The Sentra NISMO has mined the goodies from the performance department to bring their motorsports expertise to a wider audience.

Los Angeles, CA – Building on the powertrain unveiled in the latest Sentra model, Nissan takes their bread and butter small sedan to the extreme with the release of a marquee edition targeted squarely at fans of the company’s racing-and-performance branch.

NISMO is the acronym/contraction (the ‘contractionym’, if you will) of Nissan Motorsports, and the Sentra NISMO has mined the goodies from the performance department to bring their motorsports expertise to a wider audience.

The simplest way to describe the Nissan Motorsports factor is to think of it as the way AMG is to Mercedes products (or the ‘M’ badge to BMW), a reworking of the basic vehicle with more sport-oriented components, from stiffer suspension tuning to more responsive steering and acceleration. Everything geared more to performance than comfort, so to speak.

Usually seen more in ‘track cars’ like the GT-R, but the Nissan feels that the Sentra is the perfect everyman’s car to bring the experience to a wider audience of consumers.

The NISMO Sentra gets a new suspension from the arrangement, front struts and rear  torsion-beam, which the company stresses has been taken even further than what we saw in the SR Turbo version by adding lightweight monotube shocks and dampers.

I can’t wait to see how the car performs on a track surface, having only driven the car on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

The steering feel and feedback are noticeably different than in a regular Sentra, quicker and tighter; and the ride is noticeably harder over rough surfaces, although the bolstered performance seats do a fine job of absorbing the bumps.

This is a whole Sentra experience right here, staying flat when cornering and handling on a par with vehicles out of the car’s price range – it’s a competitor, all right.

It brings some hefty energy to the platform too, no question. Under the hood is the same engine we found in the SR Turbo, a 1.6 litre gasoline powerplant boasting 188 horsepower and putting it to the (NISMO-model-specific) eighteen-inch wheels with a potential 177 lb.-ft. of torque.

(By way of comparison, that is more oomph than you find in Honda’s 1.5L Civic, but less than Ford’s Focus ST).

A choice of two transmissions will be offered when the car hits dealers in the early days of next year, Nissan’s proven smooth-and-reliable continuously variable automatic or a slick six-speed manual box. I am betting that buyers who want the full NISMO benefit will opt to row their own with the manual, and the gear box feels good; easy, short-throw shifts with the gates right where they should be.

Outwardly, the performance-oriented Sentra gains a number of model-specific touches to distinguish it from the rest of the lineup – a reduction in rear lift, aerodynamically improved body parts (in what NISMO describes a ‘layered double wing’ design) visible in the front, rear and lower side panels. Front and rear fascia and spoiler are also straight from the performance-branch arsenal.

Of course, the car proudly proclaims itself with its own unique black grille. There is only one, charcoal grey interior available for the little powerhouse, enhanced with red accents throughout, and a faux carbon fibre panel on the shifter console. While it is decidedly monochromatic, the interior brings a motorsports feel to the car, as does its red-ringed start button on the dash.

The NISMO badge is all over the interior, as you might expect, and the high-performance Sentra keeps a civilized feel with a five-inch information display screen and unique-to-model luminescent gauge display.

The high points are the obvious combination of power and styling (and the uniqueness of being the first kid on your block with a NISMO Sentra), the detractions primarily the stiffer ride and rather basic seat adjustment.

It is a niche car, make no mistake, but one that shouldn’t alienate potential buyers by straying too far off the template that made Sentra so popular in the first place. Pricing isn’t announced yet, but keep your eyes on Driveway in the new year when we hope to put a NISMO model through a longer drive.

If I had to guess, I would vouch that it should be in the mid-to-upper twenties, but you know, I have a terrible track record for predicting MSRPs. In the States, the company has said it won’t exceed 25K (US).

wade [dot] ozeroff [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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