in 2013 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $14,234 - $16,248
Original MSRP: $15,990 - $19,590
MPG: 30 City / 39 Hwy
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2013 Nissan Sentra Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

A lot of car reviewers say the 2013 Nissan Sentra’s performance is mediocre. They are disappointed with its underpowered engine, loud continuously variable transmission and unrefined manual transmission. Test drivers also say the steering doesn’t have enough feedback and that the base model’s brakes are weak. They do like, however, that the Sentra’s ride is comfortable and smooth.

  • "Shoppers looking for a more involving experience will want to strongly consider the Mazda3 or Ford Focus, but the Sentra should satisfy the majority of compact car drivers." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Around town and on the freeway, the 2013 Nissan Sentra provides a fairly smooth and quiet ride." -- Edmunds
  • "Such is how the Sentra drives: softly and competently, but clumsily-and competitors have elevated the game. The Cruze, Civic and Elantra have more refined rides, while the Focus and Mazda3 out-handle the Nissan. Gas mileage is the Sentra's trump card, but the driving experience exposes why." -- Cars.com

Acceleration and Power

All 2013 Sentra models have a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional. The EPA says that the Sentra gets 27/36 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission. Models with the CVT achieve 30/39 mpg, which are among the highest fuel economy ratings in the class.

According to the automotive press, the 2013 Sentra’s engine is far from powerful, but they say its performance is adequate for the class. Like many small cars, reviewers find that the Sentra needs more power for passing and merging maneuvers. Most test drivers drove models with the CVT, and few are fond of it. One auto writer says that this transmission is quiet, but many reviewers dislike it because it’s noisy, especially when the Sentra accelerates to highway speeds. Just one test driver mentions the manual transmission, but he doesn’t like it because it feels flimsy and rough.

  • "The CVT transmission is meant to be more compact and economical than a traditional gearbox and, in most instances, it performs quietly and remains nicely in the background." -- Road and Track
  • "However, the 1.8-liter engine, used at each trim level, does not have that much power to give. It delivers 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, adequate for most daily driving but a little short on oomph for passing on a two-lane highway." -- CNET 
  • "Under hard acceleration, the CVT can leave the engine at high revs for longer than we'd prefer, but many cars in this class are rather loud during acceleration even with traditional automatic transmissions." -- Automobile Magazine 
  • "A manual six-speed gearbox is available in the base, rental car/pond dweller model. But even if you are a dingy, swamp inhabitant, you won't find it performs much better. It's horrendously notchy and feels like it's made out of cardboard." -- Jalopnik 

Handling and Braking

While test drivers say that the 2013 Sentra has a comfortable ride and isn’t disturbed by uneven pavement, they agree that its competitors are more fun to drive. Part of the Sentra’s lackadaisical driving experience is a result of its steering. Some think it doesn’t deliver enough feedback. The brakes also receive mixed critiques. Reviewers have tested models with optional rear disc brakes, and say that the brakes are stronger on these models. Some test drivers say models without the disc brakes have a mushy pedal feel and don’t stop smoothly, but one reviewer thinks braking is fine with either setup.

  • "The Sentra exhibited a good balance between body control and comfort with a clear emphasis on comfort over handling." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Though the Sentra's handling abilities around corners are respectable, the steering is rather numb. Other small sedans are more rewarding to drive." -- Edmunds 
  • "For instance, the steering, while not what we'd call over-boosted, is pretty lazy for what we've come to expect from the Sentra nameplate." -- Autoblog 
  • "Optional four-wheel-disc brakes on the SR and SL stop the car with linear pedal progression - but the disc/drum setup on lesser cars has a spongier pedal with weak, squirrely hard stops. If you purchase a Sentra SR or SL, get the discs." -- Cars.com 
  • "If you opt for the SR and SL models, then rear disc brakes will be your reward. And they do their job. They stop the car. The pedal has a good feel to it, even on the non-disc base models. The only negative is the car has a tendency to hunt slightly under heavy braking. But to summarize: They work." -- Jalopnik

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