Used 2001 Nissan Sentra Review
An economy sedan that doesn't feel like an economy sedan.
Nissan says the Sentra was created to break the compact/economy-car stereotype of small cabin space, minimal options, ho-hum styling and "rental car-like" driving traits. The message is this: This car is not your everyday economy sedan. It's cool. Young people, come right this way.
But the emphasis in advertising for, and published road tests of, the new Sentra is on the sporty 145-horsepower SE model, which our staff has dubbed "mini-Maxima." With plenty of smooth-revving power, taut handling, sharp steering and responsive brakes, it's hard not to love this rather homely Sentra. Add in an impressive optional 150-watt sound system with in-dash CD changer and a relatively low sticker price, and the advertising rings true with regard to the top-of-the-line sport-tuned model. You get lots of bang for the buck with the SE.
How does the message hold up for the other versions of the Sentra, which include the XE, GXE and low-emission CA models? For starters, you don't get available 16-inch wheels and tires, rear disc brakes, a strut-tower brace under the hood or a sport suspension. You also don't get the powerful engine.
Standard fare for the lower-line Sentra XE and GXE is a 126-horsepower, 1.8-liter motor that makes most of its torque down low for spirited in-town response. The CA (Clean Air) model's engine makes identical power from the same displacement, but emits zero evaporative emissions. So why, you might ask, isn't this motor standard in the XE and GXE? It requires low-sulfur fuel, currently available only in California.
An independent front suspension is married to a sophisticated beam rear axle, as in the Maxima. Front disc and rear drum brakes handle stopping duties on lower-level Sentras, and ABS is reserved only for the GXE and SE models.
All Sentras come with power windows, a rear defroster, tilt steering column and cloth upholstery. Stepping up to the GXE nets the buyer velour seating, air conditioning, cruise control, power exterior mirrors and door locks and a thumping sound system. CA includes alloy wheels and an automatic transmission. SE adds the previously mentioned go-fast goodies plus titanium-faced gauges, remote keyless entry and the option of a power sunroof. Side airbags can be added to the GXE and SE.
The Sentra's primary fault, as has been the case for years, is with rear-seat accommodations. There simply isn't enough legroom to keep four tall adults comfortable in this car for more than a few minutes. And the dumpy-looking butt on the Sentra has simply got to go.
Front seats are comfortable, though, 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 not.
So, is the Sentra a breakthrough vehicle? No, it still has a tight cabin and pedestrian styling. But enthusiasts on a budget will love the SE.
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.