2011 Nissan Sentra Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 9, 2011

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2011 Nissan Sentra Buying Advice

The 2011 Nissan Sentra is the best compact car for you if you want a roomy, reasonably priced small sedan that’s a little personality-challenged.

The 2011 Nissan Sentra boasts the important safety advantages of antilock brakes and an antskid system as standard on every model. On the 2010 Sentra, these features, along with traction control for surer grip off the line, had been standard only on top-line models and optional on lower-priced Sentras. The 2011 Sentra also gains new options packages. Still, this compact sedan remains an also-ran in a class rapidly filling with newer models that are far better looking and promise better road manners.

Should you buy a 2011 Nissan Sentra or wait for the 2012 Nissan Sentra? Buy a 2011 Sentra. Combining styling updates that came on line for model-year 2010 with this year’s safety enhancements, the 2011 Sentra positions this car for its next full redesign, in model-year 2013. The 2012 Sentra will be a lame duck that isn’t likely to introduce any compelling new features but could be subject to almost-inevitable year-over-year price increases.

2011 Nissan Sentra Changes back to top

Styling: A rear spoiler spreads from the sportiest 2011 Sentra to other models in the lineup, but this four-door’s styling is otherwise unaltered. The 2011 Sentra carries over minor appearance alternations made to the 2010 Sentra. Qualifying as a “mid-cycle” freshening for a car introduced in model-year 2007, the alterations included a revised grille, headlights, and taillights, and some new wheel designs.

Sentra wasn’t eye candy before the changes, and continues to lack visual drama. It has a generic nose and an undistinguished roof that culminates in oddly shaped rear pillars that seem to hold up a narrow, stubby rump. Sentra looks vaguely top heavy. The upside is plenty of interior space, courtesy of that arched roof and a 105.7-inch wheelbase that’s among the longest in the compact-car class. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and helps define how much space a vehicle can devote to the passenger compartment.
Sentra’s dashboard is orderly and user-friendly, but despite 2010 upgrades to interior fabrics and instrument-panel knobs and lighting, the cabin doesn’t stand out for visual flair or quality materials – even with the optional leather upholstery.

Though it offers just the sedan body style while some rivals accompany their sedans with a hatchback or coupe, 2011 Nissan Sentra continues with an unusually broad range of models. The six-tier lineup again begins with the entry-level 2.0 model and ascends through mainstream 2.0 S and 2.0 SL models. It climbs to the sporty-looking 2.0 SR and culminates in the legitimately sporty SE-R and SE-R Spec V models. The latter three continue to spiff up their look with driving lights and subtle lower-body skirting. For 2011, the rear spoiler previously exclusive to the 2.0 SR and the SE-R duo now graces the trunklid of the other 2011 Sentras.

Mechanical: Thumbs up, Nissan, for equipping every 2011 Sentra with an antilock braking system (ABS) and antiskid and traction control. Nissan may be feeling competitive pressure from Toyota, which is advertising that all its cars now come with a similar suite of safety features. We say any motivation is welcome if helps drivers avoid accidents.

As before the 2011 Sentra is a front-wheel-drive sedan powered by four-cylinder engines. The 2011 Sentra 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL models use a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter. The 2011 Nissan Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V continue with a 2.5-liter engine rated at 175 horsepower in the SE-R and 200 in the SE-R Spec V.

The entry-level Sentra 2.0 model again offers a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs perform the duties of an automatic transmission but dispense with individual gear ratios for a rheostat-like power delivery; the goal is the most efficient match of engine output, fuel consumption, and acceleration. The CVT continues as the only transmission choice for the 2011 Sentra 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL models. The 2011 Sentra SE-R uses a CVT and the SE-R Spec V comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. Sentras with the 2.0-liter engine have front-disc/rear-drum brakes. Aimed at performance-minded drivers, the Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V have four-wheel disc brakes.

ABS -- designed to prevent lock-up in emergency stops -- is standard for 2011 on every Sentra; it had been optional on the entry-level 2.0 model. Similarly, Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) antiskid system is standard on all 2011 Sentras. Designed to mitigate sideways slides, VDC incorporates a traction-control system intended to quell tire slip during acceleration. VDC had been a $370 option on the 2.0 S and 2.0 SR models and it had been bundled with ABS as a $510 option on the Sentra 2.0. model. The 2011 Sentra SE-R Spec V again has unique sport suspension tuning, brakes, tires, and body-structure bracing.

