We hadn't driven a 2013 Nissan Sentra, the all-new compact sedan, until last week.

And our drive was hardly representative, since we spent the bulk of it in the peculiar world of freeway traffic in Los Angeles.

That means traffic moving at average speeds of anywhere from 60 to 85 mph, with occasional--or more than occasional--snarls that dropped speeds to 30 mph or less, frequently right down to zero, in one lane or another.

It's far from steady-state highway driving, since brisk acceleration is required to avoid getting a large sport-utility vehicle or silver luxury sedan (usually driven by someone wearing $900 sunglasses) right up your backside.

But it's also not the kind of city driving that requires frequent stops and long waits in idle at traffic lights.

So how did our bright Metallic Blue Sentra do?

Over 72 miles, we recorded an average of 36.4 miles per gallon.

Which is pretty good, considering it's rated at either 33 or 34 mpg combined (depending on specific options), with 39 mpg on the highway cycle and 30 mpg for the city rating.

A handful of other quick impressions:

  • The 2013 Sentra's peppy 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) are tuned for good off-the-line acceleration
  • At least in this Nissan, the CVT wasn't annoying as it has been in some other models from the same maker
  • The new lines of the compact Sentra make it look like a 15/16ths-scale model of a Nissan Maxima, which is good for Sentra owners--though we wonder how drivers of the larger and pricier mid-size sedan feel about that.
  • We liked the curvy dash design, but while interior plastics are better than in the grim, bargain-basement Versa subcompact, they're still not up to the best in class
  • The "charcoal cloth" seat upholstery combines with the black interior to look and feel a little cheaper than you'd expect from the exterior styling
  • The small 5.8-inch navigation screen is just a little too hard to focus on at speed, and its controls are far from the most intuitive we've used
  • There's not a lot of oddments space on the console, and the cubby under the driver's right arm-rest is tiny
  • That armrest also doesn't slide forward enough to let the driver prop both elbows during freeway driving
  • Rear three-quarter visibility, by today's standards, isn't bad
  • But the low seating position and high cowl means it's impossible to see the front of the car

2013 Nissan Sentra S - First Drive, October 2012

2013 Nissan Sentra S - First Drive, October 2012

We should note that our car carried a disclaimer saying it was a prototype vehicle, and "should not be regarded as representative of the final product," because details of fit, finish, and assembly quality "may not be up to production standards."

So what's our bottom line on brief exposure, after this far-from-thorough test under limited circumstances?

Under our driving cycle, the Sentra got about the gas mileage we'd have expected--perhaps slightly better.

And it was a pleasant enough car to drive around in--if you don't mind the seat fabric.

Our 2013 Nissan Sentra SR carried a base price of $18,870, but three option packages pushed that total up by about $3,000.

The $1,080 SR Driver Package included rear disc brakes, pushbutton ignition, automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker display stereo system, a USB port, and leather wrapping on the steering wheel and shift knob.

On top of that came the $650 Navigation Package, which increased the display to a 5.8-inch color touchscreen, and included voice recognition, integrated traffic and weather information, Google Send-to-Car mapping, Pandora radio capability (for iPhone only), Bluetooth streaming audio, and a rear-view monitor.

Finally, the Premium Package added a power sliding and til glass moonroof, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, twin lit vanity mirrors in the sun visors, and an eight-speaker Bose premium audio system.

With a mandatory destination fee of $780, our Sentra SR carried a bottom-line sticker price of $22,580.


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