Review update: The 2020 Nissan Sentra blossoms into a competitor

August 26, 2020

Everyone knows the story of the ugly duckling and how it ended. In recent years, the Nissan Sentra has been that duckling. Until now.

For 2020 the Nissan Sentra was designed with a more flowing European look, higher quality materials, and better driving dynamics. It also kept its trademark: value.

Those factors help it against the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta, and Mazda 3, and help boost the 2020 Nissan Sentra to a TCC Rating of 6.0 out of 10.

We appreciate its driving dynamics, design, and price, but the steering wheel is too big, the chassis begs for more power, and the Premium Package seems expensive.

I spent a week road tripping, running errands, and poking around the 2020 Sentra to see where it hits and where it misses.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Hit: That’s a Sentra?

I didn’t even have a driver’s license the last time a Sentra was good looking, which was nearly two decades ago. The 2020 model rides on a new platform and the car’s wider, lower, and longer because of it. The sharp front end and roofline could’ve hailed from Europe but the flowing curves down the sides have a Japanese flair to them. It looks terrific, especially in the SR trim as tested with 18-inch aluminum wheels.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Miss: Right design, wrong size

The flat-bottom steering wheel in the Sentra is a great design. It speaks to the chassis’ capability. It feels great in the hand and the rim’s diameter is perfect, not too skinny and not too thick. But the steering wheel itself is too large for the vehicle. The first time I grabbed it to take a corner it felt out of place. There’s a reason: It’s straight out of the Altima mid-size sedan and Rogue compact crossover SUV. I get that parts-bin sharing is a great way to cut costs, but this car deserves a right-sized steering wheel (which in turn would allow for a right-sized steering wheel in the Leaf as well, as this steering wheel is in that car, too).

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Hit: Enough power

The 2020 model’s powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, which is 20% and 17% more respectively than the outgoing model. Once underway the Sentra’s inline-4 packs plenty of punch for highway passing and feels eager in Sport mode.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Miss: But it’s ready for more power

The Sentra’s new chassis is ready, and willing, to take more power. It feels like the power runs out before the chassis and tires hit their limit. It’s ready for a turbocharged engine, stickier tires, and SE-R badge. The time is now.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

 

Hit: Efficient

Despite feeling punchy the 2.0-liter inline-4 is efficient. The Sentra has EPA fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg city, 37 highway, and 32 combined. On a road trip of more than 200 miles with two adults, two kids, a trunk full of luggage, and a dog at over 70 mph, the Sentra averaged 37.1 mpg. Part of the Sentra’s efficiency is thanks to the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Sentra’s CVT is far from offensive and in day-to-day driving acts like a typical automatic transmission.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Miss: The Premium Package costs how much?

My SR tester was equipped with the $2,170 Premium Package that includes niceties such as heated synthetic leather seats and steering wheel, thinner LED headlights with daytime running lights, sunroof, surround-view camera system, and a six-way power driver’s seat. The SR model already has LED headlights. The highlight of the package is heated seats and steering wheel, which can be had for a lot less than $2,170 in the aftermarket.

2020 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan Sentra

Hit Still a value

Remove the $2,170 Premium Package and $500 lighting package that adds ground lighting effects from “The Fast and the Furious” era and my Sentra SR tester would’ve cost $22,355 after destination. That’s not a lot of money for a stylish, fuel-efficient sedan that can comfortably carry four adults.

The 2020 Nissan Sentra needed two decades but its a return to form for the nameplate with a willing chassis, flowing design, fuel efficient powertrain, and overall value. The Sentra has left its ugly duckling stage and morphed into a swan in a field of competitive small cars.

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2020 Nissan Sentra SR

Base price: $20,015
Price as tested: $25,480
EPA fuel economy: 28/37/32 mpg
The hits: Sharp design, great chassis, efficient, still a value
The misses: Big steering wheel in small car, willing chassis wants for power, Premium Package is overpriced.

2021
The Car Connection
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2021
The Car Connection
 
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