You may think of sport sedans as high-revving, turbocharged monsters that can tear up Germany’s famed Nürburgring, but I do not. My favorite classic sport sedans are cars that are lightweight, engaging to drive, and can still carry kids and friends to and fro. Affordability is key. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta, BMW 2002, and Datsun 510 come to mind. I’d argue the 2024 Nissan Sentra SR joins their paddock.
Classic Club Racer
Mentioning the 510 that debuted in 1968 in the same paragraph as its iconic European rivals is no joke as it was largely developed under Yataka Katayama, known as “Mr. K” and the father of the Z sports car, to target cars like the Alfa and BMW. He imbued it with a 96 horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and independent rear suspension. It remains a favorite for club racing in modified form, but you won’t have to modify the Sentra SR for a speedy vibe.
It’s a fetching little car with a dark chrome grille, low hoodline, rear spoiler, and deftly sculpted bodysides over 18” wheels. Check the LED headlamps and moonroof too. I especially like it in bright Monarch Orange metallic with Super Back floating roof. From a few yards away, the Sentra looks much like its larger and more sophisticated Altima and Maxima siblings.
Pretty much everything inside is padded or orange-stitched, giving the cabin a sporty upscale flair. It could have come from an Audi with an intuitive touchscreen proud of the dash and dual-zone automatic climate controls below. Leatherette heated seats, heated flat-bottom steering wheel, and Bose audio add comforts. Connect devices via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Comprehensive safety tech includes adaptive cruise with lane tracing, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, and rear cross path detection with auto stop.
Modern Efficient Performance
Compared to some of the classics, the Sentra SR is a thoroughbred. Under its chiseled hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 149 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque. All of that is sent to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. That’s not terribly impressive by modern standards, but would have rocked the old Datsun 510 silly. Better, it delivers a frugal 30/38-MPG city/highway.
No doubt, the Sentra SR would be a lot more fun with a proper six-speed manual transmission or even a paddle shifter. There’s nothing fun about a CVT! I’d also love a turbo. The SR doesn’t need one for daily driving, but the chassis with its tight four-wheel independent suspension and quick steering is certainly up to more power. Even so, the ride is comfortable, soaks up rough pavement like a much larger car, and is every bit the equal of classic sport sedans. Wind and road noise are prevalent at speed, but that’s typical of affordable compacts.
While I drive a lot of expensive cars, the Sentra SR proves you don’t have to spend a lot to buy a car that’s incredibly affordable and a joy to drive – whether tackling a weekend two-lane or picking up kids at Girl Scouts. Nissan Sentras start at just $20,790, coming to $28,220 for a car that would have embarrassed a fair number of iconic sedans. Competitors include the Honda Civic Sport, Toyota Corolla XSE, Subaru Impreza Sport, and VW Jetta GLI.
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