---- — To be successful, a compact car must appeal to Goldilocks. It can’t have too much of this quality or too little of that trait. It needs to strike a balance of characteristics that is just right.
The single word that describes such perfect proportion is value. A car is a good value when it gives you sufficient amounts of the attributes you need, but doesn’t overload you with them so that it costs a lot.
For a good illustration of that, look at the new, 2013 Nissan Sentra. The stylishly striving small car was introduced at this time last year as a redesigned, next-generation remake of the four-door sedan.
So far in 2013, sales of the new version at Salem Nissan are running more than 20 percent higher than last year’s model. The primary reason for the new Sentra’s surge in popularity is its value, according to Bret Chavaree, who co-owns and co-manages the Salem, N.H., dealership with his partner Dan Forget.
Like all compact cars, the Sentra is moderately sized – not so large that it guzzles fuel just moving its own bulk, nor so small that it sacrifices comfort or usefulness to wring extreme miles from a gallon of gas. It is well powered, with a four-cylinder engine that keeps pace with surrounding traffic. It is nicely styled, with a sharp, contemporary look that gives the new Sentra presence on the roadway, without making it overly showy or flamboyant. Its interior is clean, pleasant and functional. In all the important categories, Sentra seems just right.
When you add to that balance a starting list price of $16,800 and a big fuel-economy improvement in the redesigned, 2013 Sentra, you get the value that is attracting shoppers to the car at Salem Nissan.
“It has great fuel economy. The purchase price is attractive, with really strong, low lease payments on the car right now. It’s a value buy for sure,” said Chavaree.
Nissan applied smart engineering to increase value when it remade the Sentra for 2013. The new version is slightly longer than its predecessor, but it is narrower and lower, to cut air drag and therefore aid fuel economy. At the same time, designers managed a modest increase in cabin space. Sentra already enjoyed a notably spacious interior for a compact car – so much space that the U.S. government officially classifies it as mid-size. The increased airiness in the new version stretches Sentra’s lead over other compacts.
Designers also found about 150 pounds to trim. Some of that weight comes out of a new under-carriage that supports the re-designed model and sets up suspension and steering for stable and accurate street maneuvers.
Because the 2013 Sentra is lighter, it gets away with a smaller, less powerful engine. At 130 horsepower, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder motor in today’s compact Nissan puts out 10 fewer horses than the 2.0-liter engine in the previous model. You don’t feel the difference while driving, but you gain the benefit of better fuel economy.
Changes like better aerodynamics, lighter weight and a smaller engine combine with other improvements – including a new continuously-variable automatic transmission and an alternator that automatically disconnects to cut power loss during acceleration – to give the new Sentra a big boost in fuel economy.
Government fuel-use estimates for Sentra equipped with the new transmission come in at 30 miles per gallon in city driving, and 39 mpg on the highway. That’s a nice leap from last year’s 27 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.
Basic Sentras come with a six-speed manual transmission instead of the automatic. They also get an appealing boost in fuel economy, to 27/36 mpg this year from 24/31 mpg last year.
At Salem Nissan, most shoppers see the Sentra’s superior gas mileage as its biggest asset, said Chavaree. More miles per gallon compound the savings available from the updated, more valuable sedan.
The balance between thrift and usefulness attracts drivers who need to get the most for their money, he noted.
“We sell a lot of them to people in their 20s who are just starting out. We also sell a lot to people in their 60s. They’re retired, they have a fixed income, and they want a low payment for a practical car,” Chavaree explained.
With its appealing fuel economy and its suitably sized, just-right interior, the Sentra can also serve as worthy commuter car. It makes a good family second car as well, waiting at the ready to perform quick run-arounds that don’t require excessive heft.
When I evaluated a Sentra last week, I measured fuel usage during 100 miles of the sort of here-and-there, around-town spins that second cars typically make. My test model averaged 44 miles per gallon – yes, 44 mpg – while the car ferried a week’s supply of groceries in a trunk that is large for the compact class, while it picked up two students from St. Monica School in Methuen, while it carried my mutt to a park for a jaunt, spun around the corner to an exercise class, dashed to a pizza joint, hustled to Peter’s farm stand in Salem and performed a dozen other such day-to-day quick-trips that make autos such valuable companions.
Sure, if I had purchased, say, a massive recliner at Bob’s Discount Furniture, it would not have fit in the Sentra. But thanks to the model’s split, fold-down rear seat-back, I easily slipped in some 10-foot sections of electrical conduit I picked up at Lowe’s. And I still had ample room for the sale items I grabbed on a whim at the home store’s nursery.
How often do you buy a massive recliner anyway? As Goldilocks knows, it’s really just too big. A car like the new Nissan Sentra, on the other hand, is just right.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2013 Nissan Sentra :Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact sedan Price range: $16,800 to $20,400 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty Engine: 1.8-liter I4 Power: 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 128 lb.-ft. torque at 3,600 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 30 mpg city; 39 mpg highway (with automatic transmission) Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 182 inches Width: 69 inches Height: 59 inches Weight: 2,822 pounds Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons Turning circle: 34.8 feet