In the crowded field of overpowered compact cars, the 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V faces heavy competition from the Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, and Mazdaspeed3. So what can the Nissan bring to stand a chance against these tuner stalwarts? The answer is displacement. Rather than use a turbocharger or insanely high rev limits, the Sentra SE-R Spec V gets a 2.5-liter engine, bigger than the other cars it faces.
In keeping with the bad-boy image it strives for, Nissan makes a Rockford Fosgate audio system available in the Sentra SE-R Spec V, with a subwoofer powerful enough to shake the doors. But that's the extent of the car's tech, as Nissan doesn't seem to think the young crowd this car is aimed at wants iPod integration, or even a Bluetooth phone system.
On the road
If it was just a 2009 Nissan Sentra, we wouldn't have been anticipating quite so much fun before driving this car, but appending SE-R Spec V to the model name had our eagerness high. Getting into the car, we weren't surprised at the lack of an LCD, as the Sentra is pretty low in the model line-up to offer navigation. There is a large, orange, monochrome display, with big, oversize readouts for the stereo and trip computer.
Turning the ignition, the engine played heavy bass notes in our garage, and the shifter for the close-ratio six-speed-manual transmission came easily to hand. The high mounting point for the shifter looked a little too similar to that of the Honda Civic Si, so points off for lack of originality.
A good thing about the engine's big displacement: power delivery is very even and easy to modulate, making low-speed cruising through a parking lot undramatic. Dropping the clutch with the gas pedal down makes for a satisfying start, the front tires screeching but retaining enough grip to pull the Sentra forward. Surprisingly, torque steer isn't much of an issue.
Taking the Sentra SE-R Spec V on the roads it was made for, twisting highways through the mountains, its optional, limited-slip differential gets a workout. Approaching 30 mph corners at 60 mph, the brakes proved a tad light for this type of driving. And in the turns, the front- and rear-stabilizer bars felt like they were fighting with the bulky Sentra body. Lean was minimized, but understeer became a problem, especially in the longer turns.
At speeds between 50 mph and 70 mph during this mountain driving, third gear kept the engine above 5,000rpm, but it didn't complain. Fourth proved a sporting gear at these speeds, too, delivering pull when the revs crept too high for third.
Back in the relative sanity of normal freeway driving, the Sentra's suspension wasn't too hard, delivering a ride similar to the more pedestrian models down the lineup. The Sentra SE-R Spec V doesn't broadcast its hyped-up nature to the world, merely sporting a subtle trunk lid spoiler and SE-R Spec V badge on the back. If you like flying under the radar, this is the car for you.
In the cabin
The cabin tech in the 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is disappointing. Where the Sentra SL comes standard with Bluetooth, it isn't an option on the SE-R Spec V. A navigation option would also be a little too much to wish for with this car. There are dashboard kits for the Sentra, so an aftermarket head unit with Bluetooth isn't out of the question.