Behind the Wheel
2020 Nissan Sentra Review: It's easy to not expect much, but the Sentra impresses
It's easy to not expect too much from the Nissan Sentra. In a world of Camrys and Accords, the slightly smaller compact car market is easily brushed off as cheap. That being said, your expectations don't have to be high for the redesigned 2020 Nissan Sentra to impress you. That isn't a drinking-the-Kool Aid scenario. The Sentra punches above its weight besting many other much higher priced cars.
So, let's start at the price. The Sentra starts just under $20,000 and the highest grade starts near $22,000. That's about the same price range as the Nissan Kicks. The Sentra tops out about the same as a similarly equipped Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
The car is different from the bottom up, taking on design characteristics of the Nissan Altima, Maxima, and Versa.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America
As tested, the top-tier Sentra SR comes with most of the features and appointments you'd expect of a mass market sedan. The car rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and is available in a variety of two-tone paint jobs as well as a good roster of solid colors.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that does the job sufficiently. Its horsepower and pound-feet of torque numbers sound low (149 and 146, respectively), but the car is a capable commuter. The engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission that won't bother most drivers with its capabilities. It's fairly fuel efficient too, getting 32-33 mpg combined depending on the Sentra trim level.
On top of that it's comfortable to sit in and easy to drive. Don't expect sporty Volkswagen GTI-level engagement or enough headroom for your 6'5" best friend in the rear seat (it is a compact car, after all) and you won't be disappointed.
The materials on the interior of the car are fitting of its price point.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America
Nissan does not sell the model with all-wheel drive.
Where Sentra wins big points is its interior. The car is the right mix of appointments for its price point, as tested, and even better than the cabin in the Subaru Impreza, Civic, and Volkswagen Jetta. Its 8-inch infotainment screen is easier to see and operate than that in the Mazda Mazda3's.
Though some may knock it, the Sentra's climate controls allow users to set the temperature the control the fan speed separately. This setup is common in many luxury cars. Most users would probably rather set it and forget it rather than deal with the two controls, but there's nothing particularly cumbersome about the design.
Though the infotainment system doesn't have the most intuitive functionality, most Sentras come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, making it easy on users to just plug and play.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are the answer to the woes of the Nissan infotainment system.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America
The interior of the model is outfitted in standard charcoal cloth upholstery. Charcoal leatherette upholstery is available for a $2,170 upcharge as part of the Premium Package. Other elements of the package include surround view monitor, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, moonroof with tilt feature, sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Like most new Nissans, it comes with the company's standard suite of six safety and driver assist features (high beam assist, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, rear automatic braking, and forward automatic braking with pedestrian detection).
That puts you all in for around $25,000. That's not bad. And, it's a much better car than the base Altima (though it has a smaller back seat and trunk), which hovers around the same price point.
Where the real comparison lies is with the crossover market, which is flush with a number of models priced similarly to the Sentra. For $25,000, there's nothing in the Nissan lineup that makes as compelling an argument for your money as the Sentra. Nothing from Ford, Toyota, or Honda either. Kia and Hyundai may be closest but their SUVs are still pricier compared to the Sentra.
The car comes with device charging capability, phone storage space, numerous cup holders, and push-button start. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America
The Sentra's biggest sedan competition comes in the form of the 2021 Hyundai Elantra and 2020 Kia Forte.
It's legitimate to question if the Nissan lineup needs to have the Sentra with the Versa and Altima pulling such good duty. However, the Sentra makes a compelling case for drivers to see the lower priced offering, consider how much back seat space they truly need, and take it for a test drive.