2013 Nissan Sentra

Nissan is refreshing much of its lineup for 2013, with five new models either in or headed into the production pipeline. One of them, the 2013 Sentra, has class-leading fuel economy and a surprising amount of cabin space. The Sentra is entering its 30th year on the market, and the 2013 version is without a doubt the best one yet.

To wit: The 2013 Sentra averages a class-leading 30 miles per gallon and 39 mpg on the highway, it has class-leading headroom in front and class-leading legroom in back, and still has room for a generous trunk. It’s almost like the Sentra is masquerading as a compact car. The Sentra’s new design for 2013 gives it really cool jeweled LED headlight accents, a lower roofline and bright LED taillights.

Powered by a 1.8-liter DOHC engine that produces 130 hp and 128 lb.-ft. of torque, the Sentra is not what you’d call overpowered, especially when you consider the CVT transmission. Nissan is big on fuel-efficent CVTs, but they tend to make engines sound buzzy and strained. Helping out, however, are the Sentra’s three selectable drive modes: Normal, an Eco mode that reduces drag from the climate control system, and Sport, which boosts engine response.

Nissan officials invited automotive journalists to a daylong test drive of the new Sentra and explained how they managed to increase the size of the car and at the same time boost fuel efficiency.

Federal regulations require automakers to incrementally increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets, so engineers are constantly looking for ways squeeze more miles from a gallon of gas. Federal rules require that automakers reach an industry-wide fleet average of 34.1 miles per gallon for model year 2016. The average goes even higher after that, to 54.5 mpg by model year 2025.

Since one of the big enemies of mileage is weight, Nissan engineers managed to shave 150 pounds from the new Sentra. They also reduced the size of the engine, added more aerodynamic tires and came up with a “smart” alternator that disengages from the engine/battery during acceleration and re-engages automatically. All of the above helped with the Sentra’s class-leading EPA mileage estimates.

Nissan Chief Marketing Manager Fred DePerez told journalists at the launch that the Sentra was the No. 2 Asian brand globally in 2011. He said the new model is five percent lighter, 17 percent more aerodynamic and gets 13 percent better mileage than its predecessor. “We think when people get into the car they’ll fall in love with it,” he said.

That remains to be seen, but if people can work their way around the Sentra’s less than sporty acceleration, the car should do very well. On the highway, getting 39 mpg out of such a roomy, quiet and affordable car is hard to beat.

The Sentra also offers technology normally seen in midsize and above sedans, including dual-zone climate control and NissanConnect with navigation. The system features a 5.8-inch touch-screen with traffic and weather functions, warnings for curves and speed limits, and improved eco route settings. A rearview monitor is included with all navigation systems. For the first time, Sentra also offers Pandora radio capability and streaming audio via Bluetooth. Bose is the eight-speaker audio system in the Sentra.

One of the coolest new features from Nissan (on all new models) is the Easy-fill Tire Alert system that sounds the horn when the user has added enough air for the proper tire pressure. If this kind of system catches on with other manufacturers, tire pressure gauges could go the way of the buggy whip.

Nissan starts pricing for the Sentra at $15,990, or $440 less than last year’s base model. But that’s for a vehicle with a 6-speed manual transmission, which fewer buyers are likely to select. With the CVT, the base price is $17,260, which is still $350 less than the 2012 price.

Next is the Sentra SV, which starts at $17,970, also less than the 2012 S model. The Sentra SR is $18,870, which is $510 more than the 2012, and the top of the line Sentra SL is $19,760, which adds content but keeps the same price as the 2012 model. Four option packages are offered: A Driver’s Package, a Leather Package, a Navigation Package and a Premium Package. Check off all the boxes on the order sheet and you’re looking at about $23-grand.

The compact sedan segment is all about fuel economy and value for the money, and with the 2013 Nissan Sentra, arriving now in dealerships, you can expect heaping helpings of both.