by Gerhard Horn
It's relatively brave to launch a humble sedan in a crossover-obsessed world, and yet Nissan went ahead and did it anyway. In a world where manufacturers are slowly suffocating the most traditional body style, the Nissan Sentra doubles down to be one of the most striking and most comfortable sedans in this segment. And it has a starting price of less than $20,000.
Despite being released as a 2020 car, the Sentra is already receiving upgrades. It's quite clear that Nissan isn't about to let its sedan fade away in a world dominated by crossovers. We're definitely fans. SUVs and crossovers might be the flavor of the decade, but the four-door sedan still has a lot going for it.
Just one year after its launch, Nissan is already improving the Sentra. The changes to the new model include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the entire range. The body has also been dropped by two inches. Nissan says this gives it a more assertive stance compared to the 2020 model. More optional extras can be added to the SR trim. These include NissanConnect Services with a Wi-Fi hotspot and a new two-tone paint combo made up of Electric Blue Metallic with a black roof.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
To fully understand what a giant leap forward the eighth-generation Nissan Sentra is, you need to look at the seventh-generation. It was rather nondescript. You only bought it for one reason: the Nissan dealership was the closest car shop to your home, and you couldn't be bothered to go any further. You drove it into the ground and then got another one.
The new model is something completely different. It has an angular, elegant front fascia, a swoopy side profile, and a rear end that's basic but somehow also manages to be attractive. It's not the kind of car you buy because you live within walking distance of Nissan. It's a handsome car that you'd drive across town for.
We like the V-motion grille, daytime running lights, floating roof, and the available thin LED headlights. The sporty SR adds a nice, subtle spoiler, black side mirror caps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Sentra is classified as a compact sedan, its dimensions are those of a rather large car. It has a total length of 182.7 inches and a 106.6106.8-inch wheelbase. It has a width of 71.5 inches and is 56.9 inches tall (57 inches for the SR). Nissan should be applauded for keeping the weight as low as possible. The base model weighs in at 3,036 pounds, while the top-spec SR weighs 3,084 lbs.
Nissan has a lovely color palette for the Sentra, but the exciting colors are only unlocked higher up the range. The base S model has four no-cost options available, including Super Black, Gun Metallic, Brilliant Silver, and Fresh Powder. The SV adds four more color options, including Rosewood Metallic, Electric Blue Metallic, Aspen White, and Scarlet Ember Tintcoat. The first two are no-cost options, but the last two cost an additional $395. The SR has the best color options. In addition to most of the colors mentioned above, it has a few two-tone options. The Blue Metallic/Super Black and Gun Metallic/Super Black options cost $250, while the Monarch Orange/Super Black and Aspen White Tricoat/Super Black options cost $595.
The Sentra is only sporty in appearance. Instead of fitting a small capacity turbocharged engine, Nissan went the old-school route with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-pot. To be honest, it fits the relaxed nature of the car. It has enough power to get around town, but it struggles a bit on the highway when fully loaded with passengers. During the week, when you're driving alone, you won't feel it as much, but add the family over the weekend, and you'll feel the strain. Nissan hasn't supplied any performance or top speed figures, probably because they're weak, but mostly because they don't matter. The Sentra is frugal rather than furious. Independent test results have shown the 0 to 60 mph sprint takes somewhere in the nine- to ten-second region. Not fast, but faster than the older generation.
A naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine powers the Nissan Sentra. It has output figures of 149 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission option is Nissan's Xtronic CVT transmission, and it sends power to the front wheels only. Driving enthusiasts won't be thrilled, but Nissan's CVT is one of the better ones out there. The engine has also been tuned for low-down torque, and it has a linear power band, both of which work perfectly with a CVT transmission. It removes most of that droning noise and the feeling of a clutch slipping, as has traditionally been the case with CVT gearboxes. There is a sport mode for a bit more zest, but it's still nowhere near brisk. The engine and gearbox work together nicely. It feels a lot like a traditional automatic, which is the highest praise you can give a CVT.
The previous Sentra was a dud, so Nissan started from scratch on a whole new platform. As part of the process, Nissan added independent rear suspension in a segment where most of its rivals are equipped with a torsion beam setup. The latter may be cheaper, but by including an independent design, Nissan has moved the Sentra to the front of the line when it comes to handling.
The electric power steering is sharper but not as quick as the Honda Civic. For what is essentially a family sedan, Nissan added some exciting tech to improve handling. It has a system called Active Understeer Control, which brakes the inside wheel to make the car turn in sharper. That's usually the kind of system you find in sporty vehicles, and it bodes well for the inevitable performance model.
The suspension is tuned for comfort more than anything else, and it feels amazing on the smooth highway. The SR's 18-inch alloys look fantastic, but they have an effect on the ride quality.
To get good mileage figures, most manufacturers rely on turbocharging. Nissan's EPA figures prove that there are other ways to decrease consumption. The Sentra has a few tricks up its sleeve. It has a CVT gearbox, a relatively low curb weight, and an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.27 Cd. The result is an EPA-estimate of 29/39/33 mpg city/highway/combined. The SR model is only marginally less frugal, with an EPA-estimate of 28/37/32 mpg. The 12.4-gallon tank grants it a maximum range of 409 miles.
