The new engine brings the 2007 Nissan Sentra into the world of high-tech inline fours, with its aluminum block and head, continuously variable valve timing, and electronic fuel injection. It makes 140 horsepower (same as the '06 Honda Civic, 14 hp more than the Toyota Corolla and 10 hp less than the Mazda3), but it's been designed to produce strong torque; with 147 pound-feet, it beats those others. In fact, 132 pound-feet are available at 2400 rpm, down low where you want it. Torque is important because it's needed for acceleration at lower rpm.
Our Sentra 2.0 zoomed up freeway on-ramps, and felt like it belonged in the fast lane. The flow of traffic in northern California was more than 80 mph, and the Sentra ran 90 with ease. The engine wasn't loud and didn't feel strained at that pace, although under full-throttle acceleration it was a bit noisy from 5000 rpm up to its redline of 6500.
The Sentra is EPA rated at 29 city and 36 highway miles per gallon, with the new CVT transmission, as in our test model. This is the third generation of that transmission, and the technology improves in leaps. The main benefit with a CVT is less internal friction, for better gas mileage. With only two ranges, high and low, it's smoother because there's less shifting, although the sound is odd, like the car is winding up. And the surge when you floor it is pretty aggressive. The 2007 Nissan Altima has a manual mode for the CVT transmission, turning it into a six-speed; but the Sentra, alas, does not.
The suspension is a new independent configuration in front, with a torsion beam in the rear, a compact design with separate shocks and coil springs that allows more room for the trunk that's above it. It's firm in a quality kind of way, yet never harsh or uncomfortable. It feels rugged and inspires confidence, out there in the cruel world of potholes.
The brakes feel even better. Vented 11-inch discs in front and drums in rear. It's unfortunate that ABS isn't standard except in the 2.0 SL, especially considering all the other standard safety equipment; but at least the option is only $250. We recommend it because the anti-lock brakes allow you to brake and steer at the same time in a panic stop.
The Sentra uses electric power steering, as opposed to hydraulic. It's speed-sensitive, which means the feel is lighter when parking and heavier out on the freeway, as it should be.