By on December 16, 2019

2020 Nissan Sentra

I was focusing on the road while piloting the 2020 Nissan Sentra down the canyon roads just outside Los Angeles, yet somehow I didn’t notice the previous-generation Sentra headed in the opposite direction that my drive partner pointed out.

In fact, I had a hard time even picturing in my head what the outgoing Sentra looks like. That’s because, like the cheaper Versa, the old Sentra had become quite forgettable.

And just like the newest Versa, the newest Sentra is actually memorable again.

(Full disclosure: Nissan flew me to Los Angeles, put me in a nice hotel, and fed me.)

The 2020 Sentra has the same overall look as other sedans in the Nissan stable. Normally I’m not a fan of companies using similar design throughout the lineup, differentiating only by size, but the strategy works here. It makes the Sentra look sharp as opposed to the forgettable (there’s that word again) blob of meh the previous-gen car was. The car also looks larger than it is, perhaps thanks to being 2 inches lower and wider than previous.

Inside, the redesign brings about nicer materials that also look more upmarket than before, although the Sentra gets the slapped-on infotainment screen that drives this author nuts.

Underhood is a 2.0-liter four-banger that makes 149 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. It’s the only engine choice, and the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) is the sole transmission. Sentra is front-wheel-drive only.

2020 Nissan Sentra

Compact sedans are mostly meant to be reliable transportation, but being engaging never hurt anyone. This new Sentra won’t be the enthusiast’s choice – look at Mazda, VW, or Honda for that – but it’s at least on par (or close to on par) with the Hyundai Elantra. There’s actual heft from dual-pinion electric power steering, and a decent amount of feedback. The standard multi-link independent rear suspension is helpful.

Just because the Sentra handles relatively well doesn’t make the presence of the D-shaped steering wheel any less laughable. If I were Nissan, I’d save that for a NISMO or SE-R trim, should one ever come about.

Sentra’s ride is just fine on smooth Southern California roads, but we’ll have to wait and see how it deals with Midwestern potholes. Wheel sizes are 16-, 17-, and 18-inch.

Interior materials seem upmarket for the price, with the cheapest materials being out of easy sight and reach. Rear-seat room was surprising, although the front seats were a bit short in terms of thigh bolstering.

2020 Nissan Sentra

The CVT whines predictably when the go pedal is pressed hard, although it does perform “step” gear changes. Sentra’s relative lightweight amount of power is perhaps the car’s biggest on-road flaw – you’ll have jusssst enough juice for around-town cut-and-thrust and perhaps freeway merging, but not for much else.

No one will confuse this car for a compact sportster, but it’s lively enough around-town (at least in terms of handling, if not acceleration) to be acceptable, especially for this price point.

That price point is $19,090 to start, not including the $925 destination fee. That’s for the base S trim. There’s two other trims, SV and SR.

Standard features include Nissan’s SafetyShield 360 suite of driver-assist aids (automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking), push-button start, rear-door alert, USB port, Bluetooth, active ride control (works to keep things level under acceleration and braking), intelligent trace control (assists in cornering), and forward-collision warning.

2020 Nissan Sentra

SV trims add 16-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel, three USB ports instead of one, remote keyless entry, heated exterior mirrors, dual-zone climate control, remote start, and smart cruise control. All for $20,270. A Premium package bumps the price to $22,730 and adds “jewel style” LED headlights, moonroof, 8-way power driver’s seat, 17-inch wheels, leather seats and shift knob, and heated front seats.

SR models add 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and fog lamps, rear spoiler, exhaust finisher, leather shift knob, black-pained heated exterior mirrors, and orange seat trim. That’s for $21,430, while a Premium package pushes the price to $23,600 and adds the same “jewel style” LED headlights, moonroof, and 8-way power driver’s seat as the SV Premium, plus Bose audio, uplevel seats with orange stitching, heated front seats and steering wheel, around-view camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

The only major feature missing is factory nav, but CarPlay/Android Auto can be used to navigate.

