Despite its age, the 2006 Nissan Sentra offers a decent amount of equipment for the money and there's plenty of fun to be had with the SE-R models. However, newer competitors are vastly superior when it comes to interior room and overall refinement.
When Nissan introduced the current-generation Sentra in 2000, it hailed it as an inexpensive sedan that broke the mold for economy cars by offering sporty styling, numerous features and a fun-to-drive character. It may have sounded like the usual marketing hype back then, but compared to its competition at the time, it was in fact a more entertaining car to drive than most of the lifeless cars in its category.
Heading into its seventh year of production, the 2006 Nissan Sentra is still a solid sedan, but its competition has improved considerably. It's still one of the fastest economy cars on the market in SE-R, but it's outclassed by its peers in most other areas. The Sentra's biggest drawback is its cramped cabin. It's hard to find a comfortable driving position and legroom is almost nonexistent in the backseat. A decent features list and the solid performance of the SE-R models still make the Nissan Sentra a viable choice, but most small-car buyers would be better served by the Civic or Mazda 3. A fully redesigned Sentra is coming for 2007, but until then small-car shoppers should explore the many other candidates in this class.
There are four Nissan Sentra models available -- 1.8, 1.8 S, SE-R and SE-R Spec V. The 1.8 is truly an economy car as it offers only the most basic features. Moving up to the 1.8 S scores you power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; a split-folding rear seat; cruise control; a trip computer; air conditioning; an eight-way adjustable driver seat; and a CD stereo. The base SE-R performance model features larger 16-inch wheels, foglights and a rear spoiler, while the top-line SE-R Spec V gets even larger 17-inch wheels, sport seats and optional Brembo brakes.
In 1.8 and 1.8 S trim, there is little to get excited about in terms of the driving experience, but there's enough power for daily commutes and errands. The SE-R model adds serious power that makes the 2006 Nissan Sentra one of the fastest cars in its class. The upgraded suspension on the SE-R and Spec V makes for a bumpier ride on the highway, but enthusiast drivers will appreciate the improved cornering ability.
There are two engines available on the front-drive Nissan Sentra. The base 1.8 and 1.8 S both use a 126-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. The 1.8-liter makes most of its torque at low engine speeds, resulting in good in-town response. The SE-R model uses a larger 2.5-liter engine that makes 165 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The Spec V bumps those figures to 175 and 180, respectively. The 1.8 and 1.8 S come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is standard on the SE-R and optional on the 1.8 and 1.8 S. The high-strung SE-R Spec V packs an exclusive six-speed manual only.
The 1.8 and 1.8 S have front disc\/rear drum brakes, while the SE-R and SE-R Spec V have discs all around. ABS and front seat-mounted side airbags are optional on all models, except the 1.8. In NHTSA testing, the Nissan Sentra earned four stars (out of a possible five) for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. However, only two stars were given for front-occupant protection in side impacts. The IIHS gave the car an \Acceptable\ (second highest) score for its performance in the 40-mph frontal offset crash test.
The dash is laid out in a clean fashion, making it easy to find and use the controls. Seat comfort is not one of the Sentra's strengths. The front seats have a short seat-bottom cushion and a limited adjustment range, while the cramped rear seats put the squeeze on even average-size passengers. Trunk space is listed at 11.6 cubic feet, placing it near the bottom of the compact sedan segment.
Speedy SE-R models, nimble handling, lots of standard features, simple controls.
Noisy ride, uncomfortable front seats, extremely tight legroom in back, some low-grade interior materials, poor side-impact crash test score.