2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com

For those with a thirst for driving excitement but a limited budget, there are several compact sedans and hatchbacks on the market with tuned suspensions, performance tires, and extra power under the hood, many of them starting under $25,000.

2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

Well-known examples include the Toyota Corolla XRS ($22,550), Mazda3 GT ($22,995) Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport ($24,695), Honda Civic Si sedan ($26,880) and Volkswagen GTI ($29,675), but one that’s often forgotten is the Nissan Sentra SE-R ($21,798), and SE-R Spec V ($23,198). These zippy Sentras have a bigger, more powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the Sentra’s standard 140-hp 2.0-litre powerplant; the SE-R has 177 horsepower and a CVT with paddle shifters, while the SE-R Spec V has 200 hp and a six-speed manual transmission.

Both these sporty Sentras feature 17-inch low profile tires, sport tuned suspensions, and nicely-equipped interiors with front sport seats and special instrumentation. New this year is standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability control) and traction control.

SE-R and Spec V Sentras can be identified by their smoked headlight and taillight surrounds, front air dam, black honeycomb ‘sport’ grille, front fog lights, side sills, rear trunk spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels and tires, chrome exhaust tip, and SE-R/Spec V badges on the trunk. Still, this is not an aggressive looking car.

The SE-R Spec V model includes a few upgrades over the standard SE-R: W-rated 17-inch summer performance tires, larger front brake rotors, stiffer shocks and struts, a 20-mm lower ride height, larger front stabilizer bar, reinforced upper cowl, trunk-mounted V-brace, and the aforementioned six-speed manual transmission.

Our Spec V test car included the optional Sport Package with a helical limited slip front differential, power glass moonroof, Rockford Fosgate audio system with eight speakers and XM satellite radio, and illuminated vanity mirrors; as well as the Tech Package, with navigation system, five-inch colour screen, and rear-view camera; and metallic pearl paint.

With options, Freight and A/C tax, the as-tested price of this Sentra SE-R Spec V came to $25,524, a very reasonable price for this much stuff.

Driving impressions

The Spec V’s aluminum 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing has a higher (10.5:1) compression ratio than the regular SE-R’s engine and develops maximum horsepower and torque at higher r.p.m.s. Its 200 horsepower comes at 6,600 r.pm. compared to the SE-R’s 177 hp at 6,000 rpm, but more importantly the Spec V makes maximum torque at 5,200 r.p.m. instead of the SE-R’s 2,800 r.p.m. which means the Spec V’s engine needs to be revved higher to extract performance, much like a race engine. Surprisingly though, I found the Spec V has enough useful torque for typical commuting needs and doesn’t need to be shifted constantly to keep the power up. So it’s a fairly flexible engine, though a bit coarse when working hard, and surprisingly quiet when cruising. On the freeway, the engine revs at 2,400 rpm in sixth gear at 100 km/h.

With its high compression ratio and higher revving nature, the Spec V 2.5-litre engine isn’t as fuel efficient as the SE-R or the regular Sentra, and it uses Premium fuel. Against official fuel economy numbers of 9.8 L/100 km (29 mpg) City and 7.0 L/100 km (40 mpg) Highway, I averaged about 10 L/100 km in an urban-heavy use.

The Spec V’s six-speed manual shifter is positioned high up on the centre console for easy reach, shifts are easy though a bit long and clunky, clutch pedal effort is moderate, and engagement is smooth.

The SE-R’s sport-tuned suspension, which includes independent struts/coil springs in front and a torsion beam at the rear, provides a good balance of flat, nimble handling and a non-punishing ride. The standard Continental Sport Contact2 P225/45WR17-inch summer radials on our test car proved sticky and responsive in the dry while being reasonably quiet on the highway. Though I didn’t get a chance to drive in the rain, the optional helical limited slip front differential combined with standard traction control should improve traction and stability when accelerating and cornering in slippery conditions. And if the car begins to lose control, standard stability control is there to help tug the car back into line.

The letdown, for me, in the Spec V’s performance, is the steering feel. The car’s electric power-assisted vehicle speed-sensitive steering has a very strong return-to-centre feel which interferes with the driving experience when cornering, particularly when accelerating and cornering. There is also some mild torque-steer under hard acceleration. The Spec V’s steering feel is manageable and not unsafe in any way, but it should be less intrusive, in my opinion. One positive note is the Sentra’s tight turning diameter of 10.8 metres (35.4 ft.).

