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Eric
09-11-2007, 09:08 AM
Nissan's Sentra SE-R is one of the original Japanese "pocket rockets" - a souped-up economy car whose performance capability belies its still-affordable MSRP of $19,680 ($20,180 for the even-more-souped-up SE-R Spec V).

This hot dog econo-sedan is up to 200 horsepower in Spec V form (177 in SE-R), which when you do a little retro-historical research looks awfully strong compared with even V-8 muscle cars of the early '90s such as the 5.0 liter Mustang GT -which offered only slightly more output from an engine nearly twice as big and with double the cylinders of the four-pot Nissan.

It feels strong on the street, too. The Spec V launches forcefully as you bring up the revs and sidestep the clutch to bring the first of the six-speed manual's forward gears online. By the 2-3 upshift you've blown past 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

That's quick, chief - especially for what's still basically an economy car (albeit one that's been pumping up in the gym).

110, 120 comes up in short order if you keep your foot down - and there's plenty more to go. The Sentra feels happy at those speeds, too. (I found it less darty than Mistu's AWD hell-child, the Lancer EVO - which required a firm grip on the wheel and frequent minor course corrections to stay on track).

The hot-rodded 2.5 liter engines makes it all possible. It's a pretty impressive little thing - with high-strength connecting rods, an eight counterweight crankshaft, crowned pistons (for 10.5:1 CR) and a twin-branch high-flow exhaust manifold among its special performance upgrades. There's a nice basso thrumming sound in fifth or sixth as you're just cruising along. It's easy to believe you're piloting a V-6 Maxima or Atima... .

And when you need to drop down a gear to put the eager four back into the sweet spot of its power curve, the action of the console-mounted shifter's nice and snickety. (Reverse is up and left - and you'll need to pull up on a safety interlock to get it. Easy once you've done it once.) Clutch take-up is progressive and the car's very civilized in heavy traffic. You can drive it hard - or not. And it's just as happy doing either.

The regular SE-R gets less aggressive cams - but the real downside (other than the hp drop) is the six-speed manual's off the table; it's a Spec V-only deal. This warmed-up (but not Spec V spicy) version of the Sentra gets a "sport tuned" Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) instead.

CVTs are like automatics in that you just put it in "Drive" and go; however, there are no gears as such - and so no upshifts or downshifts. There's basically just one forward speed - with the effective final drive ratio at any given time "continuously variable," according to speed/load. The effect is turbine-like. Mash the gas and the engines accelerates right to redline - and pretty much stays there until you ease off. Part-throttle runs the engine to mid-range - where (again) it remains until you back off the gas pedal. It then settles into a lower RPM for steady-state cruise.

It's nice not to have the coffe-spilling, neck-snapping shift-shock, but some people find the CVT's operating characteristics a little unnerving. CVT-equipped cars also tend to be noisier - especially when driven hard. Sometimes, it feels like the engine is being tortured - or at least, subjected to excessively high, excessively continuous RPMs.

The upside - and the reason why automakers have been embracing CVTs, especially in economy-minded cars like the Sentra - is reduced parasitic power losses - and a potential fuel economy bump - relative to a conventional automatic transmission.

Supposedly, it's worth about 5 percent, all else being equal.

For the enthusiast driver, the six-speed manual gearbox (and thus, the Spec V) is the only way to go. It's less buzzy than the CVT, you're more involved in the act of driving the car - and, of course, you get the additional 23 horses that come with the keys to the Spec V. And besides, you'll still get 24 city/31 highway - which isn't half-shabby given how quick/capable this car is.

Oversized wheels and tires, high-capacity brakes (with meaty-looking calipers readily visible through the spokes of the alloy rims), plus an aggressive body kit with deep air dam, driving lights and rear decklid spoiler are, of course, part of the SE-R package.

You can order Bluetooth connectivity - and keyless ignition, too.

Other nice SE-R touches include red stitch accenting for the steering wheel and seats, "SE-R" callouts for the driver and passenger sport buckets, special gauge pack with 140 mph speedo and 7,000 RPM redline tach - plus a G-meter that measures acceleration and braking forces from .07 negative "g" to .07 positive "g." Next to it is an oil pressure gauge - with both units canted toward the driver's line of sight. Below this are the audio system (high end piece with MP3/iPod plug-in) and three rotary controls for the AC and heater. You can adjust airflow and temp without looking. Wonderful - and welcome as a soft sofa after a hard day's ride. No over-teched digital readouts to fiddle with, no "menus" or "mice" to drive up your blood pressure.

