By Derek Price
Historically Nissan’s most popular model, selling more than six million copies since its debut in 1982, the Sentra sedan gets an all-new design this year.
While it’s forfeited Nissan’s sales crown to the Rogue crossover in recent years, the freshly designed Sentra makes a compelling case for people who don’t want the height or bulk of an SUV-style vehicle.
As a whole, the new Sentra feels more sophisticated and refined than the old one, starting with the way it looks.
The overall shape is lower and wider than before, which gives it a sportier look from every angle. Styling seems heavily influenced by the eye-catching and much more expensive Maxima, and I especially liked the two-tone look with black accents on my tester.
Inside, the new Sentra seems to aim for luxury in the normally stripped-down segment.
The standard Zero Gravity seats make a legitimate difference, feeling noticeably more comfortable than most cars over long trips. And the new cabin design exudes a sense of quality that the old one lacked, especially on the higher-end trims with contrasting stitching and optional quilted leather.
Its driving experience is upgraded to match the snazzy new looks, too.
From the driver’s seat, the 2020 Sentra feels snappier and more responsive now, at least partially because of the lower center of gravity. The steering, suspension and brakes have been tuned for a sportier feel, yet the cabin remains wonderfully silent at highway speeds. It’s a good combination.
The engine is also bigger and more powerful, an unusual and refreshing change when so many cars seem to be downsizing their power plants for better fuel economy.
The new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 149 horsepower, a 20-percent improvement over the outgoing 1.8-liter version. It’s still rated for an impressive 39 miles per gallon on the highway, too, at least with the S and SV grades. The SR grade drops that number by 2 mpg.
Unfortunately, the upgraded engine is paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), one disappointment in an otherwise spectacularly rewarding car. The CVT is a big reason for the good gas mileage, but it saps much of the fun out of the driving experience.
It takes an otherwise sharp-feeling car and dulls it down.
There are zero disappointments in the content list, though, including making Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 standard equipment. This package includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist and rear automatic braking.
There are only three trim levels and two option packages in the Sentra’s simplified lineup, including the base S grade with 16-inch wheels, remote keyless entry and push-button start.
The SV grade adds several desirable tech features, including an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus automatic climate control and radar cruise control.
Finally, the SR adds 18-inch wheels, LED lighting and a racier look with dark chrome trim, orange stitching on the seats, a rear spoiler and lower trim on the sides of the car.
Pricing starts at $19,090 for the S and ranges to $21,430 for the SR. A premium content package is available for an extra $2,170, and premium two-tone paint adds $595.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR CVT ($21,430). Options: Premium package ($2,170), lighting package ($500), two tone with premium paint ($595), carpet floor mats ($205). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $25,825
Wheelbase: 106.8 in.
Length: 182.7 in.
Width: 71.5 in.
Height: 57 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (149 hp, 146 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 28 city, 37 highway
Why buy it?
It’s a dramatic upgrade for the compact four-door car, making it look and feel more expensive. It’s rewarding to drive and impressively comfortable inside.