Used 1997 Nissan Sentra Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

The base model is now simply called "Base" instead of S. Nissan works to quiet the Sentra's interior by using a bigger muffler and reducing the number of suspension-mounting points.

Vehicle overview

Print advertising for Nissan's launch of the new Sentra last year asked magazine readers if they had "seen it?" "Have you seen it?" asked small quarter-page ads. A couple of pages later, a two-page layout extolling the virtues of the new Sentra would appear, and then on the next page, another quarter-page ad asked "Did you see it?"

We've been asking ourselves the same questions. The Sentra was introduced a year ago, and we can't remember seeing one, aside from in print. We know why, too. Nissan stylists evidently feel that the company's corporate look should be one of extreme anonymity, and recent Nissan products have lost their visual flair. Witness the Maxima, 240SX, and now, the Sentra.

Looks aren't everything, as matchmaking friends have told many of us. True, but they do go quite a ways toward total satisfaction. If only the Sentra had kept its scrappy personality in its transformation from 1994 to 1995, we might be able to overlook the plain-Jane sheetmetal. Unfortunately, the zippy 1.6-liter engine that energized the previous-generation Sentra feels anesthetized in the new car. On the plus side, the newer Sentra has more rear seat room, and improved ergonomics. 1997 brings a quieter interior to the lineup -- everything else carries over intact.

Base prices fell with the redesign, a miracle in an industry that has jacked up prices at twice the increase of the cost of living index, and remain static with the 1997 model. A GXE runs $14,800, and doesn't include antilock brakes. What's worse, alloy wheels and a sunroof are standard and available only on the top-of-the-line GLE model, which will set you back at least $16,200. ABS is optional on the GLE too, and the base and XE models are not available with this important safety feature at all. However, the Sentra is notoriously reliable; a point in its favor. Besides, lots of compact sedans can ring up to...cha-ching!...$16,000 with a full load of options, such as the Neon Sport sedan and Honda Civic EX.

Do the pluses outweigh the negatives? Depends on what you're looking for in a compact sedan. If you want something fun-to-drive, try the Neon. If you want basic, reliable transportation with four doors, one of your many choices is the Sentra.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.