For its audio sources, the stereo is unimpressive. The in-dash, six-disc changer will read MP3 CDs, and XM satellite radio is included with the Premium Audio package. After a little fumbling, we figured out how to get song titles and artist names to appear on the big, orange display. An auxiliary audio input sits dead-center on the stereo faceplate, which turns out to be very poor placement, as the patch cable for an MP3 player drapes right over the shifter.
The only notable cabin tech in the Sentra SE-R Spec V is the optional Rockford Fosgate audio system, comprised of a 340-watt amp and eight speakers. With two 8-inch subwoofers, this system won't make your Beethoven violin concertos sound perfect, but you will feel the canon fire in Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." We were blown away when a track with moderate bass started playing, the low frequency waves shaking the car and pounding our ears. It's obnoxious when you're standing outside the car, and exactly what we love about Rockford Fosgate audio.
Choosing the upgraded audio system forces you to take the sunroof and smart key options, more than doubling the option price.
A unique feature for the SE-R are two driver-focused gauges set at the top of the stack, one showing oil pressure and the other g-forces. In our testing, the g-force meter seemed to show only acceleration and braking force--lateral movement didn't seem to be represented.
Under the hood
The 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V's engine is a 2.5-liter four cylinder, the same engine also used in the Nissan Altima. But where the Altima only gets 175 horsepower, the SE-R Spec V's engine uses higher compression to produce 200 horsepower at 6,600rpm, with redline at 7,000rpm. Torque is 180 pound-feet.
Put on the road, that power is very satisfying, with the Sentra SE-R Spec V delivering solid acceleration from a start, or when the engine speed is already high. Of course, the six-speed manual transmission helps keep the power on. It doesn't snick into gears as quickly as the six-speed in the Honda Civic Si, instead offering a more solid feel.
Fuel economy proves particularly good in the Sentra SE-R Spec V. The EPA gives it 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Even as we worked the gas pedal hard in the twisties, we still saw 26.3 mpg.
Front and rear stabilizers come standard in the SE-R Spec V, but a limited-slip differential is a required option when you take the upgraded audio system. These upgrades help the Sentra in the corners as much as possible, but the general body design keeps the car from being really good.
The 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V has a base price of $21,160, which mainly gets you an upgraded power train over the standard Sentra. The Rockford Fosgate audio system added $850, and forced the selection of the $750 sunroof, a $400 limited-slip differential, and $140 splash guards. $165 floor mats and a $695 destination charge ran the total up to $24,160.
In our ratings, the Sentra SE-R Spec V did best in performance, with its capability to provide a thrilling ride and also get decent fuel economy. But handling brought that score down a little. The lack of Bluetooth, iPod integration, and navigation options hurt the cabin tech score substantially, forcing us to call it poor in that category. As for design, the car is pretty average, with unassuming looks and a reasonable dashboard interface.
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