What's New for 2002
Beloved by compact car enthusiasts, the Nissan Sentra SE-R returns after a seven-year hiatus. The Sentra SE is no longer available, though Nissan has created additional options packages for the GXE to make it similar to the SE.
Nissan says the Sentra is designed to break the compact economy-car stereotype of small cabin space, minimal options, ho-hum styling and rental car-like driving traits. The message: This car is not your everyday economy sedan. It's cool. Young people, come right this way. Interestingly enough, the Sentra actually succeeds in fulfilling the promise of the message.
For the 2002 model year, Nissan continues to refine the fifth-generation Sentra sedan, which bowed as an all-new vehicle in 2000. There are five trim levels available. These include the base XE, the midline GXE, the limited-production CA and the performance-oriented SE-R and SE-R Spec V.
Though Nissan last offered the Sentra SE-R in 1994, it's like Michael Jordan in that it never really left. A large enthusiast base has kept the SE-R spirit alive with numerous nationwide clubs, magazine project vehicles and motorsports activities.
While the first Sentra SE-R was understated, this one announces its performance intentions at first glance. It is designed to give the feeling of a mini-Nissan Skyline, Nissan's supercar available only in Japan. The Sentra SE-R features aggressive body styling, 16-inch wheels, a 2.5-liter 165-hp engine, a sport-tuned suspension and an optional 300-watt sound system. The SE-R Spec V goes even further with 170 hp, a standard six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels, a race-tuned suspension and special interior trim.
If you're not smitten on performance, there's still plenty to like about the Sentra. Standard fare for the XE and GXE is a 126-horsepower 1.8-liter engine that makes most of its torque down low for spirited in-town response. The CA (Clean Air) model's engine makes 122 hp from the same displacement, but meets Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) status. Nissan says this engine produces six times less emissions than engines that meet the already squeaky-clean ULEV rating. So why, you might ask, isn't this environment-friendly engine standard in the XE and GXE? It requires low-sulfur gasoline, a blend currently available only in California.
All Sentras come with power windows, a rear defroster, tilt steering column and cloth upholstery. Stepping up to the GXE nets the buyer better seating materials, an eight-way adjustable driver seat, air conditioning, cruise control, power exterior mirrors and door locks, and a thumping sound system. The GXE can also be ordered with side airbags and antilock brakes.
Front seats are comfortable, and the dash is laid out in a clean fashion, making it easy to find and use the controls. The cabin imparts an upscale feel, like a Maxima, but smaller. Taller occupants will likely find the rear seats to be a little cramped.
There's much to like about Nissan's 2002 Sentra. With the addition of the SE-R, there's now a Sentra for every type of compact sedan buyer. The only issue that might give pause is the price of the higher trim levels. For hundreds of dollars less, cars like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus offer similar levels of performance and equipment. But for enthusiasts on a budget, even the base Sentra XE offers an entertaining ride with plenty of standard equipment.