Drive: 2020 Nissan Sentra SV offers surprisingly high quality features
Approaching 40 years in the U.S. market, the Nissan Sentra bears little resemblance to the tinny econobox that replaced the even flimsier Datsun 210 in 1982. Today's Sentra, a compact 4-door sedan, is solid and refined, especially when equipped —as our 2020 test car was —with the SV Premium Package.
Some Sentra shoppers might regret the elimination of the optional 188-horsepower turbocharged engine. We drove a Sentra RS in 2016 with this engine and found the car's performance off the line to be exhilarating. But for 2020 and going forward, all Sentras are equipped with a 149-horsepower inline Four, along with a continuously variable transmission that delivers less punch than a conventional automatic or stick shift.
Drivers interested in a more engaging experience behind the wheel might prefer a 6-speed manual transmission, but none is offered in Sentras sold in the United States.
Our test car, a 2020 Sentra SV, was priced at $24,800 —a good value, considering the car's near-luxury accommodations. The SV Premium Package added $2,400 to the sticker price. The next step up in the Nissan line is the midsize Altima; the subcompact Versa is the smallest Nissan.
A base Sentra S starts at $19,310.
The Sentra competes with the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Jetta. There used to be a wider selection of compact sedans, but Chevrolet, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi have left the compact-sedan field.
2020 Nissan Sentra SV
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 149 horsepower, 146 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Curb weight: 3,045 lb.
Wheels: 17-in. alloy
Tires: P215/50VR17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gal.
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city, 39 highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
The combination of fewer competitors and improvements to the Sentra have contributed to sustained sales numbers for Nissan's compact sedan in recent years. U.S. and Canadian sales exceeded 200,000 per year for 2015 through 2018 before dropping to 184,618 last year. Sales this year have been abysmal —just 69,8672 through the first three quarters —but that undoubtedly has more to do with COVID-19 than with any deficiencies in the vehicles.
Indeed, the 2020 Sentra is quite easy to live with, thanks to its easy access and egress, quiet, comfortable ride, luxurious, up-to-date interior, and taut handling. Fuel economy is a few ticks short of competitors like Hyundai, Kia and Honda, but nonetheless acceptable at 29 mpg city, 39 highway. The Civic, for example, can reach 32/42 without using hybrid technology.
Among the luxury features we didn't expect to find in a Sentra were quilted leather heated seats, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone climate control, remote start, satellite radio, and power sliding glass sunroof. Also impressive were the fairly roomy rear seat and 14.3-cubic-foot trunk. Overall, the interior materials were of higher quality than one would expect in a car that has made its reputation with its low price and low cost of operation.
Our Sentra had an impressive infotainment system that included an 8-inch color display, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, streaming audio via Bluetooth, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, hands-free text-messaging assistant and voice recognition.
As recently as 2018, the Sentra was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Crash-test data for 2020 is incomplete.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.