Although there are vast quantities of utility vehicles and crossovers being consumed by the masses, there are still a number of affordable, solid-performing sedans such as the Nissan Sentra to consider.
First introduced for the 1991 model year, the Sentra brand has been a bright spot on Nissan’s sales ledger: More than six million of the compact sedans have been sold worldwide. The current iteration, which arrived in early 2020 and is unchanged for 2021, is totally new from the ground up in an effort to keep pace with the class-leading Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Kia Forte.
Compared with the previous Sentra’s bodywork, there really is no comparison. The design is leaner and more stylish, with an enlarged signature V-shaped grille, more prominent hood and fender creases and a tapered “floating” roofline that elegantly blends into the trunk.
Although only slightly longer than before and with more space between the front and rear wheels, the width has increased by about five centimetres and the roof has been lowered by about the same. Combined with the new bodywork, the effect is a more substantial and sportier-looking sedan with a lower centre of gravity. The new Sentra could pass for its midsize Altima sibling.
The Sentra’s interior is as fresh as the exterior, with a flat-bottom steering wheel, seven- or eight-inch touch-screens (depending on the trim) and a 4.2-inch display between the speedometer and tachometer. There are also Zero Gravity posture-assist front seats that the automaker has installed in many of its other vehicles. They are designed to provide more back support, which helps reduce fatigue on long trips. From experience, they are effective.
Nissan has also added more sound deadening and improved the door and window seals.
The biggest complaint about the previous Sentra was a lack of sufficient get up and go, an issue that was been rectified for the new model. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder rated at 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque replaced the previous 1.8-litre four-cylinder (124 horsepower and 125 pound-feet).
The engine is linked to a six-speed manual transmission (standard with the base model) or optional continuously variable unit (CVT) with built-in steps to simulate the driving characteristics of a conventional automatic.
Official fuel-consumption stats are 8.0 l/100 km in the city, 6.0 highway and 33 combined (CVT).
Underpinning it all is a new platform that Nissan says is more rigid than before. The previous torsion-beam rear suspension has also been replaced by a multi-link independent setup, claimed to improve the ride and driving characteristics, especially during cornering.
Pricing begins at $20,900 for the base S trim (add $1,600 for the CVT), which includes Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 grouping that bundles technology such as blind-spot warning and forward and reverse emergency braking. The only omission to the collection of active-safety technology is the optional Intelligent Cruise control that maintains a set distance from the vehicle in front.
The mid-grade SV gets that along with dual-zone climate control, upgraded cloth interior and 16-inch alloy wheels (steel wheels and covers are standard). Other SV content includes heated front seats and outside mirrors plus an Around View monitor that gives the driver a 360-degree view of his or her surroundings.
At the top end, the SR gets LED headlights, running lights and fog lights, as well as a darkened grille and outside mirrors. There’s also a rear spoiler, extra body garnish and 18-inch wheels. Leather-covered seats are optional for the SR.
It appears that Nissan has gone to great lengths to create a competent compact sedan that’s head and shoulders above its predecessor. Will that be enough to meet or upstage the top competitors in its class? Or the small utility vehicles that many buyers seem to prefer? Those are lofty goals, but taken on its own, the new Sentra leaves little on the table.
What you should know: 2021 Nissan Sentra
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (h.p.): 2.0-litre DOHC I-4 (149)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; continuously variable
Market position: With virtually every domestic-based automaker having abandoned the compact-sedan category, the market has been left to vehicles such as the Sentra and the dominant Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
Points: The latest design is a drastic improvement. • Interior makeover leans to the premium side. • Standard four-cylinder engine produces adequate power. • Wide array of active-safety tech is standard. • Returning the NISMO model to the lineup would create some much-needed performance to the brand. • The equally new and less expensive Versa represents another choice for small-sedan buyers.
Active Safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (opt.); front and rear emergency braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (std.); lane-departure warning (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): 8.0/6.0 (CVT)
Base price (incl. destination): $20,900
Toyota Corolla sedan
- Base price: $20,550
- Redesigned sedan and hatchback; hybrid options available.
Honda Civic sedan
- Base price: $21,500
- Exceptionally roomy, it can be had in sedan, coupe and hatchback body styles.
- Base price: $18,700
- A well-priced and well-equipped small car. A 201-h.p. turbo I-4 is optional.
– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media