Suspension on all Sentras is by independent strut in front and torsion-beam in the rear. Top compact rivals are moving to the more sophisticated all-independent suspension for higher levels of ride and handling.

Sentras with the 2.0-liter engine are softly sprung to furnish a comfortable ride but can feel ill at ease in corners. They have adequate acceleration, and though it may take time to get used to the CVT’s peculiar power delivery, you’ll find it works smoothly and is of particular benefit to highway-speed passing response. The Sentra SE-R and especially the SE-R Spec V accelerate with more verve, but don’t handle well enough to challenge cars like the MazdaSpeed3 or Honda Civic Si for true driving enjoyment.

Features: The 2011 Nissan Sentra may trail top rivals for road manners but it’s competitive in terms of equipment and features. Nissan equips most Sentra models with a USB iPod interface and offers a navigation system, the latter still a relatively rarity in this class.

All 2011 Sentras continue with power windows and door locks as standard. All but the entry-level 2.0 model also continue with cruise control and remote keyless entry. The base 2.0 model has an audio auxiliary input. All other Sentras get the USB interface for iPods and other digital players. The 2.0 SL comes with keyless entry, Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, and XM satellite radio; it’s the only Sentra available with leather upholstery.

A 4.3-inch audio-system display screen is standard on the 2011 Sentra 2.0 SL and the two SE-R models. With introduction of the Visual Audio option, the display screen is newly optional on S and SR models. This package also includes an eight-speaker 340-watt Rockford Fosgate audio unit. The Rockford-Fosgate setup is standard on the SE-R models and optional on the 2011 Sentra 2.0 SL as part of the new SL Audio package.

The navigation system is fitted to the SE-R models when you order an Upgrade Package and is included as part of the new SL Value package for the 2.0 SL model. To keep costs down, this navigation system is a relatively simple one, lacking, for example, voice recognition capability. It has a modestly sized 5-inch color dashboard touch screen but it does integrate a rearview camera and XM NavTraffic data.

A power moonroof is optional on the 2.0 SL and the two SE-R models. Sentra’s entry-level 2.0 model has 15-inch wheels. The other 2.0 models have 16s. Alloy wheels are optional on the 2.0 SR and standard on the 2.0 SL. The two SE-R models have 17-inch alloys. The SE-R Spec V is available with a helical limited-slip differential, a performance-car item that equalizes power between the front wheels in rapid acceleration.

2011 Nissan Sentra Prices back to top

Pressured by lower-priced compact-class rivals from Mazda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda, Nissan actually reduced Sentra prices for the 2010 model year, and they remain at or near those levels for model year 2011. (Prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2011 Sentra is $750.)

The 2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0 model starts at $16,270 with manual transmission and $17,450 with the CVT. The 2.0 model comes with a four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with auxiliary input. 

The 2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0 S base price is $18,200. It includes the CVT and adds to the 2.0 base model the 16-inch wheels, six-speaker audio, USB iPod interface upgraded cloth upholstery, security system, trip computer, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and ABS. The 2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR base price is likewise $17,450. It differs from the 2.0 S primarily through exterior styling cues that mimic the look of the SE-R models. Meanwhile, the 2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SL starts at $19,600 and includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel and the color audio-head unit with iPod and Bluetooth controls.  

The 2011 Nissan Sentra SE-R has a base price of $20,330 and the 2011 Sentra SE-R Spec V begins at $20,830. In addition to the 2.5-liter engine, these models include all the aforementioned sport, audio, and convenience features, plus front bucket seats with additional bolstering and their own cloth seat trim and stitching.

Pricing for key 2011 Sentra options remains close to 2010 levels, with the 2.0 SL’s leather upholstery costing $900, and just $400 for the navigation system. Upgrade packages for the SE-R and SE-R Spec V add the navigation system for 2011 and further include a Rockford Fosgate audio system, keyless entry/start, a moonroof, and rear-view monitor for $2,450 and $2,600, respectively.

