Sting like a butterfly
When it comes to the black art of suspension tuning and steering feel, the Sentra SR Turbo doesn't gamble on a first-class upgrade. It takes the easy comfort-plus route, with a set of stiffer front springs (by 10 percent) and its own shocks, with 23 and 50 percent more damping force applied front and rear. The Turbo also gets its own 17-inch wheel-and-tire combo, on slightly more adventurous Conti ProContact tires.
The stock Sentra electronic power steering rack has been remapped for better response, and the SR Turbo also has slightly larger front brake discs, up to 11.7 inches, for more stopping power.
The recipe's sound, but the Sentra SR Turbo still has some tough challenges in arguing a convincing sport-sedan case. It's a tall car, without the Mazda 3's sense of intimacy with the road, devoid of the steering focus of a Focus, minus the low-slung drama of the latest Civic. Toss it into a corner abruptly, and the torsion-beam rear takes a pause before a set, the steering thickens with friction but doesn't reveal any nuances of road surface.
The flip side to that is the Sentra SR Turbo delivers on a quiet, nicely damped ride. It's only moderately firm, and its tires strike a good compromise between grip and compliance.
Against those comers, the Sentra SR Turbo also out-spaces its pack. Head room is expansive in front, and the long, tall roof and short overhangs free up a lot of space in front. A real, live adult can sit in back. Regular cockpit improvements have rendered the dash in soft, pleasant plastics.
Affordable at $22,825, the Sentra SR Turbo has stick Mazdas and manual-turbo Civics to contend with. It does so with a flourish of standard equipment, including sport seats; LED accent lighting; a power sunroof; a rearview camera; pushbutton start; power features; and an AM/FM/CD/XM head unit with Bluetooth and audio streaming.
A Premium option package gains leather seats; Bose audio; and blind-spot monitors. Navigation is an option. Off the menu: a wide-screen nav system, adaptive safety features, anything but a sedan body style.
The SE-R didn't have all of that stuff, either. The world has moved on from the days of 2,500-pounders with hydraulic steering and two-door notchback rooflines. In spirit, the SR Turbo is an incremental step back in the right direction.
Still, we can't help but think of those songs played on TV, their melodies carefully transposed to avoid copyright infringement. We recognize the tune all right, but the song just isn't the same.