Compared to other sporty compact cars in its class, the Sentra SE-R Spec V offers more power and torque than most, but its engine is coarser than some, and it isn’t quite as much fun to drive, mainly because of the steering issues. There’s a lot of bang for the buck here though, with other 200 hp competitors selling for thousands more.

Interior impressions

Though it’s a compact car, the Sentra sedan has a tall roof and big doors that allow four adults to sit comfortably in the front and the rear with adequate headroom and legroom. However, the centre rear seat is tight because of the car’s narrow width, and there’s no centre rear head restraint.

The driving position is slightly elevated and shorter drivers can use the manual seat height adjuster to raise the seat if needed. A handsome three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts up and down but does not pull in and out.

I liked the SE-R Spec V’s stylish interior design which includes fabric covered front seats with white stitching and mesh-style inserts, big side bolsters for support when cornering, matching fabric door inserts, and the letters SE-R embroidered into the seatbacks and floor mats. The instrument panel design is simple and sporty with titanium-look and chrome trim to brighten up the dash and centre console, steering wheel and shift lever.

Two large round gauges for the tach and speedo behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel are easy to read but the smaller orange gauge displaying fuel level, coolant, odometer and outside temperature, is more difficult to see. Unique in this class are oil pressure and G-force acceleration/deceleration gauges located at the top centre of the dash angled towards the driver. The G-force meter lets you know how hard the car is accelerating or braking, but I found it unwise to take my eyes off the road to see how many Gs I was pulling while panic braking!

My car had the optional 340-watt Rockford Fosgate AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with eight speakers including two eight-inch subwoofers, XM satellite radio, and a five-inch colour touch-screen that displays navigation, audio and systems functions. On my test car the premium stereo was a no-charge option and the navigation system and touch-screen was just $700 – that’s a terrific deal. The navigation system even includes a Traffic Info menu that displays real-time traffic tie-ups and road construction. A rear-view camera, that activates when the transmission is put in Reverse, displays the area behind the car on the screen, making it much easier to back into a parking space.

Standard in the SE-R Spec V are power windows with driver’s auto up/down, power mirrors and power door locks with remote entry and trunk release, air conditioning, and cruise control.

Under the padded armrest between the front seats is a storage box with auxiliary inputs, USB and iPod compatibility, allowing the driver to control iPod functions through the audio system or steering wheel controls. Bluetooth hands-free phone is available on other Sentras, but I wasn’t able to find it in the Spec V.

Other storage areas include an open bin above the radio, an open bin below the shifter with 12-volt power, a large glovebox on the passenger side, a flip-down coin tray near the drivers’ door, mesh pockets on the back of the front seats, and small pockets in the doors. Two cupholders between the front seats include a handy adjuster for different cup sizes, but rear passengers in the Spec V don’t have cupholders.

While other Sentras have standard 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, the SE-R Spec V doesn’t because of a V-brace across the trunk opening to stiffen the body for improved handling. Still, the SE-R Spec V’s 340 litre (12.0 cu. ft.) trunk is quite roomy for a compact sedan.

Like all Sentras, the Spec V includes two front airbags, two front side airbags and two side curtain airbags, as well as front seat active head restraints to help prevent whiplash in a rear ender, rear outboard LATCH and tether anchors for child seats, and rear door child locks.

Verdict

With 200 horsepower and a boatload of standard equipment, the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is a good value in the compact performance sedan class, but its uneven steering feel and coarse engine are a damper on its otherwise dynamic performance.

Pricing: 2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R

Base price: $23,198

Options: $835 (Tech Package: navigation system with five-inch colour screen, rear-view camera $700; metallic pearl paint $135; Sport Package: helical limited slip front differential, power glass moonroof, Rockford Fosgate audio system with eight speakers and XM satellite radio, illuminated vanity mirrors N/C)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,391

Price as tested: $25,524

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Greg WilsonGreg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Read more Test Drives on CanadianDriver.com

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One Response to 2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

  1. Pingback: 2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V « Auto Show by Auto Trader | Car Audio Pro

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