The Sentra's interior is a lovely place to spend time. It looks and feels good, even though there is some cheap plastic here and there. The interior looks like it was designed to be elegant, rather than merely slapping the features wherever they'd fit. The beautiful, centrally mounted triple air vents are a good example. There's no need for air vents to look that good, but it goes a long way towards making the cabin feel special. The standard features include a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, auto-locking doors, remote keyless entry with push-button start, and manual air conditioning. The SV and SR have dual-zone climate control, intelligent cruise control, and remote start.
The Sentra has a cavernous interior. The only niggle, and this is reaching to find something wrong, is the low roofline. Even so, the Sentra's headroom is 38.9 inches in the front and 36.7 inches in the rear. The optional moonroof lowers front headroom to 37.5 inches. Legroom for the front passengers is 44 inches, while passengers in the back get 34.7 inches. The hip room is 53.5 inches in the front and 53.3 inches in the rear. You'll have no problem fitting three adults in the back. Nissan's Zero Gravity seats are a unique selling point. They are supremely comfortable and easily the best seats you'll find in this category.
The Sentra has several materials and inserts that elevate it above its rental car roots. It feels solidly screwed together and adequately refined for how much it costs. As standard, the Sentra comes with cloth seats, but you get a higher quality cloth once you upgrade to SV and SR specification. One optional box worth ticking is the premium quilted leather, available in the SV. The SR comes standard with sporty cloth seats with orange stitching, as well as satin-chrome accents. Prima-Tex leatherette is an optional extra in the SR trim, but it requires the addition of the $2,270 Premium Package.
As trunk space is one of the main selling points in this segment, it's nice to see Nissan claiming 14.3 cubic feet. It's not the largest, but nor is it the smallest. By comparison, the Honda Civic has a 15.1-cubic-foot trunk.
The Sentra's space is still large enough to swallow five carry-on bags, so it should have no problem with the school run or grocery shopping. The trunk opens wide, and it has a low liftover, making loading and unloading easy. It can also transport the occasional oversized item, thanks to 60/40-split rear seats that fold down nicely.
The cabin has storage spaces in the front armrest, glove compartment, and a small indent in front of the shifter. SV and SR models have standard seatback pockets and a rear armrest with two cupholders.
On the outside, the Sentra is equipped with high-beam assist headlights, and from SV trim upwards, you can add a moonroof. Interior-wise, all models get cruise control, power windows, keyless entry with a push-button start. The entry-level S has manual air conditioning, upgraded to dual-zone climate control in the SV and SR. You gain access to more optional extras from the SV upwards, such as power-adjustable and heated seats. The SV also gets standard adaptive cruise control and remote engine start. At the same time, the SR trim allows you to opt for a surround-view camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Sentra doesn't skimp on the safety kit, either. As standard across the range, you get Nissan's Safety Shield 360 package, consisting of front and rear emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The base S model is equipped with a seven-inch color touchscreen display mounted above the triple air vents. Previously, the base model did not have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, but it is now included in the 2021 model. The other interior upgrade includes NissanConnect Services with a Wi-Fi hotspot, now available in SR trim. The SV and SR get a bigger eight-inch touchscreen interface with full smartphone integration. Standard infotainment features across the range include Bluetooth streaming, a USB port, an aux input, and a hands-free text messaging assistant. The base car comes with four speakers, while the SV and SR have six speakers. If sound quality matters to you, an eight-speaker Bose sound system is available on the SR model.
The system is easy to operate, but glare can be a problem. You can turn up the brightness, but the screen can occasionally be nearly unreadable. Navigation is not available, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto being standard, it's not a problem.
The 2021 Nissan Sentra received 84 out of a possible 100 points in the J.D. Power Survey. It received a great rating in the quality and reliability, resale, and dealership experience categories. It scored 94 out of 100 in the driving experience category.
The Sentra was subject to zero recalls in 2020, making it one of the most reliable and enjoyable cars out there, according to owners. No recalls have been listed for 2021, either. A new Nissan Sentra includes a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, and three years or 36,000-mile roadside assistance.
Now that it has been on sale for a year, both the IIHS and NHTSA have had the opportunity to do safety reviews of the Nissan Sentra. The IIHS was impressed with the Sentra, giving it a Top Safety Pick award in 2020, while the NHTSA gave it five out of five stars.
There is no doubt you're getting a safe car with these excellent ratings for the Nissan Sentra. But, that's what happens when you make a comprehensive safety system like Nissan's Safety Shield 360 standard across the entire range, and not just on high-end models.
Nissan deserves praise for making its Safety Shield 360 driver assistance package standard across the whole range. This package includes automatic front and rear braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic assist, blind-spot monitoring, intelligent driver assist, and lane departure assist. Nissan also covers the basics with ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, stability control, and traction control. The Sentra has a total of ten airbags, including dual front knee bags. This kind of safety kit is often only optional on cars costing much more than the Sentra.
