with a tall driver, there is generous back-seat legroom (37.4 inches), a low center tunnel for more three-across footroom and a comfortable seatback angle. The seat cushion is almost adult-class in thigh support.
Back-seat amenities include a pull-down armrest with cup holders, bottle storage in the doors, grab handles, seatback pockets and an overhead light.
Truck space is overachieving with 15.1 cubic feet of capacity, which is expandable by the 60/40 folding back seat.
The Sentra SR Turbo is an ideal car for a gainfully employed young driver who wants a more premium experience than just a roomy econobox with all the social connections and distractions. It is sporty but not sport-intensive, such as the more specialized NISMO model. But the manual transmission is an anti-theft device for millennials — few young people today know how to drive a stick. How smart of Nissan to make the CVT a no-cost choice.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage