Nissan’s baby sedan has grown up.
Originally launched in 1982 as Nissan’s subcompact car, the originally Sentra was the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered car at the time. Largely owing to this appeal, the Sentra quickly became a success to the tune of the best-selling import in the U.S.
38 years later, the Sentra is now in its 8th generation and no longer Nissan’s subcompact car (leave that for the Nissan Versa). With big-car levels of room and sporty driving dynamics, the compact class is one of the fiercest in Canada, dominated by the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, and even the Hyundai Elantra.
So what room does this leave for Nissan? According to them, it boils down to a premium-car experience, styling, and substance.
Let’s take a look at how Nissan’s all-new compact sedan has grown up to be arguably the most handsome car in its class on sale today.
If looks could kill
The only thing that’s not new for 2020 is the name of the car. Nissan’s engineers have literally redesigned it from the ground up.
Unfortunately, the Canadian media launch coincided with the rise of COVID19 cases globally and Nissan Canada made the correct call to cancel the national press event so as to support social distancing and to prevent the pandemic from spreading within the country.
Kudos to Nissan Canada’s PR and on-ground team in offering a limited number of vehicles for auto journalists to test drive after a strict COVID19 cleaning protocol was established and observed. If anything it made the new Sentra stand out even more, purely on its merits.
A glitzy press event was clearly not necessary to highlight the Sentra’s bold new look. This thing’s a stunner!
With its broad shoulder line giving it a wider-looking stance, V-motion corporate grille and even a two-tone floating roof, the 2020 Nissan Sentra draws inspiration from its big brothers, the Altima and the Maxima.
Riding on an all new and improved platform, the Sentra sports slim upswept LED headlamps, defined bumper corners, and a sharp looking rear bumper. Compared to the previous generation, this new car is about two inches lower and two inches wider .
From its side profile and especially when judging the Sentra’s C-pillar, there are more Altima cues there with its sleek, fastback-like roof profile as part of its radical design.
Gone are the slab sides, replaced by defined character lines that run through the doors, quarter panels, and fenders.
Out back, there are slim taillights with an all-new unique shape, and the rear bumper has an integrated (purely cosmetic) rear diffuser.
Under the hood, there is a new, more powerful engine that boost fuel economy. A redesigned interior includes more luxury, more standard technology and more driver-assistance features. More on that later.
Safety and Driver Assistance Systems
Nissan’s high level of standard safety equipment jives well with the “Sentra” name which was originally created for Nissan by Ira Bachrach of Namelab.
The word “Sentra” sounds like “sentry” and “central” which is supposed to evoke images of safety. Right from the start, Nissan had wanted consumers to understand that despite its compact dimensions, the Sentra was safe.
Nissan’s Safety Shield 360, a suite of six driver-assistance features, is now standard on the Sentra, just like the other Nissan sedans.
These six features include blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert, and rear automatic braking.
These compliment the Sentra’s standard 10 airbags and even an alert to remind drivers to check the back seat for children when exiting the vehicle.
I was frankly shocked to see the inclusion of a comprehensive tire pressure monitoring system on my test vehicle, with individual tire pressure readouts versus the generic cheaper ABS wheel speed sensor type system which only tells you that a random tire is low on air.
Interior and Infotainment
The 2020 Sentra has a vastly improved interior when compared to the outgoing car. Gone is the rental-fleet vehicle feel. With greater overall passenger space, there are high-quality materials and details including contract stitching and satin-chrome aluminum accents.
While beating a Honda Civic on driving dynamics along is a tall order, beating it on interior design and quality is far easier. Nissan said that much attention was paid to engineer in premium car levels of smoothness on things such as the dials and switches.
I particularly like the circular HVAC vents, which reminded me of those found in the latest Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
The faux carbon fibre print helps to add some interesting texture to the centre console and window switch areas and Nissan’s excellent NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats also make their appearance.
They can be outfitted as standard cloth or heated leather depending on the trim level selected. I particularly liked the sporty-looking orange accents throughout the interior on my SR trimmed model. SR Premium models get gorgeous-looking quilted leather seats with contrast stitching.
As expected, a heated steering wheel is also available. What’s less expected are the soft-touch surfaces on the dash and door panels, lending an air of quality lacking in many cars in this category.
Infotainment and connectivity-wise, the well-equipped SR trim includes the optional floating 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. SR Premium models are also equipped with Nissan’s Intelligent Around View 360 degree monitor.
Unusual for its class, this system is highly customizable, with the ability to add widgets to a customized Home screen menu.
If I had a couple of niggles it would be that there are a couple of signs of cost cutting in the trunk area. You’ll need to watch your grocery bags as the gooseneck hinges can crunch your load when the cargo area is fully.
Moreover, it would also be nice to have an interior trunk lid handle to pull the trunk lid shut, especially in foul whether when the exterior of the car is dirty, or at least for the next few months, to avoid errand COVID19 germs.
How does it drive?
The Sentra now features a new 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine rated at 149 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. This more fuel-efficient engine offers increases of 20 per cent and 16 per cent respectively over the previous generation’s 1.8-litre engine.
A new independent rear suspension matched to a McPherson strut front suspension offers much improved driving dynamics. The SR’s ride is firm but compliant despite its low-profile tires.
Nissan has also upgraded the electric power system for a more responsive dual-pinion rack with standard Nissan Intelligent Trace Control technology.
Intelligent Trace Control is a comfort feature that uses Electronic Stability Control data to automatically and smoothly applies small amounts of braking to individual wheels to correct the vehicle trajectory to match the driver’s commands. The system can also engage when exiting a corner.
For example, if the vehicle starts understeering due to accelerating too quickly out of a curve, Trace Control will smoothly brake the inside wheels to help gently bring the Sentra back to the steered path. The amount of braking is small and does not affect the vehicle speed appreciably, but aids cornering by correcting the speed and/or adding yaw when needed
While I never pushed the Sentra anywhere close enough to experience the system, I can report its effectiveness in Infiniti vehicles.
Like almost every other compact sedan around, the 2020 Sentra continues to use a CVT. While I wasn’t a less than enthusiastic fan of the previous generation Sentra’s CVT, this latest generation unit is well-tuned and much smoother.
I liked that the transmission emulates a conventional automatic gearbox when you stomp on the throttle pedal, with a number of “fake” stepped gearshifts felt before it holds the revs steady like a typical CVT. This helps to take away the typical droney nature of most CVTs.
I almost missed the Sport mode, toggled via an unmarked button on the shifter. This increases the throttle responses and makes the CVT opt for maximum engine rpms and power sooner. Interestingly, it can even “rev-match” when it downshifts in certain conditions.
Of course, the Sentra’s CVT only has 149 horsepower to work with, but this Is enough to motivate it to the middle of the pack 8.1 seconds as far as 0-100 km/hr times are concerned in this class.
Overall, the 2020 Nissan Sentra is a much-improved choice, especially if best-in-class exterior styling, interior quality, and value for money are top priorities for you.
While the new Sentra is a little more expensive than before, its overall desirability has shot up dramatically. You might even find it unexpectedly fun-to-drive.
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