2020 Nissan Sentra – First Drive

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Orange Front Right
  • Good: Sexy styling, smooth ride, standard safety equipment.
  • Bad: Missing some common features, less exciting than competitors, no manual transmission.
  • DM Verdict: Nissan is still fully committed to the sedan, and their hard work resulted in a refined compact car.

What you need to know: The 2020 Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that competes with cars such as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda 3. Now in its eighth generation, the Sentra is completely new for 2020, with sharp new looks and a refined interior and powertrain. There is one engine, a 2.0-liter inline-four making 149 hp, and one transmission, a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT. EPA fuel economy is 29 city, 39 highway, and 33 combined. The Sentra’s base price is $20,015 (including destination).

The compact-car marketplace has never been known for glamour. Typically these are entry-level cars for shoppers who are trying to extract every bit of value from their dollar with no room for superfluity. Buyers want something reliable, practical, and affordable. The new Sentra manages to provide all of that AND be attractive at the same time. Kudos, Nissan.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Orange Right Rear

For a car that’s been around for as long as the Sentra, it’s interesting that it’s not as well known as other compact stalwarts like the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Despite it being less popular than these segment leaders and despite the market’s supposed turn away from sedans, the last five years have been the best sales years on record for the Nissan Sentra. This recent success helps justify Nissan’s efforts into the new 2020 model.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Orange Left Side

If you’re in the market for a Sentra, then you’re likely looking for the straight and dirty. The new Sentra checks all of the boxes in the compact-sedan class: It is practical, safe, efficient, and affordable. But so are the Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta, and Subaru Impreza. What does the 2020 Sentra do to put it in conversation with segment leaders rather than down in the compact-car gutters with everyone else?

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Orange Right Front Corner

First, its looks. Even though buyers in this price range are often pragmatic, there’s still an emotional element to any new-car purchase. Appearance is a leading emotional factor. The 2020 Nissan Sentra might not have the same curb appeal as a new Ferrari, but it’s striking enough to grab shoppers’ attentions yet not over styled as to yield many opponents.

Second, its interior. In the same vein as exterior styling, car shoppers don’t need much more than seats and a steering wheel, but the Sentra provides more than most competitors for the same price. All interior materials feel nice and look premium. The steering wheel would benefit from some nicer leather, however, but now we’re getting greedy. This is the first Sentra to receive Nissan’s Zero Gravity Seats; while the name is marketing hype, they are some of the most comfortable seats on the market. No, this doesn’t feel like a luxury car, but it’s nicer than most vehicles in this class.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Rear Seats

Last, and this one is a bit nebulous, but bear with me, Nissan put a genuine effort into this car. They imbued it with advanced suspension and steering designs (independent rear, adaptive dampers, dual rack and pinion), not because they had to, but because they wanted the Sentra to be a genuinely good product. It’s easy for a manufacturer to skimp on an entry-level car, but Nissan didn’t. This effort will show through in other aspects of the car during ownership.

Is the 2020 Nissan Sentra the perfect car? Absolutely not. There are always ways to improve, and if anyone got the formula perfect, the result would likely cost too much. The Mazda 3 feels even more premium inside, the Toyota Corolla will be more reliable, the Honda Civic is more fun to drive, and the Volkswagen Golf is more refined. However, the Sentra takes elements of all these competitors and reduces them to a simple and affordable package. It’s playing with the big boys now.

Check out our video review here!

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