NEWPORT BEACH, CA: Taro Ueda was leaning into his subject matter.
The circle of Canadian and American automotive journalists tightened around him as Nissan’s vice-president of design stretched across the hood of the car using green painter’s tape, started tracing the new styling lines of the 2016 Nissan Sentra.
He was emphasizing the stronger three dimensional characteristics of the shapes, the crisper edges, the renewed V-Motion familial cues tying this “Smalltima” more closely to its bigger siblings, Nissan’s Altima and Maxima sedans.
But lest we submerge too deeply into “design speak”, all you really need to know is that Nissan felt this 2016 Sentra update was important enough for the company to spend three times more than usual on a makeover happening less than four years since this seventh generation B17 Sentra model first debuted.
Frankly, the exterior changes are still about as subtle as Sentra styling has always been.
But everything from the “A”-pillar forward is brand new - new front fascia, hood, V-Motion grille and fenders. The new, sharper edged boomerang-shaped projector headlamps (a la Nissan Z) have a more sophisticated style, with upscale models getting nicely integrated LED signature accents instead of the disco hose light look of the past.
In back, a new rear fascia and new taillights, again influenced by the boomerang lighting theme, complement the revisions. New 16- and 17-inch wheel choices complete the exterior changes.
Slip inside the new 2016 Sentra and you find a new TFT (thin film transistor) LCD flat panel gauge display with crisper resolution and, in higher trim levels, a new 5.0-inch Advanced Drive-Assist display.
New available technologies include Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), along with a new NissanConnect Services system.
Some of the changes inside are simpler and more obvious - new soft touch materials usually found on more expensive models, new seats and tactile fabrics, a new console with improved storage, a new shifter knob and a new chunkier, Z-inspired steering wheel.
We’re rolling now and you notice that the new steering wheel connects nicely to a crisper steering system with a thicker steering shaft and improved electric power steering controller mapping.
There are a lot of changes you can’t see, like the 500-plus new parts (20 percent of the content) that help make up this new 2016 Nissan Sentra.
Like a boxed front tunnel stay bracket adapted from the Juke NISMO RS to increase body stiffness. And like the retuned suspension design with 10 percent stiffer springs, adjusted damper rates and stiffer rear bushings that have also helped to reduce body roll and improve driving feel and control.
In fact, some of the best features you notice about the Sentra are the ones you don’t notice at all, if that makes any sense.
I didn’t really notice the CVT transmission in our upscale testers, which is probably the best compliment you can give when it comes to CVTs.
The advanced Xtronic third generation D-Step Shift Logic Control program has been updated for a more natural, crisper shift feel, smoother gear transitions and lowered revs to improve fuel economy and reduce noise.
And you also don’t notice much in the way of road noise or engine noise at all in the 2016 Sentra, thanks to new laminated glass with an added acoustic barrier layer, a new high density mass barrier between the dash and engine compartment and new, pillowy Autozorb padding stuffed inside the doors.
This is definitely the quietest Sentra ever with the calming ambiance of a larger, more expensive car. And, yes, the doors even thunk nicely when you slam them shut.
The Sentra carries over with the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with slight tweaks, making 130 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque. This is a quiet, competent and fuel efficient engine but performance enthusiasts should probably shop in a different aisle because about the only excitement you can expect here is getting the timing right on passing maneuvers.
Fuel economy is thrifty at 8.0/6.1L/100km (city/hwy) with the CVT, a little better than comparable Toyota Corollas and Hyundai Elantras, a little worse than Honda Civics, but generally in the same ballpark.
The four-banger starts with a six-speed manual tranny in lower trim levels or with the aforementioned CVT, optional in entry levels, standard in higher trim versions. Those four trim levels include S, SV, SR and SL with appropriately graded content lists.
Cars will start arriving at dealers within the next few weeks and while Nissan Canada has set a starting price of $15,898 (same as last year) other prices are yet to be determined, with some increases due to added content level in the higher price ranges.
Volume models like the popular SV (value) trim line should stay under the $20K mark.
This might be shaping up to be “the year of the sedan” for Nissan, with the new 2016 Sentra lineup following the all-new 2016 Maxima and the 2016 Altima that just went on sale.
Although crossover vehicles are stealing the limelight and the number one sales spots in most manufacturers’ lineups, including Nissan’s, the compact sedan remains an important part of the portfolio, especially here in Canada.
And with a new, improved Sentra, updated and upgraded for the 2016 model year with new technologies, new amenities and increased content across the lineup, Nissan adds a new competent and competitive edge to their entry in the compact car segment.
Nissan Sentra 2016 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Five-passenger compact sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, mated to a six-speed manual or optional CVT
ENGINE: 1.8-litre DOHC inline-four engine (130 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 6MT 8.9/6.6L/100km (city/hwy); CVT 8.0/6.1L/100km (city/hwy)
CARGO CAPACITY: 428 litres
PRICE: S MT/CVT, $15,898/$18998; SV MT/CVT, $18,698/$19,998; SR CVT, $22,548; SL CVT, $25,998