The springs have been stiffened, and the dampers are 23% firmer in front and about 50% in the back.
LAKE OCONEE, GEORGIA – With a history dating back to the SE-R and Spec-V models, the Nissan Sentra has a bit of pedigree to it. The last decade or so has led to the model becoming rather numb; though it’s still a solid, dependable compact. Refreshed for the 2016 model year, the Sentra (reviewed here) has received some important updates that make it a bit more relevant, but it’s the 2017 car that will bring out the interest of some enthusiasts. Nissan invited us to Lake Oconee, Georgia to drive the all-new 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo and see just what the hottest version of the little sedan has to offer.
It may not be as hot as the Ford Focus ST (reviewed here) or the Volkswagen Golf R, but the Sentra SR Turbo, is significantly more interesting than its standard counterpart. Nissan has also teased the upcoming NISMO Sentra, which is definitely promising, so this SR is expected to hold us over until that arrives. From an appearance standpoint, the Sentra SR Turbo looks virtually identical to the regular SR (which it replaces in Canada), including the same 17” alloy wheels.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the SR has enough sporty cues to differentiate it from the regular model. The alloys look sharp and the overall conservative styling of the Sentra has been complemented enough by aggressive ground effects, fog lights, and a deck-lid spoiler that make this model look decent. The Turbo also gets a sunroof, which in my humble opinion, is a necessity on a sporty car that doesn’t try to pass itself off as a track day weapon.
Standard-issue Sentras receive a nothing-special 1.8L inline four-cylinder engine with approximately 130 horsepower – it’s adequate but not a quick car by any means. The SR Turbo cranks it up a notch with the 1.6L turbocharged four, sourced from the Juke (reviewed here). The keen will remember that we really like the Juke’s powertrain and overall driving dynamics. Here, the output is 188 horsepower at 5,600RPM and 177 lb-ft of torque at 1,600. Think of the SR Turbo like a rival to the outgoing Civic Si (reviewed here) or the upcoming Hyundai Elantra Sport, the latter of which should be a serious sales rival for Nissan.
One of the available gearboxes on the Sentra SR Turbo is Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission, which will obviously have a higher take rate. It’s a refined box, with minimal drone and seamless acceleration. There is also a six-speed manual available, and we spent some time sampling it. The stick version is special because other than the base model, the Turbo is the only Sentra that receives a manual. The throws on the shifter are long and a little bit rubbery, but clutch engagement is light and it’s easy to rev-match. The pedals are a bit far apart, meaning only those with larger feet will be able to heel-toe.
Upgrades on the SR Turbo don’t just stop at the engine – the suspension and brakes are beefed up as well. The springs have been stiffened, and the dampers are 23% firmer in front and about 50% in the back. Ride quality is notably harsher than the regular Sentra (reviewed here), but it’s almost a throwback to the SE-R of the 1990s. The steering is quite nice, though the power steering is electrically assisted and analog feel is next to none. The car handles with ease, and when pushing it through some curves on a rather dynamic drive route, it didn’t exhibit very much understeer. Nissan says the steering has been tweaked for better on-center feel on the highway. We didn’t notice a huge difference, because the Sentra has always been a nice-riding car that ate up long highway miles effortlessly.
The Sentra SR Turbo’s interior doesn’t have very many noticeable differences from SL or SR models, but it is quite obvious that this is the top trim model. The seats are leather and, on our test vehicle, had some nice blue contrast stitching that felt premium enough. The infotainment, instrument cluster, and dashboard layout is essentially all standard-issue Nissan. Unfortunately, the interior uses many plastics, including some SR-specific blue plastic inserts on the door panels that try to add a sporty touch, but to my eyes just seem cheap. Even on compact economy cars nowadays, it’s fairly easy to get away using nice synthetic interior materials that look and feel good.
It’s refreshing to see that in an industry where efficiency, driver aids, and autonomous driving are rampant, some manufacturers haven’t forgotten their roots. Nissan has their dedicated performance models, including the GT-R (reviewed here) and 370Z, but it’s nice to see them offering sportier cars that many can afford. The price reduction last year of the base model 370Z to under $30,000 made it more appealing, and this hot Sentra is even more attainable. It’s a long shot to call the 2016 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo an entry point to Nissan’s sport lineup, but it’s a genuinely fun compact sedan that will brighten up the daily commute.
*Pricing has not been announced for Canadian models at the time of this writing*
First Drive: 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo Gallery