2020 Nissan Sentra

The SR Premium I drove cost $25,325. Two-tone (orange/black) paint added $595, and floor mats another $205.

Fuel economy is listed by Nissan (the Sentra doesn’t yet appear on the EPA’s fuel-economy site) at 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway/33 combined in S and SV models, and 28/37/32 for SV trims.

This new Sentra probably won’t drive you wild with excitement, but it’s a far better package than what it replaces. It looks better inside and out (and the higher-trim interior looks fairly upscale), it handles well enough, the steering isn’t a ball of mush, the ride is pleasant. It only lacks for power (and factory nav).

2020 Nissan Sentra

It’s also comfortable and quiet (unless you rouse the CVT). Nissan isn’t trying to sell the Sentra as anything but a solid commuter car that won’t break the bank or leave you embarrassed, and that’s exactly what this car is.

The last Sentra was anything but memorable. While the new one won’t be on bedroom wall posters, it will at least be on shoppers’ minds.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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43 Comments on “2020 Nissan Sentra First Drive – Back in the Game...”


  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Not at all surprised to see the manual transmission discontinued on the Sentra, it’s not a car that screams “driver engagement”. So now Nissan is down to three vehicles with a manual option: the 370 Z because it’s sporty, the Frontier because there are still some truck drivers who want one, and the Versa so Nissan has a price leader.

  • avatar
    James2

    Don’t know if it’s the angle of the photo, but couldn’t they have lined up the air vents with the climate controls?

  • avatar
    digitaldoc

    Rental car fleets everywhere can rejoice at the improved Sentra! Anyone who wants to buy a compact car… not so much. Pretty sad when my 1998 Altima has more power than the new Sentra, and there is no optional engine even offered.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      The 2019 Altima has more power than your 1998. Not sure why you’d compare vehicles from two different classes.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        The Sentra and Altima (as-mentioned) are within an inch of one another in any given direction–Sentra has a couple extra inches of wheelbase. They’re within 150 lbs of one another, weight-wise.

        Not exactly apples/oranges to compare the two.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        so apples to apples then, this thing makes 9 more horsepower than one could get in a 94 Sentra, ditches the manual and adds like 500 pounds.

        yes, it will survive a crash better and yes, it will pair with your phone so you can stream whatever Godawful crap passes for music in the 25 years since the B-13 SE-R left us…but all that tech and it makes 9 more HP than the 94’s SR20DE. Yay Progress!

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      The new Sentra also gets better city fuel economy than your Altima got on the highway (as per EPA, at least). Out of the segment leaders, the Civic is the only one to offer an optional higher power engine in any volume, so it’s probably safe to say the Sentra will be fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Aaaaand….3 more Hwy MPG than a top trim 94 Sentra. 1 if you get your 2020 in SR trim. Why even build a new motor at this point. Just dust off the SR20DE…I’m sure with 20+ years of tech it could do everything this new 2.0 does since it was basically there 25 years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          You might want to check the revised numbers – 21/28 for the 2.0 (even the 1.6 is 25/34), for a noticeably smaller car that’d be utterly pulverized in an accident. I fully agree that an old SE-R is a car to get excited about, while this is ten years from being recycled into washing machines, but it’s in line with the priorities for modern compact sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      If you want a go-fast compact, Subaru, VW, and Honda are ready to provide you with one. The Sentra is not such a car, nor is the Corolla.

      How many compact drivers are complaining about not having enough power, especially on today’s traffic-free, high speed roads?

  • avatar
    JMII

    I wonder if the D shaped wheels isn’t more of a comfort thing then a sporty thing these days. It likely makes it easier to slide into the car.

    Nice looking color combo, Scion did the same a few years ago and I approve.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Looks like it’s gone from the rental car to avoid at all costs to just another rental car.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Twenty years ago, Nissan was #2 on the “goodness” scale of Asian cars. Now they’re 4th? 5th? 6th?

