Nissan Sentra — A noteworthy remake

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(May 10, 2020) Several months ago we were introduced to the sub-compact 2020 Nissan Versa, which for years wore the title as the "least expensive car in America." It was also one of the least desirable small cars in America unless you were on a very strict budget, but wanted to purchase a new car. We were blown away by the new 2020 Versa, which is attractive and loaded with safety and technology features — a remarkable makeover.

Now we discover that Nissan has performed the same miraculous transformation of its compact Sentra. The Sentra has been a solid entry in the very competitive compact segment, a go-to car if you aspired to basic reliable rental-car transportation. That's all changed with the 2020 Sentra that shares only its name with its predecessor.

It was important that Nissan got the Sentra right for its eighth generation because it is the best-selling Nissan model of all-time in the United States, with more than six million deliveries since it debuted for the 1982 model year. And we think Nissan got it right with a striking new exterior design and a refined, premium-looking interior that sets new Sentra standards for quality and comfort.

The car is now two inches wider, and two inches lower, giving it a far more athletic stance than its predecessor, and the overall body lines are more defined. In front, Sentra's striking new look is created through use of sharp creases that blend into the muscular body sides. The rear has a lower roofline and wider shoulders, with wheels flush to the body enhancing the strong stance. The new front end takes styling cues from the larger Nissan Altima and flagship Maxima with the signature V-Motion grille.

The interior has been redesigned into an attractive place to live. The center dash is dominated by a thin touchscreen growing up from orange-stitched coverings above dual zone automatic climate controls. Heated front seats, heated steering wheel, power moonroof, and 8-speaker Bose audio system are frosting on this tasty cake. The shift knob and flat-bottom steering wheel are leather, and the seats are upholstered in attractive leatherette. 

We found the so-called Zero Gravity front seats nicely comfortable. Rear-seat legroom is adequate for two adult passengers, but taller rear-seat passengers may need to negotiate for more leg room with their front-seat counterpart. Trunk space is adequate for the segment measured at 14.3 cubic feet.

The front-wheel-driven Sentra gets an all-new powertrain gaining a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine — replacing a 1.8-liter four — that makes 149 horsepower, 25 more than the outgoing engine, with 145 pound-feet of torque mated to what has become an industry favored continuously variable transmission (CVT). We prefer the standard traditional geared transmission, but the choices in this segment are limited. No manual transmission is offered in the Sentra for 2020.

We think the engine-transmission combination does an adequate job — we successfully lived with it, but that being said, it's on the slow side of the equation with a 0-to-60 time measured at 9.2 seconds. We had no problems merging and passing, but some maneuvers require a heavy foot on the gas pedal. Gas mileage is measured at 29 mpg city, 39 highway and 33 overall, about average for the segment.

We applaud Nissan for making its suite of advanced driver safety aids — called Safety Shield 360 — standard equipment. It includes advanced driver assistance systems that can help mitigate accidents, such as forward and rear collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

The Sentra comes in just three trim levels — S, SV and SR — starting at  $20,015 including a $925 destination charge. Standard equipment in the base model in addition to Safety Shield 360 with blind-spot monitoring, includes a 7-inch touchscreen, push-button start, power windows and doors, air conditioning, and a four-speaker audio system.

The sweet spot would appear to be the mid-level SV starting at $21,195 that comes with alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system, and Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone integration. We would add the Premium Package such as came on our test car that brings LED headlights, power moonroof, 6-way power driver's seat, and heated front seats. We think it's an incredible deal at $23,860 including destination charge.

Move up to the SR and you will get 18-inch wheels and a more sporty exterior design treatment. And the Premium package in the SR includes an eight-speaker Bose audio system and a surround-view parking camera, all for $25,825.

With such major competitors as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruise becoming automotive history, the new attractive Sentra should be able to gain some market share in the compact segment against such staunch competitors as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra.

2020 Nissan Sentra


Base price: $20,015; as driven, $23,860
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 149 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 146 foot-pounds @ 4.400 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.8 inches
Length: 182.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,045 pounds
Turning circle: 38.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 city, 39 highway, 33 combine
0-60: 9.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra

The Good
• Stylish design
• Refined interior
• Full range of safety equipment

The Bad
• Noisy engine

The Ugly
• Slow acceleration