Nissan Sentra retooled with touch of Altima to rival Civic, Corolla
Compact sheds power, weight to boost fuel economy
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NASHVILLE -- Nissan Motor Co. is retooling the Sentra for 2013 with an all-new platform, lighter body and 1.8-liter engine to elevate its appeal in the compact sedan segment now dominated by the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
The 2013 Sentra, which will reach showrooms this fall, sheds the radical styling of the outgoing model and is aimed squarely at the sales-rich center of the compact segment, where fuel economy is a top purchase consideration.
Nissan officials acknowledge that the current Sentra's styling proved too polarizing for the compact segment. Designers have crafted the new model to bear a stronger resemblance to the brand's top-selling Altima sedan, which has gained ground in the competitive mid-sized market.
Nissan anticipates that sales of the new Sentra will far exceed the current model's volume -- nearly 115,000 units last year.
It is expanding North American factory capacity to add Sentra output on a second production line at a plant in Canton, Miss. The Sentra will also continue to be assembled in Mexico.
U.S. sales of the Sentra peaked at 247,109 in 1988, but annual volume hasn't topped the 200,000 mark since 1989.
The Corolla and Civic typically sell at rates more than twice the Sentra's current volume. In the first seven months of this year, sales of segment leader Civic reached 187,586, and deliveries for the Corolla and its Matrix variation totaled 175,366
Sentra sales total 65,872 so far this year -- down 11 percent -- but well behind the Civic, Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta.
The compact segment has been upended in recent years by more formidable, stylish and fuel-efficient entries from Chevrolet, Kia, Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, and Dodge.
The 2013 Sentra's 1.8-liter, 4-cyinder engine -- paired with a CVT -- is rated at 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque.
Compact segment expands
The segment is expected to continue growing as consumers gravitate to smaller, fuel efficient models and automakers continue to make refinements, add features and improve packaging.
Once defined by tiny boxes on wheels with crank windows, cloth seats and budget prices, the compact sedan market has become increasingly sophisticated. Automakers are offering more amenities such as heated steering wheels, dual climate control and rearview monitors along with standard power door locks and windows.
Nissan believes the new-generation Sentra will be aided by segment-leading fuel economy, excluding diesel-engine cars and hybrids, and a more refined interior with a soft-touch instrument panel and available wood-tone trim.
Nissan has followed the same game plan with other recent models.
The 2013 Altima, released this summer, boasts the top mpg of any mid-sized sedan, and the redesigned 2013 Pathfinder, which goes on sale later this year, claims the highest mpg in the mid-sized crossover segment.
Photo credit: NISSAN
Nissan says the redesigned Sentra has dropped 5 percent of its body weight, or 150 pounds, and will deliver 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. The car's FE+ trim model, equipped with a rear spoiler and low-rolling-resistance tires, will reach a slightly higher 40 mpg in highway driving.
The gains are due partly to refinements in the car's continuously variable transmission designed to reduce friction.
But getting there meant scaling back the car's engine power. The 2013 model will rely on a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that has 130 hp and 128 pounds-feet of torque. The outgoing model uses a 2.0-liter engine that delivers 140 hp and 147 pounds-feet of torque.
U.S. sales of the current Sentra peaked at 114,991 in 2011 but failed to make a dent in the compact sedan market. The design also proved polarizing to some consumers.
Nissan is gambling that U.S. consumers will care less about reduced horsepower than they do about the model's styling upgrade and fuel economy.
The car will feature wraparound headlights and LED accent lights and a larger front grille. The body is more sculpted, with smoother flowing side panel accent lines highlighted with chrome trim and door handles.
After some recent compact models -- notably the Civic and Jetta -- drew negative reviews when content and features were removed to reduce costs and keep sticker prices low, Nissan saw an opportunity to gain ground with the new Sentra.
Nissan anticipates the 2013 Sentra's design will appeal to "upwardly bound buyers who aspire to drive something more premium than some of the other designs in the segment," the company said in a statement today.
The Sentra's overall length has been increased by 2.3 inches to 182.1 inches.
The Sentra's overall length has been increased by 2.3 inches to 182.1 inches. It is slightly narrower, by 1.2 inches, and more aerodynamic, with a decrease in coefficient of drag to 0.29 from 0.34 on the 2012 model.
"With the complete redesign for 2013, Sentra is closer in look and feel to Altima than a typical compact sedan," Nissan division head Al Castignetti said in a statement. "In the race for fuel economy bragging rights, sometimes what gets lost in the mix is drivability. Sentra's new engine and advanced CVT design are perfectly matched to provide the best of both mpg and driving enjoyment."
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