The 2018 Nissan Sentra is a compact car that provides everything you need to get back and forth from work, but doesn't bring much else to the table. The Sentra is roomy inside with solid fuel economy and it has standard emergency braking, but don't be fooled, this is purely a commuter car.

The one exception is the top Sentra Nismo trim which adds styling upgrades, an upgraded suspension, and a more rigid chassis, but, unfortunately, the car still lacks the special stuff to make it a true sport compact on par with cars like the Volkswagen GTI.

Best Value

The best value in Sentra line lies with the SV trim level, even though it forgoes the new turbocharged engine. Unfortunately, the 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder doesn’t bring enough to the party to justify its higher cost, so it’s best to stick with the more fuel efficient and less-powerful 1.8-liter four cylinder.

The SV is reasonably equipped with standard dual-zone automatic climate control, three driving modes, a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system with SiriusXM satellite radio, and automatic emergency braking making it fairly well equipped for just shy of $20,000.

The only option packages available for the Sentra SV are the SV Premium Package and All-Weather Package. The heated seats of the $300 All-Weather Package would be nice to have, particularly in frostier climates, but there isn’t much to the $990 Premium Package, so we’d skip it.

Here’s how we would equip our Nissan Sentra.

  • Model: 2018 Nissan Sentra SV
  • Engine: 1.8-liter, inline four-cylinder
  • Output: 124 hp/ 125 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Continuously variable transmission
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 29 City / 37 Hwy
  • Options: All Weather Package ($300, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors)
  • Base Price:$17,875 (including a $895 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$20,270

Performance

Nissan Sentra

The Sentra is not much of a performer on its own, and even with the SR Turbo and Nismo trims and their 188-horsepower turbocharged engines, there just isn’t enough power to actually feel fast. For the Nismo, it seems Nissan chose to spend their budget on making the chassis and suspension stiffer, but it doesn’t make the Sentra appreciably sportier, just less comfortable. The base Sentra also doesn’t inspire confidence in the handling department either, as it’s more set up for a comfortable and non-eventful ride to work.

While the 1.6-liter turbocharged four is more powerful than the base Sentra engine, it isn’t enough to make the Nismo quick enough to keep up with the hot hatch competition like the Volkswagen GTI or Focus ST, even though it’s priced roughly the same.

Other Sentra trims get a naturally aspirated inline-four. The engine is enough to get the car moving and through traffic, but you won’t be winning any races. Rivals provide considerably more power in their base models, and without the 1.8-liter's wheezing character. Fuel economy is pretty good, though, with the 1.8-liter getting up to 37 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in the city.

Style

While the Sentra isn’t an ugly car, it isn’t a good-looking car either. It’s just bland and characterless, which isn’t a good place to be with competitors like the Mazda3. Several trims have access to the Midnight Style appearance packages that add black trim and wheels to make it a bit more interesting to look at. The Sentra Nismo is the only trim that will turn heads, with its aero upgrades and red trim, but honestly most people still won’t know it’s anything special.

The interior more or less matches the interior. There isn’t anything to really complain about, but there isn’t anything to get excited about either. There’s very little that is aspirational in the cockpit of a Sentra, and you won’t forget that you’re in an economy car.

What the Sentra does have going for it, though, is a simply enormous backseat. The second row in this compact is roomier than the backseat of the mid-size Altima sedan – there's 37.4 inches of leg room in the Sentra versus 36.1 in the the Altima. The front seats aren't quite as comfortable, although we aren't blaming that on the seats themselves.

The Best and Worst Things

The Sentra’s greatest strength is its price at lower trim levels. You can get a fair amount of car for less than $20,000. Once you move beyond those lower trims, that value proposition starts to melt away as the competition heats up.

The Sentra suffers from so much unnecessary blandness. It’s mediocre at everything, but there’s nothing to set it apart. Cars like the Kia Rio and Ford Fiesta are cheaper and smaller than the Sentra, but somehow manage to feel more upscale with their styling.

Right For? Wrong For?

Nissan Sentra

The Sentra is the right car for someone who just wants a safe choice at a good price to use to commute back and forth with. It doesn’t make a ton of effort to be anything more than that, but that’s okay. A lot of people don’t want or need anything more.

The Sentra would be a poor choice for someone who wants their car to excite them in any way. If you want to look back at your car as you walk away, don’t buy a Sentra.

The Bottom Line

In many ways, the Sentra is the vanilla ice cream of cars, but it can be well equipped at a fairly low price, including with some advanced safety features. But if you’re someone who wants a more exciting experience, the Sentra isn’t what you’re looking for.