2011 Nissan Sentra Fuel Economy back to top

The 2011 Nissan Sentra fuel-economy ratings are unchanged from 2010 -- save an additional 1 mpg in city driving with the 2.0-liter engine and CVT -- and that’s a sign this compact has fallen a bit off the pace compared to top rivals.

Sentra’s mileage is helped by the efficiencies of the CVT, which is among the “automatic” transmissions that deliver better fuel economy than their manual-transmission counterpart. However, while most Sentra models exceed 30 mpg on the highway, the new compact-car benchmark for highway fuel economy soon will climb to 40 mpg. That’s the number being targeted for the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and the 2012 Ford Focus, and 2012 Hyundai Elantra.   

The 2011 Nissan Sentra is rated at 24/31 mpg city/highway for the base 2.0 model with the six-speed manual transmission and 27/34 for all 2.0-liter models with the CVT.

The 2011 Nissan Sentra SE-R fuel economy repeats at 24/30 mpg and the 2011 Sentra SE-R Spec V at 21/28.

2011 Nissan Sentra Release Date back to top

The 2011 Nissan Sentra went on sale in September 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Nissan Sentra back to top

With a redesigned Sentra on the docket for model-year 2013, don’t expect any changes of note to the 2012 Sentra, unless it’s a slight boost in fuel economy. Nissan won’t revamp engines or transmissions for 2012, but could tweak tuning, gear ratios, even tire type to squeeze out another mile or two per gallon as it tries to stay in the game with newer rivals built from the ground-up with the latest fuel-saving technology. That’s certainly the approach Nissan ought to be taking with the next-generation Sentra.

The automaker’s plans for the redesigned Sentra are well-guarded, but it no doubt is surveying its own ever-evolving model structure to see how the 2013 Sentra should best fit in.  For example, the cheaper, hipper, better-driving 2011 Nissan Versa is expected to continue to outpace Sentra in sales. Might that tempt Nissan to push the next-generation Sentra slightly upscale?

Similarly, we’ll be eager to learn how 2013 Sentra product planners are preparing to blunt the Juke and Leaf effect. Some young sporty types previously targeted by Sentra could gravitate to the new 2011 Niissan Juke, an expressively styled compact crossover roughly in Sentra’s price range. And some of Sentra’s economy-minded buyers no doubt would be attracted to the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric compact sedan that should be widely available starting in 2011.

2011 Nissan Sentra Competition back to top

2011 Honda Civic: The 2011 Civic is a lame-duck because Honda is readying an all-new version for model-year 2012. That shouldn’t stop a Sentra shopper from considering the 2011 Civic’s value proposition. It’s still a compact-class pacesetter for style, driving enjoyment, and sales. The 2011 Civic lineup includes mainstream sedans and coupes that start at $16,355 and achieve 25/36 mpg. It also contains a gas-electric hybrid sedan priced from $24,700 and rated an impressive 40/45 mpg. And the Si coupe and Si sedan, sporty models that start at $22,955 and get 21/29 mpg, are everything the Sentra SE-R models wish they were.

2011 Hyundai Elantra: The sedan version of this compact from South Korea is the final year of its current design, but it’s still an attractive value. Driving manners are dull (even a little retrograde), but roominess is class-competitive, the quality of cabin materials actually exceeds the compact-car norm, and Elantra’s features-per-dollar-spent equation is impressive. Pricing begins around $15,000 and automatic-transmission models rate 26/34 mpg. Hyundai also imports the Elantra Touring, a roomy station wagon that benefits from a European-tuned suspension and is a great value starting at $16,725.       

2011 Toyota Corolla: Never underestimate the power of the Toyota name and the ability of Corolla to deliver a quite, refined compact-car experience. Fuel economy, reliability, and resale value are other virtues. Style mavens and excitement seekers should look elsewhere, though. Pricing for the 2011 Corolla starts just over $16,000, base-engine versions rate 27/35 mpg with automatic transmission, and slightly sportier XRS editions go for around $20,000 and rate 22/30 with automatic. Corolla is due for its next redesign in model-year 2014.