I suspect many of you saw the word “Sentra” and immediately exciting images of the under-appreciated classic Sentra SE-R popped into your head, or perhaps some of the charmingly practical ‘80s-era Sentras. If that’s you, you’re likely hurt and confused. Those Sentras weren’t meh!, you likely shouted, making everyone at the coffeeshop stare at you and a lone infant start to wail in fear. And you’re right. They weren’t. It’s the Sentras that pop into nobody’s heads, ever, that get the meh stigma: the 1995 to 1999 B14 Sentras.
The generation of Sentras before our mehmobile today, the B13 Sentras, were, arguably, the zenith of Sentras. This was when the car seemed to be in its optimal state, small but practical, frugal and nimble, simple and handsome. Even the exterior door handles were appealing bits of industrial design.
It seems like Nissan had a limited supply, probably in large vats, of Distilled Non-Dull-As-Shit Liquid Compound, and they just used up whatever they had left when they made the B13 Sentra, thinking, perhaps, that more could be ordered for the next generation.
From what I can tell, it couldn’t.
The B14 Sentra seems to have been designed to surgically extract any trait or detail about previous Sentras that could be considered compelling. Where Sentras once came in a variety of body styles, at least a coupé and sedan, the B14 Sentra was just a four-door sedan.
The rear suspension was cost-cut from independent rears to a torsion beam, drum brakes at the rear became the norm, and a general ethos of whogivesashittery descended on the car.
Styling seems to have been inspired by a mug of tepid water placed upon a neat stack of printouts listing the inventory of a carpet sample warehouse, but with a little less pizzaz. The Sentra had turned into an ideal meh car: forgettable, serviceable, ignorable.
While, sure, you could get one with a five-speed to help drive off some of the mehninites, most (in the U.S. at least) came with a four-speed automatic bolted to either a basically fine 1.6-liter four making 115 yawning horsepower, or a somewhat more engaging (but still very average) 140 hp from a 2.0-liter.
The gas mileage was quite good, between 30-40 MPG, because, remember, meh cars aren’t bad; they’e just meh. It may even be pretty good at its basic job, it’s just that this Sentra was not something art or religion or science could make a human soul desire.
The ads of the era played up the practical stuff, like the decent MPG:
Yeah, no business for you, you tired old fuck, that Nissan Driver’s not buying ANY GAS AT ALL. Which, really, is sort of stupid, since that sign clearly says there’s no gas for 250 miles, and unless that guy just filled up—which, looking at the environment, I sort of doubt, even at 30 or 40 MPG, that’s between 6 to 8 gallons, and the Sentra’s gas tank was 13 gallons, so, really, there’s a good chance that non-local-business-supporting bastard is likely to be cutting it close.
This commercial seems to be focusing on the staggering up-to-the-minute accuracy of the Sentra’s digital clock. Also, remember when you used to have to physically return a movie you watched? Like some sort of filthy animal? We were such brutes.
The thing about this particular Sentra is that it feels like a car that’s been deliberately forced into meh status, which is worse than a boring car just ending up there, out of lack of interest. The Sentra didn’t have to be meh—previous generations weren’t, at least not entirely—and yet Nissan decided to push the Sentra into a miserable, gray-carpet-walled cubicle of functional anonymity.
You know what? Even though I’ve been focusing on the B14 Sentra, I can’t really say that the following generations were that much better. Remember the 2000-2005 base model Sentras? Sure, they had the SE-R back and some fun variations, but the mainstream car was still sort of a rolling Ambien.
To this day, the Sentra has never recovered. Have you seen or driven a new Sentra? If you’re not renting cars, I doubt you have, and even if you have, I’m not really confident your brain would store such an encounter as a worthwhile memory.
I suppose it’s not shocking the Sentra sort of slid into Mehness. The name Sentra, after all, was meant to evoke the words “central” and “sentry,” words that describe the safe, middle of something.
If that’s not a reasonable definition of meh, I don’t know what is.