2013 Nissan Sentra

2013 Nissan Sentra gets its destinations from Google (first drive)

As the 2013 Nissan Sentra's weight shifted dramatically for the umpteenth time on a winding California road during Nissan's press introduction of the newest generation of its compact car, I realized this type of driving was exactly what the 2013 Sentra was not made for. Driving along the very urban streets of downtown San Francisco, cruising across the Golden Gate Bridge, and sailing along the freeway, the car did fine. Its suspension felt firm yet pliable, rolling along the road with no unpleasant jolts.

But when it came to my attempt to turn a California back road into my own personal racetrack, the Sentra's handling was just not up to the task. The car did not sway, instead exhibiting a feeling of the entire weight shifting about a foot to the side for each turn. And the breakfast I had eaten earlier began to raise its own objections about being shoved from side to side.

Nissan offers the new Sentra in four trims: S, SV, SR, and SL. The base S model comes in at an inexpensive $15,990, and gets a six-speed manual transmission. All other Sentras use a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and Nissan's version of this type of transmission is the best in the business. For the new Sentra, Nissan refined its CVT, adding a planetary gearbox that has the effect of putting fixed gears at the high and low ends of the drive ratio. And Nissan says the breadth of the CVT's drive ratio, at 7.3:1, matches that of a typical seven-speed automatic transmission.

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