2013 Nissan Sentra: Altima’s little brother claims 40 mpg highway

2013 Nissan Sentra front three-quarter motionThe 2013 Nissan Sentra joins big brother Altima in the fight for fuel economy and market dominance. Nissan says the newest incarnation of its compact sedan will return 40 mpg on the highway, which has become the new benchmark for compact car fuel efficiency. Nissan also tried to give the 2013 Sentra a more expensive feel, with styling from the Altima and a revamped interior.

The Sentra will achieve 40 mpg on the highway, but only when properly equipped. The big 4-0 only applies to cars with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the FE+ fuel economy package.

The FE+ package includes grille shutters and other aerodynamic aids; it’s similar to the Focus SFE and Cruze Eco fuel economy specials offered by Ford and Chevy, respectively. Non-FE+ models with the CVT are rated at 39 mpg. A six-speed manual transmission is also available in base models.

The Sentra’s 34 combined mpg rating should make it the best in its class. The Nissan bests the Focus SFE and Cruze Eco by one mpg, although a diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI automatic will also return 34 combined mpg.

Coupled to the CVT is a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, producing 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. That puts the Sentra pretty close to the bottom in its class in terms of power. Base Cruze models have 138 hp; the Focus comes with 160 hp. The Sentra does beat or equal the base engines in the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, respectively, but each offers a more powerful engine option.2013 Nissan Sentra interior

It may have a horsepower deficit, but Nissan seems to have put most of its efforts into upgrading other parts of the Sentra. The exterior styling is taken straight off the 2013 Altima, so if you like the bigger Nissan, you’ll probably like this one. LED headlight accents and taillights help give the Sentra a premium feel, and keep it in step with the latest automotive fashion.

On the inside, the interior looks less like that of a rental car, and can be trimmed in optional leather with wood accents. The Sentra grows slightly in length for 2013, but is actually shorter and narrower than the 2012 model. Regardless, Nissan says the 2013 Sentra has more usable interior space, and is about 150 pounds lighter.

Nissan also upgraded the Sentra’s technology suite. Navigation (which can warn drivers of curves and changes in the speed limit) is an option, as is a NissanConnect system that allows drivers to read and reply to text messages with voice commands.

NissanConnect also encompasses Pandora and Bluetooth functions. Paired with the navigation system, it can enable Sirius XM traffic and weather updates and point-of-interest information from Google. It’s all controlled through a 5.8-inch touch screen.

The 2013 Sentra excells in every area except one: desirability. It’s hard to see buyers getting excited about fuel economy, and the styling isn’t as dynamic as other cars. Still, most compact car buyers will probably be satisfied with this sensible sedan, even if they aren’t excited.