Don’t let the fancy name fool you: The 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo isn’t the sport compact you’ve been waiting for.
Yes, it comes packing a turbocharged engine under its hood, making the SR Turbo among the most powerful Sentras ever built; and yes, it boasts a revised suspension setup aimed at enhancing the car’s otherwise uninspiring driving characteristics. But those hoping this new turbocharged Sentra is the successor to the SE-R Spec V model of more than a decade ago be forewarned; it’s not. However, that doesn’t mean the SR Turbo isn’t an improved entry in a crowded segment, and it is at least a step in the right direction for one of the most underwhelming small sedans on the market.
Change From Within
With a mid-cycle refresh introduced on the Sentra for 2016, virtually all of the changes to the SR Turbo are beneath the sheetmetal. And foremost among them is the addition of a long-awaited turbocharged engine. Taken from the Nissan Juke, the 1.6-liter is the first forced-induction engine to power Nissan’s compact sedan, joining the naturally aspirated 1.8-liter found in the rest of the Sentra lineup. Compared to that engine, which makes a paltry 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque, the turbo puts out 50 percent more horsepower and 41 percent more torque for totals of 188 and 177, respectively, and slightly more than the 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque made by the 1.5-liter turbo available in the Honda Civic. Unlike that engine, however, the Nissan recommends premium fuel in the Sentra’s turbocharged powerplant, a mystifying proposition in a compact car.
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Mated to the four-cylinder are a pair of available gearboxes — a six-speed manual and continuously variable automatic — also borrowed from the Juke, while the Sentra’s suspension setup has been overhauled to suit the SR Turbo, with front springs that are 10 percent stiffer, along with shock damping rates that have been increased 23 percent and 50 percent, respectively, front and rear.
Other changes include larger front brakes and an electric power steering system that has had its electronics remapped and features a larger steering motor to make it easier to handle at low speeds while providing enhanced feedback when the road opens up.
A short drive on the winding roads that surround Lake Oconee, about 90 minutes from downtown Atlanta, provided ample time to quickly conclude that this is no rival to the pending Honda Civic Si, let alone the Volkswagen Golf GTI or either of Ford’s ST hatches. While its driving characteristics have been vastly improved over the rest of the Sentra pack, the SR Turbo seems better suited to chasing down sport utilities than sport compacts.
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The turbocharged engine is what the Sentra has been missing for years, but expectations of a torque-happy pocket rocket should be tempered. It certainly provides the additional power the Sentra so desperately needed, something that is immediately noticeable when entering the highway or passing slower traffic, but the SR Turbo feels big and heavy when pushed despite the healthy serving of torque.
Having only spent time with a manual-equipped car on the short drive east of Atlanta, the six-speed gearbox proved a welcome driving companion but far from perfect, with long throws and tight gates that make it easy to skip a gear or downshift unexpectedly. Likewise, the clutch is light and dead, offering little resistance when searching for the sweet spot. Still, chirping the tires from a standing start is easy, even if winding the engine out to redline can be a torrid-sounding affair.
Once rolling, the SR Turbo’s new suspension and steering help liven the drive relative to non-turbo Sentra models, the car willing to play along a bit as the corners beckon. The suspension is stiff, and perhaps stiffer than it needs to be, but it helps keep the car poised through turns despite the propensity for understeer, particularly in decreasing-radius corners.
Big And Basic
Where the Sentra really shines is in its roomy cabin, a tradition that continues in the SR Turbo. Headroom measures 39.4 inches (1,001 millimeters) and 36.7 inches (932 mm) fore and aft, while legroom comes in at 42.5 inches (1,079.5 mm) and 37.4 inches (950 mm), respectively. It also boasts a respectable 15.1 cu-ft (428 liters) trunk, putting it amongst the segment leaders when it comes to cargo space.
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While big, the interior, at least without the premium pack along for the ride, does feel a bit disappointing, with a heavy dose of plastic holding it down. Likewise, the standard infotainment system does without a touchscreen, a growing norm in the segment, and feels outdated. Adding the premium package is worth the price of admission (estimated at $2,600 in the US, $2,700 in Canada), and includes leather seats, a power sunroof, eight-speaker Bose audio system, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, as well as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility aren’t part of the infotainment package, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Verdict: 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo Review
A sport compact it is not, the 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo missing the attitude and aggressiveness necessary to be considered a reincarnation of the vaunted Sentra SE-R Spec V. The SR Turbo is, however, a massive step forward for the Sentra when it comes to power and drivability.
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