I often bring up the concept of driving slow cars fast here on Hooniverse.com. Anyone can jump behind the wheel of a powerful car and get themselves in trouble, but to experience some real joy behind the wheel is much more difficult. It can be obtained in high-horsepower beasts yet it’s more rewarding to push something with less power. You can learn a lot about yourself and your ability behind the wheel of a slower car, as you push it faster and harder. Some automakers realize this and they offer specific trims on otherwise economical models in their lineup. One such automaker is Nissan and one such car is the 2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V.
The 2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is a compact sedan that is able to tie fun and frugality into one sharp-angled, stylish package. Under the hood sits a 2.5L four-cylinder engine which produces 200 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. The throttle response here is quick and the engine enjoys being pushed high in the rev range. The full push of the torque happens 5,200 rpm, so it makes sense to stay up there if I’m pushing the car hard. If not, then I shift earlier and enjoy around 30 mpg on the highway and 20 around town.
The Spec V forgoes the CVT found on the lower trim units, and even passes over the standard six-speed manual for a close-ration six-speed manual gearbox. The shifts are crisp and the whole unit was far tighter than I expected it to be. As soon as I initially say down in this Sentra, it became clear that Nissan thought this one through. No limp gearbox, well placed pedals, and sporty bucket seats provide a solid first impression. This car may just be more than an econobox with look-fast parts bolted on.
The Sentra SE-R Spec V allows one to wring the most of that 2.5L engine thanks to other parts that you can’t see right away. The sport-tuned suspension, with front and rear stabilizer bars and a trunk-mounted V brace, help keep the car feeling neutral through the corners. It was so easy to to have fun in this car they could change the name to the Nissan Maniac Grin. That sounds corny, but if you get to drive one you would silently nod your head in understanding. Every turn was as easy as setup, turn-in, then blast off…the drive wheels have the aided benefit, as part of the Spec V package, of a helical limited slip differential. It would be interesting to see how it handled more power, but in this application it works wonderfully. In addition to the suspension and limited slip, the Sentra wears perfectly sized brakes in the form of 12.6″ ventilated front and 11.5″ rear discs. I can get going quickly, but I can get going even faster when I know the brakes will bring me back to sane. The whole package turns the commuter-car Sentra into a still daily-drivable road toy.
The interior of the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is a filled with smart choices. The cloth sport bucket seats are comfortable and supportive. The gauges are clear and very easy to read. The 4.3″ color touchscreen provides a crisp picture and is simple to use. It is small but fits the style of the car. It almost looks after-market, in a very good way. The Spec V package features an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system which is nice and loud, but tends to be quite bass heavy. I like low end in my music, but I had to turn the setting on this system down to negative two to get a more balanced sound. There is a USB port available and an iPod interface which is good for 99% of the population at this point. The back seats are small as expected but very usable. At 6’3″, I had no problem fitting back there and if the driver is short I have zero issues with leg room.
On the outside, the 2010 Sentra Spec V tacks on stylish pieces to the economy skin it wears. It’s already a fairly stylish car for this segment but now it has sporty help in the form of a rear decklid spoiler, front and rear fascias which are unique to the Spec V, side sills, and the 17″ alloy wheels. The shoulder line has a nice flat angle coming off the side of the car which helps break up the area. This Sentra looks good with out looking gaudy with the sole exception of the dated looking taillights. I think that style was cool for 35 seconds 5 years ago. Swap in a smoke lens or units from a lower trim Sentra and the problem is easily rectified.
The 2010 Nissan Sentra starts at $15,420. The SE-R Spec V starts at $20,080 and the one you see here will cost you $23,650. In todays new car market this is a solid price for a fun yet efficient car. It’s fun to drive, good looking, and returns solid fuel economy numbers as long as every day is not pretend-I’m-Ayrton-Senna day. My problem with this car, and others in and around this segment, is that Volkswagen is wrecking the interior curve. For $25,000 I could have a GTI equipped the way I want it and the insides of a car that could compete a class above. The interior of this Sentra is perfectly equipped and put together nicely, however the interior of the Vdub is near perfect. I know I’m comparing a German hot hatch to a Japanese compact sport sedan, but these cars are marketed to a younger generation and I can see cross-shopping here (same power, similar price).
Either way, the Sentra Spec V is a great training tool for future 370Z buyers. It is an affordable car which would fit right at home in any hoon’s driveway.
[Photos by: Leo of CnCPics.com Light post-processing by: Jeff Glucker]