The previous Nissan Sentra was a forgettable car. If you had to run through a list of options available in that segment, there's a good chance that it would not be included. Nissan knew the new Sentra needed to pack a more powerful punch with this model. Not only is it competing against some serious rivals, but it also faces tough competition from the crossover crowd in the USA.
Nissan overcompensated with the all-new model. Not only does it make the list, but it's somewhere near the top. It looks good, it drives well, the interior is modern and comfortable, and the standard safety specification is more than generous. The engine and gearbox won't satisfy a driving enthusiast, but the power is perfectly adequate, and the fuel economy is impressive.
The unique selling point is safety. Some rivals costing much more than the Sentra still expect you to pay extra for some of the features included with the standard Safety Shield 360.
Nissan's pricing strategy is quite aggressive on two fronts. First, there's the base model with all of the driver assistance safety kit, retailing for just $19,410 MSRP. Secondly, it doesn't cost a lot to upgrade from one specification level to the next one in line. The Sentra SV is just $1,060 more than the S at $20,470. Upgrading to the top-spec Nissan Sentra will cost an extra $1,280, retailing at $21,750. The base price of the Nissan Sentra excludes the $925 charge for destination and delivery in the US.
There are three Nissan Sentra models for 2021: S, SV, and SR. All three are powered by the same 2.0-liter four-pot, mated to a CVT transmission. Power is sent exclusively to the front wheels.
The base S model is equipped with halogen headlights with intelligent auto and high beam assist. On the inside, it has cloth seats, a seven-inch touchscreen display now with full smartphone integration, a four-speaker sound system, speed-sensitive volume control, Bluetooth streaming, a single USB port, and an aux input. The base model is also equipped with the full Safety Shield 360 driver assistance package. This comprises automatic front and rear braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic assist, blind-spot monitoring, intelligent driver assist, and lane departure assist.
SV models are equipped with LED headlights and heated side mirrors with LED indicator lights. The SV's interior is nicer thanks to higher quality cloth, a passenger seatback pocket, optional leather seats, and dual-zone climate control. It also has a bigger eight-inch color touchscreen with a six-speaker sound system, as well as an additional USB port, intelligent cruise control, and remote engine start.
The SR looks the sporty part thanks to a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, a dark chrome V-motion grille, and side mirrors with black caps. This model also comes with LED daytime running lights and LED fog lights. Interior-wise, the gets sporty cloth seats with contrast orange stitching. An eight-speaker Bose sound system is available as an optional extra in the SR.
There are only a few standalone optional extras available for the base S model. A rear spoiler for $345 and sill plate protectors for $80. The SV's $2,270 Premium Package adds a decent helping of elegance, as it includes quilted leather seats, heated front seats, a power moonroof, and a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar. The Premium Package for the SR trim also costs $2,270. Instead of leather seats, it comes with Prima-Tex seats with orange stitching, heated front seats and steering wheel, thin projector LED headlights, a power moonroof, an intelligent surround-view monitor, and an eight-speaker Bose premium sound system, to name just a few.
The same 2.0-liter engine powers all three models, so performance doesn't change at all. All three have the same cavernous interior and a spacious trunk, too, and every model comes with the impressive list of safety features as standard.
If budget is a concern, go for the entry-level S. It ticks all the right boxes for personal and family transport. If you can stretch the budget a bit, go for the SV and add the optional Premium Package. Unfortunately, the upgraded Bose sound system is only available in the SR.
Still, the SV's Premium Package adds those sumptuous quilted leather seats with heating for the front passengers, a power moonroof, and a six-way power-adjustment for the driver's seat. All in, you're looking at $23,665. That's a lot of car for not much money.
The Nissan Versa is also new and is a cheaper alternative to the Sentra. It's only available with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine developing 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque, but Nissan gives you the option between a five-speed manual and CVT transmission.
The new Versa has gone through the same meticulous update as the Sentra, and it also has a nice interior, though not as nice as the Sentra. The more traditional boxy shape does give it more headroom, though, and it has a slightly larger trunk. That's worth keeping in mind if these things are at the top of your must-have list.
In terms of performance, the Versa isn't as effortless as the Sentra. You have to work it more to make the same sort of progress. A top-spec Versa retails for $18,340, which is just $1,070 less than the entry-level Sentra. Given the Sentra's looks, safety specification, and the new addition of full smartphone integration, we'd still be happy to pay the extra grand.
The Sentra's other main rival also comes from under the same roof; that's how few sedans are left on the market. The Altima is slightly bigger in every direction and offers even more passenger and cargo space. It also has a more powerful 2.5-liter four-pot engine as standard, or a turbocharged four-pot with 236 hp and 267 lb-ft, if you're willing to pay extra. The difference in power is definitely noticeable and worth the money. The Altima is also equipped with Nissan's Safety Shield 360 as standard across the range, but there's a $5,000 difference in base-model price. Between the two, we'd choose a Sentra SV or SR and add the Premium Package. This gives you everything you could need in a compact four-door sedan.
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