by Michael Butler
The modern human has developed the ability to block out unnecessary information such as pop-up ads and global warming statistics with such efficiency that it takes something seriously eye-catching to draw their attention these days. The 2019 Nissan Sentra was the car equivalent of an email from your bank notifying you about its great new savings plan; it was ignored by everyone and was destined to live out its life as a rental car or UberX servant. The 2020 Sentra gets a new platform, engine, interior, and exterior design and is set to fight its rental-fleet stereotype with all its worth. Its new 149-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, revised infotainment system, and an attractive new design are pretty convincing, as is its starting price of only $19,090, but will it be enough to keep it out of airport parking lots? We think so.
The 2020 Nissan Sentra is a brand new car. The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine is brand new, boasts more power and is mated exclusively to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The most significant change must be the fact that the Sentra rides on a brand new platform that should translate into a better handling and driving car. Standard tech and safety features for 2020 include auto-forward emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. The contemporary exterior design is now available with new colors, including a two-tone design.
Before we discuss the 2020 Sentra, it's important to look at the previous year's model to appreciate just how far Nissan has come with the new Sentra. The 2019 model car was born to toil in rental fleets until it died an undignified death somewhere between Des Moines and Omaha, and those who actually bought them most likely did so because it had four wheels, as many doors, and could drive places. The new car is a whole different ball game: the elegant front end and swooping side profile looks sporty, especially when covered in two-tone paint, and reminded us of the Subaru SVX of old. Exterior features worth noting are Nissan's signature V-motion grille, available thin LED headlights, standard auto headlights, and high beam assist, LED daytime running lights, and the floating roof. Sporty SR models add a rear spoiler, black-painted side mirrors, lower body sill extensions as well as 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, and a V-motion grille finished in black chrome. Lesser trims are a little plainer - 16-inch steel wheels with covers on the S, while the SV gets 16-inch machined alloy wheels.
The 2020 Nissan Sentra is classified as a compact sedan and measures 182.7 inches in total length while riding on a 106.8-inch wheelbase. The Senta is 71.5 inches wide and stands 56.9 inches tall (57 for SR models). Maximum ground clearance is measured at 4.9 inches when fitted with the SR's 18-inch wheels and is at its lowest on the S and SV with 16-inch items. Nissan has done an excellent job of keeping the curb weight of the new Sentra as low as possible, with the SV model being the lightest at 3,045 pounds and the heaviest being the SR at 3,084 lbs.
The all-new Sentra gets a fresh slate of exterior color options for 2020 which includes eight single colors. New owners will be able to go for classics like Gun Metallic, Super Black, Brilliant Silver Metallic, Aspen White TriCoat, or Fresh Powder, with Electric Blue Metallic, Rosewood Metallic, and Scarlet Ember TriCoat also on offer for those with a more eclectic taste. Nissan doesn't stop there, however. For 2020, you'll be able to buy a brand new Nissan Sentra with a two-tone paint job for just $250. Two-tone color options include Super Black/Gun Metallic and Super Black/Monarch Orange Metallic, our personal favorite.
Nissan missed out on a golden opportunity to make the Sentra more than just a good looking uber car when they chose to stick with a naturally aspirated engine instead of going with the small-capacity turbocharged option as is popular these days. At least they've upped the capacity from 1.8 to 2.0 liters, which means more power and torque. What this means is you get a cheaper car that offers lukewarm performance: driving around town is pleasant enough, and the Sentra will stick with traffic and take gaps without issue but feels strained once you start to stretch its legs on the highway, especially when fully loaded with customers and their airport baggage. Zero to sixty times haven't been officially released, and we doubt they ever will be, but you can expect it to be in the high eight to mid-nine-second range.
The 2020 car gains an extra 200cc of capacity for a total of 2.0 liters of naturally-aspirated four-cylinder glory. What this means is a maximum power output of 149 hp, up 20 percent from last year, and 146 lb-ft of torque, up 17 percent. The new powerplant is mated exclusively to a CVT automatic transmission, which sends its power to the front wheels and only adds to the Sentra's lingering image as an old person's car but does a good enough job to keep fans of traditional automatics happy. The new engine provides improved low-down torque and a linear power band, partly thanks to that CVT transmission keeping it in the sweet spot at all times, but falls flat when you demand immediate power at highway cruising speeds and sounds strained right at the top. Best stick to the slow lane and enjoy its fuel-efficiency, then.
