Nissan's new Sentra--worth the wait?

The new Nissan Sentra (above) is unveiled today at the Detroit motor show. Click here and here for some more shots. The sedan, which won’t go on sale until September, has certainly been a long time coming. Expected last year, Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn insisted that Nissan engineers went back to the drawing board after customer tests received a poor response. While sensible, that meant the current Sentra’s lifecycle had to extend into an unusually long sixth year.

Having taken the hit, Nissan execs are now confident that the new version, which will be built in Mexico, will appeal to a younger demographic. “We really want the Sentra to important as a feeder to the rest of the line-up. The storage spaces, the colors, the texts and fabrics—everything about it is more youthful,” says Jed Connelly, senior vice president in sales and marketing at Nissan. “We recognized that young people spend a lot of time in their car so we want to make it as accommodating and pleasing as possible.”

One challenge will be how Nissan manages the launches of the new Sentra and the Versa subcompact. The Versa, which will be Nissan’s smallest U.S. offering, will go on sale before the Sentra for around $12,000—not that much less than its larger stablemate. Connelly, though, insists there will only be “minimal cannibalization” between the two. But both will face plenty of competition from Asian rivals.The Versa, which will initially be sold as a hatchback with a sedan to follow later, will have to contend with Toyota’s Yaris subcompact and Honda’s Fit hatchback—both of which will debut in 2006—as well as well as Korean-made Kias, and Hyundais. The Sentra will face a stiff challenge from cars like Honda’s popular new Civic and a new Toyota Corolla is slated for 2007.

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