The 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO brings affordable fun

Realizing that there just aren't enough options for us enthusiasts in the world, Nissan is bringing another sporty NISMO variant to market. Welcome the 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO.

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Nissan

Yeah, you read that right. The old Sentra is getting a motorsports makeover. The last sporty Sentra we saw was in 2012 with the Sentra SE-R that used a 2.5-liter engine to knock out 200 horses. Don't get too excited there, amigo. The NISMO will use the same 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that is already on tap with the SR Turbo model. That little four-cylinder engine is good for 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. So close and yet...well, you know the rest.

Like the SR Turbo, the NISMO will be available with a six-speed manual transmission or the Xtronic automatic (that's Nissan-speak for a continuously variable transmission), both offered at the same price.

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Nissan

At a Nissan sponsored event in downtown Los Angeles I got a quick taste of the Sentra NISMO and it did not disappoint. The manual kicks through the revs incredibly fast and I found the car bouncing off the rev limiter at 6400 rpm quicker than you can say, "Shiver me turbos, matey." Turbo lag is non-existent and the throttle is quick to respond. There is a sport button which Nissan says will make the throttle even more reactive, but on my quick drive on city streets it was tough to tell the difference.

I got to sample the CVT-equipped Sentra NISMO as well and while it's not my choice of transmissions, it's well mannered and behaves much like a conventional automatic. It zips up to the high revs quickly when needed and then back to a cruising speed without that stretchy, rubber band feeling that was so prevalent in past CVTs. It even performed what felt like a traditional downshift while slowing down for a red light. It's still a bit slow to respond when you really give it the beans, so powering out of a turn isn't as fun as the manual, but it's still a decently-packaged transmission.

Regardless of the transmission, the Sentra NISMO handled the rough Los Angeles streets with aplomb. It's a little on the stiff side with the NISMO-tuned suspension, but it's far from uncomfortable. The electric power steering has a good heft to it, but I'd like to take the car out on the twisties before I pass judgement on its road feel.

There are a lot of body treatments that set the NISMO apart, but many are just for looks. Among the new design elements are a unique front and rear fascias, NISMO badging, dark chrome door handles and a NISMO dark chrome grille.

Still, the Sentra NISMO gets some new styling that is functional as well. A rear spoiler reduces lift by 30 percent over the non-NISMO models and the 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport all-season tires. You can take your grip up a notch with Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R summer tires, available as a dealer add-on.

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Nissan

Inside the seats get some more side bolstering and the steering wheel and shift knob are wrapped in leather, but other NISMO style cues are just for looks. There are lots of red accents, because red = fast, including the NISMO gauge cluster with a red tachometer, push-button start with a red highlight and plenty of NISMO logos.

The Sentra NISMO comes with cruise control, but that's about all in terms of driver aids. Adaptive cruise control is not available on either model. Also not available are Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. When asked about future availability of smartphone platforms, all Nissan would say is, "It's coming."

Nissan says the Sentra NISMO will start under $25,000. For comparison the SR Turbo starts at just under $22,000. Expect to see it in dealers in January of 2017.

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