We were not impressed with the previous generation Sentra's spongy and disconnected handling and sub-par driving comfort. Nissan has taken note of these shortcomings and has addressed them by building the 2020 Sentra on a brand new platform, which includes a new independent rear suspension setup and redesigned electric power steering system, which has done wonders for the new car. Turn in is now sharp and responsive, and although the Sentra's nose can now be placed with reasonable accuracy, the numb steering feel remains. At city and highway cruising speeds, the Sentra now laps up bumps and road imperfections where the previous car would struggle to maintain composure when unsettled, especially through mid-speed corners. The SR with its larger 18-inch wheels can feel harsh over low-speed bumps and when driving on rough back roads, but the end result is a car that is much more engaging to drive and maintains its composure when the roads get rough.
Just because the 2020 Sentra still makes use of an old-school all-motor engine doesn't mean it can't be fuel efficient; Nissan has worked its magic on the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to make it not only more powerful, but more efficient as well, and in conjunction with a curb weight of just over 3,000 pounds and a drag coefficient of only 0.27 Cd, the new Sentra delivers the goods. Nissan claims an EPA estimated figure of 29/39/33 mpg city/highway/combined for the entry-level S, dropping to 28/37/32 mpg for the SR. Fitted with a 12.4-gallon gas tank, the 2020 Sentra has an estimated maximum range of 409 miles in mixed conditions.
A completely redesigned interior takes the new Nissan Sentra from stodgy UberX runabout to modern cool and complements the sharp exterior looks. Gone is the integrated infotainment display, dainty steering wheel, and vanilla dashboard design. In its place, you get an interior that flows beautifully and incorporates edgy design elements such as centrally-mounted triple air vents and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Standard interior features for 2020 include a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, power door locks with auto-lock, remote keyless entry with push-button start, air conditioning with dual-zone automatic climate control standard on SV and SR models, as well as an auto-dimming rearview mirror on SR models. Intelligent cruise control and remote engine start are standard on the SV and SR.
The new Sentra has grown slightly wider, which has improved overall interior space, but a lower roofline has cut some of the available headroom. The official numbers read as follows: The headroom comes in at 38.9/36.7 inches front/rear, dropping to a tighter 37.5 inches in front with the optional moonroof. Legroom comes in at an impressive 44 inches for front passengers, while those in the back get a more than ample for six-footers 37.4 inches. Hip room is a good 53.5 inches in the front and 53.3 in the back, while shoulder room is 56.4/54.5 front/back. The Sentra has no problem fitting five average-size adults, but will happily swallow even larger passengers. Nissan's Zero Gravity seats make their way into the Sentra and offer great support, especially when taking long road trips.
The newly designed interior also gets a number of new materials and trim inserts that help lift the Sentra's cabin above utilitarian. It all feels well built and impressively refined at its price point. We loved the satin-chrome accents and sporty cross-stitching on the SR model. Standard, the Sentra comes fitted with cloth seats, but SV and SR models get upgraded cloth. SV models are available with premium quilted leather-appointed seats - a true delight - and SR models come standard with sport cloth with orange stitching, while Prima-Tex leatherette is optional on this trim.
Trunk space is an important factor that many buyers in this segment consider very important when making their final purchasing decision, and thankfully Nissan made a good compromise between overall trunk space and passenger legroom. The 2020 Sentra's bigger dimensions afford it a total trunk capacity of 14.3 cubic feet, which is adequate for its size and class, but a few cubes behind the segment leader, the Honda Civic and its 15.1 cubic foot trunk. The wide-opening trunk and low liftover makes loading and unloading easy, and if you need some more space, the Sentra's 60/40-split rear seats fold down. With the rear seats folded up, there's enough space to fit around five carry-on bags. Small items can be stored in the front armrest storage bin, glove compartment, or slight recess in front of the shift knob. SV and SR cars get standard seatback pockets and a rear center armrest with two cupholders.
In base trim, the new Sentra feels light on standard features, but Nissan has been much more generous than on the previous model. The exterior of the 2020 Nissan Sentra gets standard high-beam assist headlights regardless of their type, and from the SV trim there's the option to equip a power sunroof. Inside, cruise control, power windows, keyless entry, push-button start, and extendable sun visors all feature as standard. The base S gets standard air conditioning - upgraded to dual-zone climate control from the SV - a rearview camera, and manual seat adjustment. From the SV and up, the options are present to equip six-way power adjustment for the driver's seat as well as heating for both front perches. You get standard adaptive cruise control and remote engine start, while on the SR you get the choice of a surround-view camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Standard on all trims, Nissan's Safety Shield 360 package adds automatic front and rear emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure assistance, and rear cross-traffic assistance.
