The farther downmarket we go in car shopping, the more important each dollar becomes. At the top, a Bentley customer who might balk at $160,000 for the self-winding mechanical clock would have no problem with $5,000 for python-skin seatbelts. (Relax no snakes are harmed at Crewe; Im making a point. The clock is real, though.) But at the base of the car pyramid, a lot of us wonder if we can swing the blind-spot monitors because theyll raise the monthly nut by three or four Happy Meals.
Then again, instead of paying more, we could just wait. Anti-skid software, lane-following, self-braking and so on first show up in, say, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; then, a few years later, theyre in cars that cost a $100,000 less, like the 2016 Nissan Sentra. Yes, the waiting is over: At just $25,245 as equipped, this Sentra SR is the least expensive car Ive driven yet that has rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, as well as the aforementioned blind-spot monitors. However, the goods are split between two option packages Technology ($1,230) and Premium ($2,590 ) which sit atop this cars $20,410 base MSRP (plus another $835 for that pesky destination charge).
Why dont carmakers gather all the new safety options into one box on the order form, and put the satnav and leather and illuminated vanity mirrors in another? Even if it added $2,000 to the bottom line, $25 per month on a car loan, an Active Safety Package containing just those items would pay for itself the very first time it headed off a fender bender, never mind something really ugly. Better yet, just make them standard equipment across the board. In fact, some companies are promising to have automatic emergency braking in all their cars by 2022. Until then, we have to pay a little more.
(Besides the matter of how safe can we afford to be or, as the senator from Vermont might put it, Why should the rich be safer than you and I? theres another issue: How well do these systems work? Its easy to check blind-spot and cross-traffic monitors ourselves, but Im not brave enough to deliberately ram something in order to try the emergency braking. As with airbags, we just have to trust.)
Back to the Sentra: Nissans compact front-wheel-driver has been redrawn for 2016 to make it look more like its bigger, costlier siblings, the Maxima and Altima. Despite its small size, the Sentra is not Nissans starter car thats the Versa and it offers decent space for four adults plus a good-size trunk. The handling is reasonably crisp, too. Raise the drivers seat, which in the SR can be done electrically, and the view over the drop-away hood is excellent. Push the Sport button and the Sentra even becomes pleasantly frisky, although once underway there isnt much gusto. The 1.8-liter Four develops only 130 horsepower and even less torque, and in SR trim each of those ponies is burdened with 23 pounds of car. For those of us resolved not to burn an ounce more fossil fuel than necessary, theres an ECO setting too, which makes the Sentra feel like its just had Thanksgiving dinner. Still, even in Sport mode, we averaged an indicated 37.6 miles per gallon overall, barely off the Sentras 38 mpg highway rating.
The base Sentra, the $17,000 S, comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox and a clutch pedal, but our bigger-bucks SR has an Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission. CVTs are meant to keep their engines running at the most efficient rpm which this one evidently does but they also make foot-to-the-floor acceleration sound painfully strained. Other signs of the SRs humble birth are its tiny computer screen, its lack of one-touch signaling or thermostatic climate control, and its unadorned interior but then ours also has GPS, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, and audio and cruise-control switches in its steering wheel. Those were probably S-Class innovations once too.
One question remains: When this cars screen announces, Your vehicle wirelessly transmits recorded vehicle data to Nissan per subscription agreement for various purposes, including NissanConnect Services, product evaluation, research and development, what else is it telling Big Brother?
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crash-avoidance at a popular price
Small outside, big (enough) inside
No one-touch signaling
Vehicle data transmission is ON. Oh?