New Car Joy Ride
With age and the passing of years comes growth, experience and wisdom. But oftentimes this maturity comes at the cost of the uncompromising whimsy of youth. And so it goes with cars. Witness the "maturity" of the Civic, Miata and GTI (don't even get me started on the Eclipse). Even the latest iterations of the Mini and xB, two oh-so frisky rides, have mellowed in their current guise. There is something to be said about shedding the trappings of youth, such as the buzzy powerplants, junior-sized interiors and unrefined chassis dynamics. It seems the sport compact class of 2007 has graduated and Nissan's Sentra SE-R has shifted itself accordingly.
The hotted-up SE-R and even hotter Spec V are pumped up performance variants of the sixth-generation Sentra which was released late last year. Nissan's all-new sedan gets its cost effectiveness on by sharing the C-platform found in the Renault Megane. The SE-R product planners didn't stop there as this model uses the 2.5-liter four-cylinder from the base model Altima. While this is the fourth generation of the SE-R, this latest model with a paltry 177hp and manumatic CVT gearbox doesn't exactly bring Old Glory to full mast. To really set your pants a popping you need to step up to the Spec V, the name of which attempts a connection with Nissan's rare V-Spec GT-R. It should be noted that the V-Spec name was also appropriated by the infamous So Cal shop where the equally infamous Rikdaddy once worked.
While the SE-R and Spec V both use the same QR25DE, the V benefits from extra helpings of go to the tune of 200hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. This is accomplished through a higher 10.5:1 compression ratio and 7,000rpm redline (compared to 9.6:1 and 6,200rpm), stouter internals (connecting rods, valvesprings) and more aggressive cam profiles. Other differences include larger 12.6-inch front discs (0.9 inch more than the SE-R), higher grip W-rated tires (in the same 225/45R17 size), 10mm lower springs with more firmly damped shocks and struts, a 25mm front stabilizer bar, and additional reinforcement in the cowl and trunk areas. Both models get the awesome SE-R seatback logos but the V gets the even awesomer leather shift knob, chrome exhaust tip and very subtle Spec V trunk badge. Aside from the additional badge, the exterior of each model is exactly the same with a unique front fascia, side skirts, rear bumper and trunk spoiler to help set these SE-R's off from their more conservative base-model Sentra sibling.
The exterior styling of this new model is polarizing, and it will be interesting to see if any of the aero kit designers can add some flow to this sedan's boxy shape. Once inside, the SE-R is much roomier than its predecessor. All the controls are nicely placed and the extra rigidity of the Megane platform shines through with a better overall ride quality than most other cars in this segment. The Spec V's extra torque is nice on the ascent over Southern Cali's Angeles Crest Highway but I never really felt like all 200 horses were helping the charge.
The SE-R's lower power and CVT didn't take too kindly to the 2.5-mile undulating Willow Springs road course. Manual mode was anything but as the gearbox would not hold a gear, choosing to upshift well before I was good and ready. However, in Auto mode the CVT always managed to hang on to that sweet spot in the torque range. The Spec V felt much more neutral than most FFs with a nice touch of lift throttle oversteer but nothing so abrupt as to make your starfish pucker. Just as smooth is the 7,000 rpm rev limit which did not greet me with the same syncopated slap that I've come to expect from a car like this. But I didn't get to truly experience the limits of the Spec V until Koni Challenge 350Z driver Tommy Constantine took me for a few hot laps, demonstrating the balanced composure of this hottest Sentra.
All in all, the Spec V is a better flavor than the base SE-R for a Super Streeter who's shopping around. Nissan claims the price will be around $20K which puts it right in the bell curve with the others in this class. Although I do find it slightly depressing to watch the cars in this class grow up.
That New Car Smell
'07 Nissan Sentra
SE-R (Spec V)
The Sticker est. $20,000
Under The Hood 2.5L DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder QR25DE K1 (Spec V: QR25DE High Output)
The Power 177hp @ 6,000 rpm, 172 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm (Spec V: 200hp @ 6,600 rpm, 180 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm)
Scale TIPPING 3,102 lb (Spec V: 3,078)
Layout Front engine, FWD
Gearbox Xtronic CVT with paddle shifters (Spec V: six-speed manual transmission)
Stiff Stuff Independent front suspension with coil springs, stabilizer bar, torsion beam rear suspension (Spec V: front Sport-tuned suspension with 10mm shorter coil springs, 25mm stabilizer bar)
Rollers 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; 225/45VR17 all season tires (Spec V: 225/45WR17 summer tires)
Stoppers Standard Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); 11.7-inch (Spec V: 12.6-inch) power-assisted front vented disc; 11.5-inch power-assisted solid rear disc
At The Pump EPA 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway (Spec V: 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway)
The Pack Honda Civic Si, Mazda Mazdaspeed3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Volkswagen GTI
Deep Thoughts The SE-R is on par with others in this class, but this segment as a whole has given up some of the excitement it once had.