The all-important infotainment system has received a major update for 2020 and makes a marked difference in the overall value proposition and ease of living of the new Sentra. At the heart of the new infotainment system lies a seven-inch color touchscreen mounted high on the dashboard of the S, upgraded to an eight-inch screen on upper trims. Standard infotainment features include speed-sensitive volume control, Bluetooth streaming, a single USB port, and aux input jack, as well as MP3 playback capability and a hands-free text messaging assistant. The base car has to make do with a tinny four-speaker sound system while SV and SR cars get six speakers. A premium eight-speaker Bose sound system is exclusively available on SR models. SV and SR models get Nissan's Connect infotainment suite as standard which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, along with SiriusXM satellite radio. The system is easy to navigate and is quick to respond to inputs. Get the optional Bose sound system if you're serious about your music.
Seeing as the 2020 Nissan Sentra is a brand new car, it hasn't been subjected to any recalls, and it's too fresh to have been rated by the folks over at J.D. Power, but Nissan has a solid track record with building reliable cars, so we wouldn't worry too much. Nissan hasn't released any model-specific warranty info, but we expect that the new Sentra will be covered by the same basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty as other Nissans, which includes five-years of corrosion cover, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty and three years or 36,000-miles worth of roadside assistance.
Neither the NHTSA nor IIHS has had an opportunity to put the new Nissan Sentra through its paces: all we've got to go on is the fact that the previous year's car performed well, scoring a 2018 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. The addition of Nissan's Safety Shield 360 package and standard LED headlights on SR models should be enough to score it another Top Safety Pick award, or at the very least top scores across the board.
We commend Nissan on their commitment to including modern safety tech as standard on the new Sentra range of cars where many competitors would leave the same type of features to the options list. Nissan has covered the basics with ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and electronic stability and traction control, but brings things into 2020 with available projector LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and intelligent auto headlights with high beam assist. The Nissan Safety Shield 360 driver assistance package adds modern driver assistance features such as automatic forward and reverse braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic assist, blind-spot warning, intelligent driver alert assist, and lane departure assist. Nissan's advanced airbag system features a total of 10 airbags including the uncommon additions of dual front knee airbags and rear-seat side airbags. At the price-point, the new Sentra offers great value for money in terms of its standard safety feature list.
The problem with the old Nissan Sentra wasn't that it was notably bad to drive, or was unreliable or unsafe, it was the fact that it was absolutely forgettable, and took on the form of an appliance rather than that of a car. In short, it was built to sit in rental fleet car yards until its time ran out. Nissan has taken note and has delivered a completely redesigned car that rolls on a new platform, is more powerful, and way better to look at. We think that the Sentra has improved enough to stir some kind of emotion out of the driver instead of slowly grinding down the soul of the unlucky pilot, as was the case in the old model. The exterior is attractive and contemporary, especially when coated with the available two-tone paint job, and the interior is miles apart from what we experienced in the older model: Nissan's Zero Gravity seats and improved infotainment system feel great. The new 2.0-liter engine and CVT transmission combo won't blow you away, but it delivers predictable power and will return impressive fuel economy. What seals the deal for us is the inclusion of advanced safety features such as pedestrian detection and auto emergency braking. Nissan has done enough work on the Sentra to shake the Uber/rental image, but only time will tell if it hits the mark with younger buyers.
Nissan is going for an aggressive pricing strategy: the base model 2020 Sentra starts with an MSRP of only $19,090, excluding tax, title, license, and a destination charge of $925. Impressive stuff for a car that comes with standard emergency braking and pedestrian detection. The SV starts at $20,270, and the SR will set you back $21,430. The new Sentra slots in between the $14,730 Nissan Versa Sedan and the $24,100 Nissan Altima. The top of the line SR model comes packed with most of the available features, but options such as projector LED headlights, a power sliding moonroof, Prima-Tex leatherette seating surfaces as well as a heated and adjustable power driver's seat and Bose premium sound system will push the asking price closer to Nissan Altima territory.
