The Curious Case of the Seventh-Gen Nissan Sentra NISMO

Sentra NISMO 15 photos
Photo: Nissan
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In hindsight, the seventh-generation Nissan Sentra B-17 is a car one could argue was set up to fail from the word go. Yes, it sold in massive numbers and did well for Nissan's bottom line at the time. Overall quality issues with CVT failures galore made the Sentra a questionable choice for most drivers. So then, you might think building a performance model to be at least a little pointless. Evidently, Nissan didn't think so.
The NISMO edition of the Sentra produced between 2017 and 2019 was the kind of car that needed a strong foundation before realistically considering becoming a legitimate enthusiast's car. Rivals like the Civic Si had no problems in this regard, the platform Honda's pocket rocket was based upon was already known to be reasonably reliable and well-trusted. The Si's fanbase was essentially the same audience to which Nissan marketed the Sentra NISMO.

We won't bore you with another rehashing of the classic tale of Carlos Ghosn and the disaster that was the Renault-Nissan alliance. But the long and short of the story basically went something like this. Everyone's favorite internationally wanted financial criminal made more than a few cost-cutting measures to make the Sentra as well as other Nissan models more affordable than Honda, Toyota, or Ford. Among a plethora of other suspect actions during his time as chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

These changes would be all the more apparent when applied to a performance car that required excitement and exclusivity as its main selling points. The Sentra NISMO showed its familial relation to its bare-bones rental fleet darling of a base model more than anything from its rivals.

Little trinkets like revised LED daytime running lights, big alloy wheels, and trademark red front and rear aero pack did little to deceive buyers into thinking the Sentra NISMO was much more than a basic economy car with some expensive tinsel.

Sentra NISMO
Photo: Nissan USA
The B-17 Sentra NISMO's performance figures didn't do much to sway opinions towards itself. Sporting a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine found in several Carlos Ghosn controlled vehicles, power numbers direct from Nissan press releases indicated figures of 188 horsepower and 177 lb/ft (240 Nm) of torque. This power was fed through either a six-speed manual or the dreaded Jatco CVT grenade... I mean... transmission.

The Sentra NISMO was down over 15 horsepower to the Honda's 205 and 192 lb-ft (260 Nm) torques without even lining up on the track next to the equivalent Civic Si. It did at least come with a performance-tuned suspension system exclusive to NISMO models. But there was no denying that at least as an out and out speed machine, the Sentra NISMO was outgunned and, frankly, outclassed as well.

Considering the Sentra had an MSRP at least $1 thousand more than the Civic and often, even more, you start to understand how Carlos Ghosn's nefarious cost-cutting measures eventually came back to bit him firmly in the rear-end. Apart from countless other financial crimes.

Moving to the interior, which was not a strong suit for the normal un-sporty B-17 Sentras. The faux carbon-fiber trim pieces around the gear stick with red accents that match the aero package on the outside at least give you some reminder that Nissan remembered the NISMO brand is supposed to have sporting credentials. But still, the dashboard, instrument cluster, and door cards were pretty much the same as the ones you'd find in the poverty spec base Sentra.

Sentra NISMO
Photo: Nissan USA
When you remember that Nissan's had more than enough problems with interior pieces simply falling apart after a certain period of time, we sure hope no one gets duped into buying a high mileage version of one of these cars. You might end up ripping off the padding on the door lining just by gripping it to close the door. It isn't like one remarkably spry young member of the autoevolution team hasn't had that happen more than once on a 2017 Sentra S. No way, it couldn't be. (guilty as charged)

And so, the B-17 Sentra NISMO hit the scene with all the force of a wet noodle. It was nothing like the sales success Nissan top brass hoped it would be, and the NISMO edition was axed following the 2019 model update to the new B-18 Sentra. From what we've seen and heard so far, the B-18 Sentra appears to be a significant improvement over the now-defunct B-17, apart from a couple of dodgy tie rods here and there.

But, with Carlos Ghosn now smuggled out of Japan in a box and the stench of corrupt mediocrity permeating his empires remains, the Sentra NISMO will likely stain the brand for at least the foreseeable future.
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