The 2020 Nissan Sentra SV is a user-friendly, competent getaround car and surprisingly luxurious for $24,000. It’s not particularly exciting, but it is good on gas.
Full Disclosure: Months ago I asked Nissan if I could borrow a GT-R. It offered a 370Z instead. I ended up getting injured before I was supposed to borrow it, so I never got to drive it. I asked again more recently, and Nissan offered a Sentra. So here we are with a Sentra road test!
Editor’s Note: I’m messing around with our review formatting again. I wanted to mix it up, and see if I could make reviews short and sweet without squeezing all the Jalopnik juice out. Since there are so many people reviewing cars in 2020, many saying the same things, I’m trying to focus on what really stands out and defines a car.
Testing Conditions: Oh yeah, and I want to start annotating reviews with an explanation of how the car was driven now. In the Sentra’s case: Mostly casual city driving with a few trips up and down the highway.
The 2020 Nissan Sentra is a smallish normal front-drive sedan made for commuting, shopping, and everyday transportation with minimal flash, fuss, or fuel burn.
This is the eighth-generation (B18 body) Sentra, which is new for the 2020 model year. The SV trim tested here is a relatively lux option level, meaning there’s a cheaper base model below it (the S) and a slightly sporty-looking trim next to it (the SR). The 2020 Sentra SV lists for $20,270 and our loaner car had a few extra luxuries spec’d bringing its total to $24,800. Interestingly, that pushes it beyond the SR’s list price. It seems like the SR’s main value-adders are bigger wheels and a heated steering wheel option.
For driving enthusiasts there use to be a sporty spec Sentra, the SE-R, rivaling cars like the Honda Civic Si and VW Jetta GLI but it hasn’t been in the mix for a long time. More recently, you could get a Sentra Nismo with a six-speed manual and a turbo but that was sunsetted with the Sentra’s seventh generation. Whether or not something like that will return to Nissan’s lineup remains to be seen.
This is actually a handsome car, with enough curves and creases in its bodywork to be classy while stopping short of standing out. Unless that black horizontalish line in the C-pillar really bugs you. (It’s supposed to look like the roof is floating, you see. This is a hot automotive design trend right now.)
The design is fresh for the 2020 model year, and it’s definitely a significant revision from the outgoing car. Most noticeably the face is a lot sharper, but you can check out Nissan’s press release if you want to dig into specifics.
It’d be a lie to call it anything close to invigorating but it’s pleasant to drive and has enough power to get out of its own way. A tight-feeling turning radius makes city maneuvering pretty painless and the SV Premium Package seats are comfy for hours.
Quilted leather seats in a Sentra! Said seats are also heated, which is nice, but more importantly, the power position-adjustment for the driver’s seat seemed almost infinitely optimizable. It’s a six-way adjustable power seat with two-way power lumbar, but I felt like I could move it further in various directions than the driver’s seats of many other cars I’ve driven. Nissan calls these its “renowned Zero Gravity front seats” which sounds gimmicky but I actually think these seats are nice enough to warrant having a name.
If you’re very tall or short, or you’re just very particular about your driving posture, maybe this is a Sentra selling point. But everybody’s got an ass and every ass can appreciate a supple seating situation.
The ride comfort and turning radius in this car stood out as very good to me too.
Acceleration is pretty whatever, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since the car’s 2.0-liter engine only claims 149 horsepower. I feel a little obligated to complain that there’s no sporty Nismo spec anymore, but to be honest I don’t really miss it. The Sentra doesn’t need to have a hard-driving variant.
The continuously variable transmission, which Nissan has used in its mainstream cars for years and car reviewers love to complain about, does give the car something of a laborious moan under acceleration. A CVT never shifts, hence “continuously variable,” and in theory should help the car make the most of its modest engine output. In practice, it does seem to net good mpg, but it also makes the car sound like a handheld dustbuster sometimes.
Generally speaking, the Sentra doesn’t have any major dealbreaker faults as a practical economy car from my perspective.
I thought outward visibility was fine and didn’t see any glaring operational issues that would make the car seem or feel unsafe to me. Except for once, when the “hey stop you’re about to crash” (Automatic Emergency Braking) system got spooked and jumped on the brakes randomly for about half a second. Maybe it was trying to save a squirrel I didn’t see.
My test car had the $2,460 SV Premium Package, which is what adds the quilted leather. It really is pretty nice. The package also gets front heat seating, and the multi-way-adjustable driver’s seat I was excited about earlier. You get a sunroof, LED headlights, 17-inch wheels, and a leather shift knob, too. If you’re getting a Sentra, an SV Premium Package Sentra is probably worth stepping up to.
The color on the test car in these pictures is a dark reddish-purple called Rosewood Metallic but Electric Blue Metallic is the look to pick in my opinion.
The 2020 Sentra’s rivals include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Mazda3, and Hyundai Elantra. In that context, the SV variant feels like the “reserved luxury” option. Civics are a bit sportier while Mazda has a wraithy elegance about it these days. The Sentra SV seems plush among compact sedans, though.
The 2020 Nissan Sentra SV is better than fine, it’s damn decent! I mean, as a driver’s car, it’s instantly forgettable. But if you’re more interested in good ride quality and fuel economy this is a totally viable option. It really is comfy considering the list price.
Didn’t see a detail you were hoping to peep? Netcarshow has a good repository of clear and simple 2020 Sentra images. You can also go to Nissan’s site to see the Sentra from every angle in every color. Here are the rest of my frames from this road test.