You'll be able to purchase a 2020 Nissan Sentra in your choice of three different trim levels: S, SV, and SR.
The Sentra S is powered by an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT automatic transmission, which it shares with the rest of the lineup. Standard features on the base model include exterior details such as halogen headlights with intelligent auto and high beam assist as well as body-color power wing mirrors. Inside, you'll find cloth-covered seats, a seven-inch touchscreen display with a four-speaker sound system, speed-sensitive volume control, Bluetooth streaming as well as a single USB port, aux input, and MP3 CD playback capability. The base model shares safety features such as auto-forward and reverse braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and pedestrian detection with the rest of the lineup.
SV models are a significant step up in terms of standard features: you get standard projector LED headlights and heated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals. Inside, the SV offers upgraded cloth seats with passenger seatback pockets, optional leather seating, and dual-zone climate control. The infotainment system on the SV gets an upgraded eight-inch display with a six-speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto integration as well as SiriusXM satellite radio and two USB ports. Intelligent cruise control and remote engine start are standard.
SR models look more aggressive thanks to a set of 18-inch diamond-cut wheels, a sportier dark chrome V-motion front grille, and black-painted side mirrors. LED daytime running lights and LED fog lights are now standard. Inside, the SR gets standard sport cloth seats with orange stitching, as well as optional Bose sound and illuminated vanity mirrors.
Optional packages are offered exclusively on SV and SR models, with the base model only gaining access to accessories such as a $345 rear spoiler or $205 carpeted floor mats. The $2,460 SV Premium Package adds thin-type LED headlights and daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a power sliding moonroof as well as quilted leather seats, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and a leather shift knob. For $250, you can get your SR-spec Sentra with a two-tone paint job, and the $2,170 SR Premium Package includes SV Premium Package features but adds Prima-Tex seats, an eight-speaker Bose sound system, an intelligent surround-view camera system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and illuminated vanity mirrors.
All models share the same naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine and transmission, so you don't have to make any decisions in that department. Since that's the case, we'd avoid the sporty styling of the SR as it compromises gas mileage without improving performance. Instead, the mid-spec SV offers the best value for money, and while you might miss out on the option of equipping an eight-speaker Bose sound system, you get comprehensive safety, dual-zone climate control, and you can equip the SV Premium Package, which bags you those sublime quilted leather seats, LED headlights, a power sunroof, heated front seats, and driver's seat power adjustment. At $22,730, it's an all-inclusive bundle that makes the most sense.
The 2020 Nissan Versa is classified as a subcompact four-door sedan and slots in below the Sentra in Nissan's 2020 sedan lineup. The Versa is exclusively available with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via your choice of a five-speed manual or CVT auto transmission. The Versa will accelerate to sixty, albeit a little slower than the Sentra, and will manage 27/35/30 mpg city/highway/combined when equipped with the manual transmission. The Versa is also all new though, and features a much nicer interior than it previously had, however, it still can't match the luxuriant feel of a well equipped Sentra. Since it's smaller than the Sentra, you get less rear legroom, but thanks to a boxy design, there's more headroom on offer. Trunk space is slightly better than what you'll find in the Sentra at 14.7 cubic feet. On the road, the Versa is merely adequate and doesn't inspire confidence on the highway. With the top of the line SR CVT going for $18,240, we'd instead go with the fresh Sentra in base form.
The Altima sits above the Sentra and below the Maxima in Nissan's sedan lineup for 2020 and is classified as a mid-size sedan. The Altima is the first sedan in the Nissan lineup to feature a turbocharged engine: you get a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four producing 236 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. A 2.5-liter four-pot is also available and produces 188 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front or all four wheels via a CVT transmission. Fuel economy ranges from 28/39/32 mpg city/highway/combined in the base model to 25/35/29 mpg in the 2.5 AWD Platinum AWD. Both the Sentra and Altima share a similar interior design, but the larger Altima offers more passenger and cargo space. On the road, the Altima feels composed and capable, and with the 2.0T engine, driving becomes a pleasure instead of a chore. Both cars share Nissan's Safety Shield 360 and most infotainment options. The Altima is most certainly the more premium package and is more engaging to drive thanks to that turbocharged engine, but starts off with a base price that's over $5,000 more than the Sentra. If you won't miss the turbo engine, go for an SV or SR Sentra for most of the luxury and none of the extra cost.