The Nissan Sentra is one of those cars you see so often that you might not even notice them anymore. It’s Nissan’s third best-selling vehicle, with over 203,000 sold in the U.S. in 2015, and over 155,000 sold this year. It’s affordable ($16,780 and up), safe, reliable, and has been instrumental in Nissan’s expanding footprint in the American market. But for all the success the Sentra has had, you can’t say it’s very exciting – at least, not anymore.
The Sentra has been around for 35 years and for much of its life was one of the most exciting affordable small cars on the market. The 1993-’94 Sentra SE-R drew comparisons to the Datsun 510 and BMW 2002. The SE-R name returned as a sedan for the 2002 model year with 165 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, making a favorite among tuners, and an even hotter SE-R Spec V was offered from ’02 to ’06 with 175 horsepower, 180 pound-feet, and available Brembo brakes.
After hitting a high-water mark of 200 horsepower in 2012 the SE-R became the SR, and it’s since been cooled to 130 horses and yoked to a CVT transmission. But that’s all about to change for 2017, because at the Miami Auto Show, the Sentra is returning to its performance roots with the SR Turbo model. Thanks to a 1.6-liter forced-induction inline-four, and the return of a six-speed manual transmission, this model could give Nissan’s compact sedan some serious performance pedigree again.
The SR Turbo will crank out 188 horsepower – a 50% increase over the naturally-aspirated 1.8 – and 177 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the front wheels. Nissan’s latest-generation XTronic CVT is still available with unique drive ratios, but the real story is the manual, which should do wonders in legitimizing the car as a legitimate performance option.
On top of the powertrain, Nissan has revised the Sentra’s suspension to handle the extra power, reinforcing the front struts and rear torsion beams. It will receive larger brakes, and roll on 17-inch wheels too. According to Nissan:
The result of the new powerplant, unique suspension tuning and other enhancements is an improved acceleration feeling from standing starts and highway passing, along with improved handling response and enhanced ride comfort.
Outside, the SR Turbo will have LED projector lights, a unique rear spoiler, fog lights, a unique wheel design, and a sliding glass moonroof. Nissan has gone bold with color choices too, offering the car in Red Alert, Brilliant Silver, Gun Metallic, Super Black, Aspen White, and Deep Blue Pearl. Inside, the SR will receive unique badging, but otherwise won’t be much different than a stock Sentra. With the Premium Package, however, buyers can get leather seats and navigation.
If all goes according to plan, the Sentra SR Turbo could bring some excitement back to the bottom end of the Nissan lineup, give buyers who can’t quite afford a 370Z something to aim for, and maybe, if it’s good enough, even take on the Ford Fiesta ST. Pricing and release details will likely be released sometime after its unveiling in Miami, but we don’t expect it to stray too far from the range-topping SL’s low-$20K price.