Nearing its 40th birthday, the Nissan Sentra has endured weird names and different marketing strategies. Once a sub-compact, it’s now a compact or small sedan. Its peculiar names in different countries include Tsuru, Sylphy and Almera. It’s also a direct descendant of the Datsun B210.
The 2020 Nissan Sentra, available in the United States, isn’t named after a crane, a slender young woman or a princess. Its moniker is a variant of sentry, which also isn’t quite right. But guardian or protector-on-wheels is workable. The Sentra has adapted and remains strong in an ever-crowded marketplace.
The Sentra’s eighth-generation debut this year also marks a transition for the sedan from mass gatherings in rental car fleets to a new home as a handsome hipster. One reason: it’s available in a sporty, out-of-character, eye-catching, two-tone match of a Monarch Orange body, Super Black roof and black wheels. It’s an automotive equivalent of saddle shoes.
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2020 Nissan Sentra: Prideful new sedan
New to the scene since January, the Sentra has a newfound pride. It’s a $25,000 sedan with a little swagger.
Offered in base S, SV and SR trims, the 2020 Nissan Sentra lineup all include two-liter, 149 horsepower engines with front-wheel drive and continuously variable automatic transmissions. Manual transmissions are no longer available.
The top-trim SR, as model hierarchy dictates, possesses most of what its siblings have. But its sporting characteristics include 18-inch wheels and LED headlights as exterior upgrades and an impressive collection in the Premium package. It includes a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, surround-view parking camera system, simulated leather upholstery, eight-speaker Bose audio system and a power sliding glass moonroof.
Two data-capable USB ports (one a newer USB-C port), one charge-only USB port in the back seat, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control and keyless access are also impressive inclusions considering Sentra’s modest status.
Two inches wider, the Sentra’s redesign resulted in slightly less headroom. It has 14 cubic feet of trunk space, about 10 percent less than last year’s model.
A sleeker new exterior design further extends the car’s departure from plainness. A new independent rear suspension improves ride comfort and the negotiation of road imperfections.
Comfort is also improved with Zero Gravity seating. Nissan uses specially articulated seats offering less pressure on passengers’ muscles and spines. Seat cushions have additional flex. Satin-chrome aluminum accents, contrast stitching and overall high-quality materials define the interior makeover.
A seven-inch touchscreen is standard, with an optional 8.0-inch screen available on higher trim levels. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are available on SV and SR trims.
2020 Nissan Sentra: lots of safety
Like many small sedans, the Sentra is marketed with seating for five. But any three potential back-seat occupants larger than petite face tight quarters.
Apropos of its sentry connection, the value-driven Sentra also features standard the manufacturer’s suite of advanced safety equipment. It’s called Safety Shield 360 and includes forward and rear-collision warning, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Emphasis on safety also gives the 2020 Nissan Sentra is an industry rarity. It has 10 airbags and an alert to remind the driver to check the back seat for children when exiting.
While modernized inside and outside, the 2020 Nissan Sentra remains performance-challenged. It advances from 0 to 60 miles per hour in lowly 9.2 seconds. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta, among the Sentra’s top rivals, all have substantially better acceleration. Gas consumption ratings are 28 miles per gallon in city driving, 37 mpg on the freeway.
The Sentra may never be a leading seller. But it’s rejuvenated and matches its automotive peers.
Article Last Updated: April 20, 2020.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.