    The Corolla has a lower MSRP than this Sentra. Or you can buy a Hyundai Elantra SEL trim. Either of these are demonstrably better cars.

    Cash on the hood coming soon.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Credit were credit is due: Hyundai/Kia shrewdly took advantage of Nissan’s weakness and took built better quality vehicles to nab their spot on American car shoppers list of “brands to consider” when car shopping.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      25 years one could get a Sentra SE-R that had 9 fewer horsepower and 500 fewer pounds than this.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “Twenty years ago, Nissan was #2 on the “goodness” scale of Asian cars. Now they’re 4th? 5th? 6th?”

      Huh? Nissan has been playing catch-up since 1974. They’ve had a few decent products at times, but their greatest strength has been quality by association with Toyota and Honda.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        The early 90’s was peak Nissan. You had the Z32 300Z which was basically all that was good with the decade on wheels styling wise, the B13 Sentra SE-R, and the 4DSC Maximas as well as the timeless and frankly greatest named truck ever, the “Hardbody”. And I’m not even a Nissan guy.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My Sentra rental this year was a big turnoff. I had liked the CVT on a previous test drive of a 14 Versa Note, but this one was no fun. The 2-liter engine moan got pretty tiring.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I hope this car helps get Nissan back in the game. I want Nissan to recover. Nissan had some great products in its past–I loved my 2003 Maxima, and my ’93 Altima, both with manual gearboxes! I really hope they can develop some compelling vehicles going forward. All enthusiasts lose if Nissan tanks.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Well, what an inspiring vehicle. Better quality Nissan gray interior, you say? Wow. It looks like such a mournful beast, but I know looks can be deceiving. Thanks for the all-encompassing deep dive road test.

    Now, how about fixing the damn site?

  • avatar

    This is the kind of car both GM and Ford just could not figure out how to do.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    So they now make a better mediocre Civic/Elantra. Which entirely misses the point.

    The last Sentra was a dreadful car, but a great bargain-basement family car. This one loses, if memory serves me correctly, 6 inches of rear legroom and its base price goes up over $2,000. Nissan now has nothing for that customer, and two cars for the customer who has a few thousand more. Point missed. Segment abandoned.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Exactly. The Sentra cannot compete with Civic/Corolla on perceived reliability/prestige/etc.

      What the current generation could provide was a larger greenhouse, more headroom, and overall interior space.

      By reducing the greenhouse, they are taking away just about its only true competitive advantage.

      Why?

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Correction: My statistic above is wrong about the legroom loss. I was misremembering which car that applied to — in fact, it’s the new Corolla.

      Of course, the price increase still stands.

  • avatar

    GM abandoned this segment because it could not even compete with the Sentra. Barra must resign now!

  • avatar
    otaku

    As with the Versa sedan, the styling seems like a definite improvement over the previous generation. I just wish Nissan would consider toning down that chrome grill a little bit. Similar to what they did with the Altima, it just dominates the entire front end of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    Yeah, wouldn’t touch this with a 100 foot pole. I have a friend who’s nissan cube CVT grenaded at 130K miles. Shops around here want 2800 to 3300 for a rebuilt CVT plus about 1500 for labor. That’s ridiculous for an economy car. A rebuilt ford focus transmission of that same era can be had for 1800 less, including labor.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    what a miserable little $#!+box.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    With the CVT (glass transmission) lasting 10 years is optimistic unless the owner drives 5k or less a year. The Aisin transmission makes this car and any Nissan with this transmission a nonstarter for me. I would buy a used Yugo before I would buy any Nissan with this transmission. A manual Frontier would be the only Nissan I would ever consider buying. Nissan once upon a time made good solid vehicles that would last now they are more like Fiat and Renault. I would say in 5 to 7 years this car will be recycled into a Chinese made washing machine.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes it is Jatco but Nissan is infamous for its bad CVTs. Aisin would be a better transmission. Sorry my mistake.

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