A for-realz Nismo for $27K? Not a chance. At least not in the sense you’d expect — the badges are there, and the boy-racer trim bits, but a front-drive car with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is never going to be a recipe for track-day fun. Nissan should know better than to dilute Nismo’s niche cachet by even building this thing.
The good news is there’s a stick available, and the Nismo suspension tuning does make this a fairly nimble little scooter. I had a great time wheeling our manual-trans Sentra Turbo SR a few months ago, and there’s no reason to think that, comparably equipped, the Nismo wouldn’t be even more entertaining. Plus, when you need something for everyday chores, the Sentra is a roomy base upon which to start, with a cavernous trunk.
Take it for what it is — an economy car with a sporty trim package rather than a budget GT-R — and the Sentra NISMO offers above-average grins at an accessible price point. Just do yourself a favor: if you insist upon an automatic transmission look elsewhere.
–Andrew Stoy, digital editor
The Nissan Sentra, in base trim, is not an exciting car. Nissan rectified that with the Sentra turbo, which is a ton of fun. It’s not as rowdy a Ford Focus ST, but it isn’t as expensive either.
That brings us to the top-dog of Nissan Sentras – the Sentra Nismo, with its super-aggressive front fascia, spiky side skirts and tasteful spoiler on the decklid. Basically, it looks like a car ripped straight out of a tuner shop from 2004’s showroom -– and that’s not a bad thing.
With all the flashy cladding and Nismo badging, you’d imagine that there would be something hot under the hood and a firm suspension. Not so – this is a boaty ride. I remember the Sentra Turbo feeling more connected to the road than this Nismo. The 188-hp turbocharged I4 doesn’t sound like it has a turbo connected to it at all – there’s no whoosh or burble from the wastegate, blow-off valve or exhaust.
The interior is the best a Sentra has probably ever seen. The seats are heavily bolstered, there’s faux suede everywhere and it feels well put together. At the driver’s knee, though, is a CVT gear selector, which is a surprising option. I was expecting the same manual transmission from the Sentra Turbo; the CVT in the hardcore Nismo edition feels totally out of place.
Basically, if you’re looking for a hot-looking sporty compact, the Sentra Nismo has potential. If you’re looking for performance, look toward the more track-centric options out there.
–Wes Wren, associate editor
27 / 35
City / HWY
Cons: Nothing called ‘Nismo’ should ever have a CVT