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NISSAN SENTRA ••• HONDA CIVIC HYBRID


By Kelly Foss; MyCarData.com

NISSAN SENTRA

Starting price: about $15,990

Nissan’s Sentra is the compact sedan in the Nissan family. It is now more fully developed and has grown in size. In fact the new seventh-generation Sentra is now larger than its big brother the Altima was just 10 years ago.

Whereas many car companies have significantly increased the price of their vehicles in the past few years, several including Nissan have been bucking that trend. This conservative approach has paid big dividends. Their subcompact Versa model has been dominating its segment in sales. Value buyers who demand high fuel economy and upscale features at an affordable price will love the Sentra.

The first impression of the car is that it looks substantial and expensive, yet it’s modestly priced. Nissan has styled the vehicle to have presence and it has the proportions of a large car. Though it’s sold as a compact, technically it’s a midsize sedan. Nissan is astute enough to put money into the appearance of the vehicle where it counts.

The shape of the car allows for a roomy interior. The standard cloth upholstery is very inviting and comfortable, but leather seating is also available. The trunk has an enormous 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space.

The new Sentra is offered in four models: the base S, the SV, SR, and top of the line SL. An FE+ fuel economy package can be added to either the S or SV models.

This totally new car also has a totally new powertrain with class leading fuel economy. The new 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine now employs all the latest technology to deliver clean, efficient power. A new CVT automatic transmission is mated to the new engine and allows effortless, smooth and quiet running both in the city and on the highway. Its combined 34 mpg EPA economy rating edges out all the competition. In our test runs we averaged 34.8 mpg combined city and highway and would routinely get an indicated 42 mpg on freeway cruises. The Sentra is also at home on twisty winding roads.

The Sentra offers a host of options to meet the demands of today’s owners. The Technology Package will be very popular. It includes touch screen navigation with voice directions to destinations, NavWeather and NavTraffic, Sirius satellite radio, Pandora, plus a USB connection. It also comes with a rearview backup camera, a hands-free text message reader plus a steering wheel mounted button with several predictable text replies so drivers can respond while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. This package is offered at a modest $650.

Additional options include an 8- speaker Bose audio system, moonroof, keyless entry, push button start, automatic headlights, dual zone air conditioning and some pretty fine-looking fake wood trim.

The car feels more developed than others in its class. It successfully filters out most exterior noises and the powertrain is relaxed and subdued. The new Sentra is a very nice vehicle for not a lot of money.

HONDA CIVIC HYBRID

Starting price: about $24,200

Honda is very meticulous about the way they build vehicles. I think that it’s fair to say that there are more engineers than stylists at the company. Most of the time, people buy a Honda based on logic and reason more than emotion. That formula has served Honda well, as they build very fine vehicles and have an extremely loyal following.

The new Civic Hybrid follows that same pattern. In fact, on the surface it looks remarkably similar to the previous model, but in reality it’s full of new technology and design and is a significantly better car.

This new Civic is quieter and more composed than previous models. It feels more poised and mature.

The interior is roomy. The seating is supportive and comfortable. The instrumentation and gauges retain their futuristic layout. Not only are they engaging to look at but they also convey valuable information designed to help the driver drive more efficiently. Honda’s i-MID display system lets the owner personalize the vehicle and select the type of information that will be displayed on the instrument panel, be it fuel economy, music album covers, etc.

The vehicle uses color coding around the digital speedometer to give the driver real-time feedback about how efficiently they’re driving. My test car was the navigation model, meaning that it had Honda’s class leading nav system, an upgraded audio package, leather seating and a price tag of $27,500.

Honda was actually the inventor of hybrid systems in vehicles. The current Civic Hybrid uses their integrated motor assist technology. The electric drive augments the power of the small 1.5 liter gas engine and the engine shuts off at stoplights to save additional fuel. The result is a car that is very lively and has more than adequate power. The car is equipped with a CVT automatic transmission. The Civic Hybrid is a fun car to drive.

Concerning fuel economy, the EPA has rated this car at 44 mpg city and 44 highway with a combined average of…44 mpg. These are very high fuel economy numbers for any vehicle. My week of driving yielded 42.6 mpg, but I have to admit that I really didn’t use the ECO mode. There is a big green button next to the steering wheel that you press to maximize the economy of the car. Additionally, I did a 30-minute engine-on wait in a parking lot which consumed extra fuel.

Bottom line, if I wouldn’t have sat idling and had used the ECO mode, I’m sure that I would have met or exceeded the EPA 44 mpg number. A rough estimate shows that if you drive 18,000 miles a year and fuel costs about $3.50 a gallon, the hybrid version of the Civic would save you about $500 a year in gas compared with the non-hybrid version of the Civic.

The new Civic Hybrid looks to be another great car from Honda, one that is also enjoyable to drive.

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