This car is focused - with little extraneous BS to detract from the mission. I really liked that about it.

Running this car hard reminded me a lot of the old Dodge Neon SRT-4. Only the Nissan feels much better put-together, inside and out. Where the Neon was a Saturday Night Special built fast but loose, the Sentra's a pretty decent automotive approximation of a nice, respectable mid-range pistol such as a Taurus .45 auto. The materials, fit and finish are quality. It'll operate without jamming (or falling apart in your hands) for many years. Cars like the Neon SRT-4 were great fun - as press cars. But I would never have bought one myself. This Sentra, I would have no qualms about taking home.

It'll run with some much bigger (and considerably more expensive) dogs - but it won't bite you on the ankle, either. That - and 31 mpg on the highway and a $20k price for 200 hp and 6.5 0-60 times - makes it a pick of the proverbial litter among the '08 crop of pocket rockets.

Try it for yourself and see.

END

SPECVguy
11-24-2007, 04:01 PM
I am the proud new owner of a silver 2008 Sentra SER SPEC-V and I agree with your opinion of the new SPEC-V completely.
I have in the past owned many of the vehicles you compared the Spec-V to. Several 5.0 Mustangs in the early 90's and as recent as three years ago a 2004 Dodge Neon SRT-4.
Before purchasing a Spec-V I test drove and compared it to the 2007 and 2008 Honda Civic SI coupe and sedan. I found the SI to have a really sweet sounding high winding engine mated to a really butter smooth 6 speed ( I did notice an occasional grind to third that many people have commented on). I am 6'3" and just could not get comfortable in the Civic SI. Much less head room with the standard equipped sun roof and the parking brake lever most of the time was pressed into my right leg. The seats were very nice and much firmer in the lower bolsters than the spec-V; However, I remembered back to my SRT-4 equipped with the factory optional Viper sport seats. The Viper seats were beautiful, functional, and well bolstered. Problem for me is on a trip and daily use the hard lower bolsters would cut into my legs (very uncomfortable) made worse by the fact the SRT-4 was unavailable with cruise control and on a trip my right leg would go numb pressed against the hard bolster. The Seat's in the Spec-V are very comfortable with the softer lower bolsters, but with firmer upper bolsters holding your upper body about like the Civic SI.
The shifter in the Spec-V has a feel more like the SRT-4 (a little notchy-cable operated feel) but I have not as of yet had any grinding in shifts to third gear as in the Civic SI.
The Spec-V is not as fast as the SRT-4 but has a better over all quality feel and much better ergonomics. It also achieves some really good fuel economy numbers when driven in a nonperformance mode. Driven easy I have consistently recorded fuel consumption figures much higher than the EPA rating. The SRT-4 consumed premium fuel at a higher rate no matter how it was driven.
I am quite satisfied with my new pocket rocket. It is exactly what I was looking for. ;D

Eric
11-24-2007, 06:09 PM
Hi Spec,

Thanks for the kind words - and congrats on your car!

Also, welcome to the site; I noticed you joined up the other day. If you have any questions or problems with anything, feel free to give me a shout anytime.

-Eric

l3it3r
12-06-2007, 03:29 PM
My good friend had the previous generation SE-R Spec V and it was a GREAT car. I absolutely LOVED driving that car. The powerband, transmission, suspension, all top notch. However, after driving that car, and climbing into my SRT-4, I was completely satisfied in the completely different power level, handling that's as good, if not better than the SE-R's and the fun factor. The Build quality of the SE-R and the standard features surely blew the SRT out of the water though. The SRT was built to go fast. The SE-R was built to be a a great driver's car, and have many of the amenities that you're expecting for a Sub $20k car, unlike the spartan SRT4 interior and features list. I still have my SRT-4, and it's a seriously powerful FWD car. I'll never buy another car like it, but it's been a BLAST for the 4 years and two months that I've owned it.

After thoughts? I'd buy an SE-R and Supercharge it.