2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo first drive review

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Faulkner famously told us the past isn't dead; it isn't even past. We can't prove it, but we think he had the Nissan Sentra SE-R in mind.

The 1991-1994 SE-R set the cheap-car benchmark for a generation: a flyweight car with feathery controls and a lamprey lock on the pavement. Think ersatz M3 with mouse belts and a chintzy felt headliner and every dram of steering feel missing from every car on the road today.

It was a watershed--and since then it's been an albatross. Now, every car Nissan builds somehow has to live up to its well-earned hype. 

Imagine that burden heaped on the folks who drummed up the 2017 Sentra SR Turbo. They've carefully avoided using those same historically charged letters. They're "just" building a better, quicker Sentra.

They're also venturing deeply into Honda CR-Z territory, flirting with the past without hopping into bed with it.

They've fought the urge to add the "E-" back in the name, and you should too. 

Juke heart, Sentra moves

The Sentra SR Turbo has the heart of a rev-happy warrior. It's on loan from the irascible, inconvenient little Juke, and it's one of Nissan's most tech-intensive engines, with continuously variable valve timing, a fairly high compression ration of 10.5:1, and touches like slick-finished cylinder bores and a variable-pressure oil pump.

Nissan DeBakeys the Juke turbo-4 right in there, and it's an agreeable fit--not only because it pops out 54 more horsepower than the Sentra's stock-and-trade inline-4. It gives the Sentra some of the soul it's lacked for a generation. It flings output to 188 hp, and fling is the proper verb. The engine doesn't reach peak power until it hits 5,600 rpm, and its 177 lb-ft of torque takes some time to hit its marks--but peaky power is an underrated sensation in an era of dead-flat torque plateaus.

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The new engine instantly is the most interesting part of the Sentra's mechanical package, and it's good for a mid-7-second 0-60 mph time. Coupled to a long-throw 6-speed manual with a high clutch uptake and five tightly packed lower gears, the SR Turbo spends a lot of its day between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm, where it thrums with the eager insistence of a terrier in search of a lamppost.

The CVT that's fitted to lesser SR Turbos has Nissan's usual pre-programmed ratios, meant to convince noobs there's a real torque-converter automatic at work. You don't go to this dance to stand against the wall.

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