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Motoring: Comparing Nissan's 2013 offerings

Credit: Nauman Farooq

The new Nissan Sentra has some nice features with a low price tag.

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 14th, 2013

Hello and welcome to 2013. I hope everyone has had a wonderful start to the new year, and I also hope many will be looking to buy a new car.

I thought I should start the year off with a piece on two brand-new vehicles that are on sale right now. One of them is good, the other is not.

I am talking about the new Nissan Sentra sedan and the new Nissan Pathfinder SUV. Both these models are fresh for 2013, but how are they to drive and what are the features like?

To find out, Nissan Canada invited me to the launch of these two new offerings in the beautiful city of Vancouver, B.C.

I'll start off with the Sentra, a car that has been quite a volume seller for its manufacturer. The Sentra is not the entry level model in their line-up; that distinction belongs to the Versa sedan. The Sentra is roughly seven inches longer than the Versa, yet it feels no more spacious. Still, at least from a roominess point of view, the Sentra certainly has more space to offer than its rivals from Kia or Toyota.

It looks good, too. This seventhgeneration Sentra is a handsome car. Take the badges off and people might think it's a Lexus (it does have more than a passing resemblance to the much unloved and hence discontinued Lexus HS250h).

The design is slippery through the air, with just a 0.29 co-efficient of drag (better than most sports cars).

The new Sentra has clever features, such as the tire pressure monitoring system that beeps the horn when you have filled the tires with the correct amount of air. This will prevent you from under- or overinflating its tires.

This compact car has some (optional) luxury features, like an eight-speaker Bose stereo system, a touchscreen navigation/infotainment system and dual-zone climate control.

So far, the Sentra is shaping up to be a pretty good car, but it's far from perfect. My first complaint is with its quality. The Sentra's interior is five shades of grey — boring! In my SR-spec tester, I was baffled with how many mismatched bits of plastic there were in this interior and wondered why Nissan had done that. Is it because of cost or were the designers this blind?

I was also baffled when I opened the trunk. Yes, the trunk is huge, measuring 428 litres, but it suffers not only from huge C-hinges to prop the trunk up (which would certainly impede in its capacity when you close the trunk), but also found the most bizarre contraption to keep the trunk lid up. Essentially, it had two pieces of metal running between the Chinges, which will undoubtedly one day snag on some luggage. Nissan, you have created the best active allwheel drive system in the world and a rev-matching manual gearbox — why did you produce a mechanism that is this flawed?

Details like a half-painted trunk hinge and a mysterious glued-on sponge under the front hood just add to my frustration with this new vehicle.

All this before I've even gotten to the powertrain. Under the hood lies a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 130 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque — not the strongest engine in its class. Power is fed to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual or a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic. My tester, sadly, had the latter. While Nissan has done a decent job with the CVT gearbox in vehicles such as the Murano, the Quest and the new Altima, the one in the Sentra is not their best effort.

Nissan claims that this is a second- generation version of the CVT found in their compact cars, but it performed no better than the last one. Very disappointing.

This CVT has three drive modes (Normal, Eco and Sport), but the car didn't feel much different in each mode. However, if the fuel economy numbers can be believed, the new Sentra can average 5.8 litres/100km on a combined cycle, which is quite good.

The ride and handling, however, is not. While the suspension and the chassis soak up the bumps well, the seats are quite uncomfortable. I wasn't the only one complaining, as my driving partner, who is slimmer than me, had the same complaint. As for handling, it seems fine for a car like this, but the electric power steering system offers no feel as to what the front tires are doing.

So to cap it off, the new Sentra is a fine car for those who are not into cars and are just looking to get from A to B. If you like cars, though, look elsewhere. Pricing for the Mexico-built Sentra starts at $14,898.

Now let's talk about the new Pathfinder. This is the fourth-generation version of this model, and it is the second time it has a uni-body construction. That means it'll be smooth on the road, but not of much use off-road. Since most SUV buyers never go off-road, this is not a big deal.

What is a big deal is that this is the first Pathfinder to feature a CVT automatic; however, Nissan says its FK-K2 unit is the most advanced CVT on the market. I'll get to how it actually performed a bit later.

Under the hood is a very familiar engine. It is a 3.5-litre VQ-series V6 motor that is found in many other Nissan and Infiniti models. In this application, it produces 260 hp and 240 lb/ft of torque. That allows it to tow up to 5,000 lbs, which is quite impressive.

The new Pathfinder can at the twist of a knob go from front-wheel drive to active all-wheel drive or AWD lock, so while it might not be an ideal vehicle for off-roading, it can haul you out of whatever your local weather can throw your way. Buyers on a budget can buy a simple front-wheel-drive-only model.

It can haul people too — seven at the same time. Sharing its platform (and many other things) with the Infiniti JX35, it has the same clever seating configuration that allows even adults to sit comfortably in the last row.

While not many people will be impressed with the way the new Pathfinder looks, most will love its interior. Not only is the quality of the fit and finish superb, but the space is plentiful and you can get most of the gadgets you'd find in its Infiniti cousin, which includes the around-view monitoring system for parking. Clever stuff.

It's also economical; Nissan claims a combined city and highway fuel economy of 9.5 litres/100km for the AWD model, which is quite good.

Specs and clever features aside, how does it drive?

Well, it is certainly not an enthusiast's vehicle, but it rides very well, it is extremely quiet, and its CVT works quite well in this application. If you are looking for a large family vehicle and don't want a minivan, the Pathfinder is worth a look. There are four trim levels on offer (S, SV, SL, Platinum), and prices range from $29,998 to $45,198.
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