Still no segment-leader, but we’re finally warming up Nissan’s new small sedan.

Last year we flew to California to sample the new 2020 Nissan Sentra. In our short day with it, we found the small sedan to be much better looking than its predecessor but only marginally improved elsewhere. Then we got an entire week with it, and the second time around, the Sentra scored higher marks in safety and tech, earning a bit more respect than we initially gave it credit for.

Now we got another crack at the 2020 Nissan Sentra. And you know what they say about the third time. Though we’ve had somewhat mixed feelings on the Sentra prior, we’ve finally warmed up to the latest version this time around. While it's still no segment-leader, the Sentra is an affordable, stylish, safe, and comfortable option in a class loaded with good (if not better) alternatives.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes
2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes

Jeff Perez, Senior Editor

Favorite Thing: Sharp Styling
Least Favorite Thing: Not An Eager Performer

Nissan really nailed the styling of the new Sentra. Though it looks familiar with its V-Motion grille and floating roofline, borrowed from the Versa, Altima, and Maxima, the new Sentra is a sharp and handsome option. It's one of the best-looking cars in the class. Our SR tester looks especially clean with a white paint job and a contrasting black roof, while the 18-inch wheels are our favorite visual option by far.

The interior isn't overly attractive, but it does match the same clean and concise lines of the vehicle's exterior. The faux black leather, fake carbon fiber trim, and plastic pieces on the sporty SR model look good for the class, and though it juts up from the dash like a glued-on iPad, the optional 8.0-inch touchscreen in our tester is a nice technological touch.

But the new Sentra is just okay to drive. The sedan is plenty powerful for puttering around the city – its new 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. But once you get up to highway speeds, the Sentra feels underpowered. And the continuously variable transmission is unresponsive and gives off an annoying, metallic whine. Dynamically, the Sentra is probably more than fine for most buyers, but there's nothing to write home about. Alternatives like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and yes, even the Toyota Corolla, are better in this respect.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes
2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes

Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor

Favorite Thing: Snappy Interior
Least Favorite Thing: Sketchy Suspension Tuning

Like Jeff said, the 2020 Nissan Sentra is a fashionable compact sedan with distinctive style in spades. And I’ll take his lukewarm praise of the interior even further with genuine appreciation for the wing-shaped leatherette dash trim, Mercedes-like rounded air vents, intuitive infotainment display, and orange-stitched upholstery. All four outboard seats offer plenty of room and support for 6-footers. Nissan’s D-shaped steering wheel, which shows up in most of its products, is also a nice piece to grab onto, with perfect thickness and well-placed thumb rests.

Unfortunately, aiming the car with that sporty-looking wheel doesn’t actually yield much in the way of driving confidence. In spite of the SR model’s attractive 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires, steering turn-in and road feel are lazy and numb. And when the rear end catches up to the front as it tracks through corners, it sways around worryingly, leaving the driver with only a vague idea of what the car wants to do – oversteer seems like a foreboding possibility.

And it’s not as though it takes high cornering forces to reveal these unfortunate characteristics. A freeway flyover or slightly overzealous lane change are enough to turn the Sentra into an underdamped pogo stick, something that can’t be said of the Honda Civic, Mazda3, or Toyota Corolla.

2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes
2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes

Clint Simone, Associate Editor/Video Producer

Favorite Thing: Graduation From Rental Car
Least Favorite Thing: Still Drives Like A Rental Car

When we first laid eyes on the 2020 Sentra at the LA Auto Show late last year, the initial reaction was positive. With fun two-tone paint and upscale design touches, the Sentra debuted with a real presence about it. Months later, I feel the same way – this car looks great. Base-spec, white Sentras littering Hertz parking lots still fill my brain, but this new car looks less like it belongs in a rental fleet and more like it should be proudly parked in a driveway.

Details like the LED headlights, smooth body lines, and 18-inch wheels add some needed pizzaz. The interior, too, feels like a huge step up from generations past with diamond-stitched leather seats and new dash design. This feels like one of the most upscale options on the road for $25,000.

Look at the Sentra or sit in it with the engine off and you’ll leave impressed. But take a quick drive and the positive qualities taper off pretty quickly. As my co-workers have already pointed out, the Sentra is several steps shy of sporty. The CVT is slow and tends to stick high in the revs for long periods of time. Meanwhile, the engine itself could use a bit more torque to get the car up to speed.
Corners don’t do the Sentra any favors, where it lacks the composure of its competitors, namely the Mazda3 and Honda Civic. Nobody expects a Sentra to be a mind-blowing performer, but the car underwhelms, even during everyday commuting.

Competitors

Gallery: 2020 Nissan Sentra SR: Driving Notes

2020 Nissan Sentra SR

Engine 2.0-Liter I4
Output 149 Horsepower / 146 Pound-Feet
Transmission Continuously Variable Transmission
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 28 City / 37 Highway / 32 Combined
Weight 3,084 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 14.3 Cubic Feet
Base Price $19,090
As-Tested Price $25,120