Hot hatches like the Volkswagen GTI and Ford Focus ST have long been regarded as a perfected blend of daily usability and accessible performance, but for some, they’re excessive both in performance and price. Lucky for them, automakers have stepped up and now offer sporty-ish compacts that are easier to live with and easier to afford — and we recently spent a week with the segment’s freshest face, the 2017 Nissan Sentra Nismo.
Visually, the Sentra Nismo is as subtle as a depth charge. Nismo went to work on Nissan’s popular compact, adding aggressive protrusions on the lower front fascia and sharp folds on the rear bumper. Thin red accents slice down the lower rocker panel portions of the doors, extending to larger crimson sectionals on the front and rear bumpers.
You can’t mute these accents, either this Sentra is only available in contrasting white, black, silver, and gunmetal. Nismo-exclusive black/silver wheels and a fat single-exit exhaust hanging beneath a faux rear diffuser round out the boy-racer design. It’s not the handsomest compact we’ve seen, but it provides a healthy heap of the go-fast aesthetics the warm hatch crowd is looking for regular Sentra trims as well.
Most notable are the fat-sided cloth sport seats that wouldn’t look out of place in a bone-stock R32 GT-R, and trust us, that’s a compliment. The steering wheel is still that of a standard Sentra, but in the Nismo, it’s wrapped in alcantara and sports a bright red Donohue stripe at the top. Aside from these Nismo affects, it’s still very much a regular Sentra hard, scratchy plastics and all.
It’s only when matters turn to dollars and cents that matters get dicey for the 2017 Nissan Sentra Nismo. Its starting price is a considerable $25,855. That’s roughly $3,000 more than the Hyundai Elantra Sport, $1,000 more than the new Honda Civic Si, and just $1,000 shy of a base VW Golf GTI, to pick a few potential alternatives. Comparing the Sentra and the Elantra Sport, the differences are clear. The Sentra offers just one package that includes premium sound, navigation, and infotainment options, whereas the Elantra arrives with leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, standard infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a multi-link rear suspension, all for much less.
Bundle this comparatively steep asking price with the fact that the Nismo’s warpaint writes performance checks the Sentra certainly can’t cash and you’re left with a head-scratcher. Is this a sport compact that’s priced too high or a flawed performance sedan that can’t keep up with the competition?