First Drive: 2013 Nissan Sentra - Totally New and Totally Improved

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Nissan wants to be your sedan destination and part of that, a big part, is its launch of the seventh-generation Sentra.

The compact segment is now second in total vehicles sales overall, growing to more than 2 million units per year with much of the competition already launching new units or rolling them out soon. Nissan has sold more than 4.3 million Sentras over the past 30 years and Sentra is a solid Global marque for the brand.

The 2013 Sentra arrives as the third of five totally made over models from Nissan and like the Altima and Pathfinder before it, Sentra rolls in with new features, and is roomier, more efficient, and lighter while featuring the new design language of the automaker.

What this means for Sentra is an all-new CVT gearbox, shedding 150 lbs., significantly improving drag coefficient (.29 versus .34 previously), more rear seat legroom, more trunk space, and 13 percent better fuel economy.

At the heart of the new Sentra is an all-new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine generating 130hp and 128 lb. ft. of torque back by six-speed manual gearbox or next-generation CVT with wider gear ratio, lower weight, and reduced friction. All of this adds up to some 30 mpg city and 39 mpg highway (40 mpg with the FE+ model).

All new Sentras offer three drive modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport – that alter throttle response and transmission tuning. Eco mode also reduces AC draw on the engine.

One look at the competition tells the tale that designers are brought into the fold more and more for the segment as the days of the econobox are gone as customers demand style with their value. The new Sentra mimics big brother Altima in many ways and features modern styling cues including lower roofline, revised beltline, and LED lighting front and rear.

Interior design echoes the attention given the outside of the new Sentra bringing comfort, style, and convenience to the premium level and the 2013 model is tops or near the top in all areas of interior roominess.

Nissan offers the 2013 Sentra in five models: S, SV, SR, SL, and FE+ (on S or SV trim levels). SV is the upgrade over base while SR brings a sport appearance package and SL is the cream of the crop in amenities. Four option packages bring owner customization to even greater levels.

Pricing begins at $15,990 with the SL starting at $19,760. The miserly FE+ package will cost you an extra 400 bucks and destination and delivery charges are an additional $780.

We spent time with the new Sentra in California as we traveled from the Bay Area to beautiful Napa Valley, testing a variety of packages and model levels. We found the 2013 to be everything Nissan led us to believe. It was quiet, comfortable, spacious, and had plenty of power when we needed it.

For those seeking power and sport, well, Nissan makes other vehicles for that, but for individuals or beginning families seeking value, comfort, quality, and style I suggest you check out the 2013 Sentra, it just might surprise you.