Nissan Hopes Turbo Broadens Sentra's Appeal

The majority of U.S. compact cars, largely those from American and European brands, offer turbocharged mills as options or as the sole engine.

December 7, 2016

4 Min Read
Sentra SR Turbo on sale at US Nissan dealers
Sentra SR Turbo on sale at U.S. Nissan dealers.

Keeping good on its promise to expand the breadth of its Sentra lineup, Nissan introduces a turbocharged version of its compact sedan.

“We’ve done a very good job of hitting on the practical-minded compact buyer (who wants) fuel efficiency, value, dependability, reliability. Now we’ve got something that also offers a little bit more fun-to-drive (character),” Tony Baehner, senior manager-product planning for Nissan North America, tells WardsAuto.

The car, based on the Sentra’s existing SR grade, is fitted with Nissan’s 1.6L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl. launched in the Juke CUV six years ago.

The 1.6L in the Sentra SR Turbo hits the same output peaks, 188 hp and 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) of torque, as it does in the Juke. The horsepower and torque arrive at the same rpm as well, 5,600 and 1,600-5,200, respectively.

Baehner says Sentra owners have been requesting a higher-powered, more fun-to-drive variant than the standard Sentra, which uses a 1.8L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. making 130 hp at 6,000 rpm and 128 lb.-ft. (174 Nm) of torque at 3,600 rpm.

Both the standard Sentra and the new SR Turbo variant offer buyers the choice of a 6-speed manual or Jatco’s Xtronic CVT, although for the turbo grade Baehner notes the transmissions have been modified to match the output of the engine.

Nissan originally predicted one-third of Sentra SR Turbo buyers would opt for the manual and two-thirds would select the CVT, but initial orders have split 50/50 between the transmission choices, “so we’re excited about that,” he says.

The majority of U.S. compact cars offer a turbo mill as an option. Some automakers even have gone turbo-only in their C-cars. The Chevy Cruze dropped its 1.8L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. with the introduction of the new ’17 model. The Cruze’s main engine is a 153-hp 1.4L turbo I-4. There’s also a 137-hp 1.6L turbodiesel option due for the car.

Japanese automakers by and large have been holdouts on turbo engines, reflected in the list of C-cars lacking one. The Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza still use naturally aspirated 4-cyls., although the latter two are rumored to be getting turbocharged engines in the near future.

Honda, which also had been wedded to naturally aspirated fours, launched a 174-hp 1.5L turbocharged I-4 last year with the debut of the 10th-generation Civic. Baehner sees the Civic EX sedan with the 1.5L turbo as the new SR Turbo’s top competitor.

“At this point this vehicle is not intended to be a Civic Si or a (Ford) Focus ST (fighter),” he says. “It’s a little more fun to drive, a little more confident driving, (a car that is) tackling daily challenges, not necessarily a raceway.

“But there was a lot of tuning that went into the vehicle to help complement the engine and the power in terms of suspension, braking, body structure and all those things,” he says.

Nissan sees the Sentra SR Turbo as creating additional volume for its C-car, which was refreshed for ’16 and has seen sales climb 7.6% in the U.S. through November to 197,672 units.

“The SR (grade) has traditionally run 15%-20% of the mix. We don’t think that this will completely cannibalize it, we think it’ll add to our SR mix in the lineup,” Baehner says.

The new turbo variant of the Sentra is priced at $21,990, $2,000 higher than the SR grade. There is no upcharge for the SR Turbo’s CVT, Baehner says. The ’17 Civic EX-T ranges from $21,400 with a 6MT to $22,300 for a CVT model.

The Sentra SR Turbo comes standard with 17-in. alloy wheels, intelligent key with push-button start, a backup camera and LED headlamps. An optional premium package tacks on leather, a Bose audio system and navigation.

Baehner expects young men to be the primary buyer of the Sentra SR Turbo. The conventional Sentra attracts more women than men, he notes. “We feel it…will expand our reach to additional customers, at a time when we see turbos becoming more prevalent in the segment,” Baehner says.

At last month’s Los Angeles auto show, Nissan announced the same 188-hp 1.6L turbo engine would be powering the Sentra Nismo, due in January at a price below $25,000. However, that car has 18-in. wheels and tires and is specially tuned for performance. Handling response, grip, steering feel, body control and ride/handling balance is tweaked beyond that of the Sentra SR Turbo, Nissan said of the Nismo in November.

The Nismo also has a unique appearance within the Sentra lineup, including a rear spoiler and red interior.

Nissan may not be done expanding the Sentra lineup. Baehner told WardsAuto earlier this year that a hatchback variant is under study. He listed positives such as giving Sentra buyers another choice and matching the competitive set, while cons included the dominance of the Focus and Mazda3 hatches in the U.S. C-car sector, as well as the growth of CUVs.

The Sentra lineup, including the SR Turbo and Nismo grades, are built at the automaker’s Aguascalientes, Mexico, plant. The SR Turbo will be sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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