Exterior Design: **
If someone ran over your mother with a 2008 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V right in front of you, you'd be unable to explain to the police what it was. It's a battle to the death between blandness (from the front it looks like a smaller and blander Altima) and gimmickry (the Sebring called, even they don't want their hood strakes back), with blandness taking the day.
Interior Design: **
Gimmick gets its revenge in the interior, which looks as though it was designed by a 16-year-old kid with a NOPI catalog and daddy's Visa. I've already touched on the red seatbelts, which would be less offensive if they'd have at least made all of them red. The seats are well bolstered, but of a cheap synthetic. There's enough room in the backseat for real people, but they'll be surrounded by plastic you'd be hesitant to put in the Chinese knock-off version. The gauge pod's G-meter is somewhat entertaining but the singled out oil pressure gauge is discomforting, making me think I should expect the pressure to suddenly plummet.
Though the 2.5-liter QR25DE engine doesn't quite relive the turbocharged glory of Nissan's famous SR20DE, it does provide reasonably quick off-the-line performance. Pumping out 200 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, the Sentra achieves a claimed 0-60 mph time of 6.7 seconds, on par with a Cooper S and just ahead of the Civic SI. Also, they fixed the problem that made them burst into flames. Victory!
The base Sentra still has drum brakes, but the SE-R gets disc brakes at all corners, providing ample stopping while requiring little stomping despite the little sedan's big curb weight of 3,048 pounds. In Spec V trim the massive 12.6" vented front discs bring the party to an end before you have a chance to get your coat.
Even with the lowered height and sport-tuned shocks there's not the expected rough ride over bumps. It would have been easy for the Nissan engineers to sacrifice a bit of smoothness for improved handling, but they managed to achieve both. While lacking the staccato nature of other cars in this class, I wouldn't perform a bris in the backseat or anything.
The "V" in Spec V is, presumably, the same as the V in GT-R V Spec, which stands for victory. And given the stiff suspension it isn't unreasonable to believe it could claim victory... against any base model economy car out there. All the 'ring tuning in the world can't change the fact that the Sentra platform puts a priority on space, meaning it requires a bit of effort to fight the laws of physics.
The shifter sits up high on the dash, within easy reach for anyone not sitting on the floor of the car (though drivers that do sit low may have to contend with an awkward angle). Shifts are quick and clutch action is pretty easy. Gear selection is a bit vague, especially when downshifting diagonally from sixth to fourth. Though a bit buzzy, sixth gear still helps the SE-R achieve a respectable 31 mpg highway.
The 340-watt Rockford Fosgate, eight-speaker system has a large display, robust sound and the crucial auxiliary port. This should be a knockout. But they put said port in the dead center of the dash RIGHT ABOVE THE DAMN SHIFTER. If your friend wants to drop that hot new remix from their iPod you're going to have to tell them you'd like to, but you're going to have decline because the choice you have to make is between sweet jamz and shifting gears.
In addition to the G-meter, the bright orange display will present trip info such as average speed, average fuel economy and trip time. The sunroof isn't really necessary but is large enough to enjoy sunny days. Navigation would have been nice, as well as satellite radio, but HD radio for this class is good enough.
The SE-R Spec V starts at $20,470 with nearly every feature you'd want, including the sport-tuned suspension, 23 horsepower bump over the SE-R and helical limited-slip differential. Though more can be had for a bit more, there's not much that can be had for less. If there's one value complaint I have, it's that it makes the SE-R, at just $600 less, a horrible relative value.
KRS-One said a real thug is a thug that's hush and the Spec V is pretty hush, certainly even more so in black. Even in its currently ugly state, it's an improvement over the previous generation and, we hope, the sign of better things to come. Performance is on par with cars at the lower end of the sporty-yet-economical segment, but so is the price.