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NOVI, Mich. — We came to this suburb just west of Detroit to test drive the all-new 2020 Nissan Sentra. We found that it had grown — its equipment and its road manners had gotten better.
The Sentra has been the best-selling Nissan model in the U.S. since it went on sale in the 1982 model year. More than six million have been sold. This is the eighth generation of the compact sedan.
It now shares the angular design of other Nissan sedans. The 2020 Sentra was more muscular and sportier than the car that it replaced. Nissan spent a lot of time and some decent dollars on upgrading its bread and butter car.
They gave the engine more oomph. The 2.0-liter four cylinder’s horsepower was bumped up 20 percent to 149 and the torque increased 17 percent to an almost matching 144 pound-feet at 4,400 rpm. There was a continuously variable transmission.
The Sentra had a fuel rating of 29 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg combined for the S and SV trim lines. For the SR trim line, it was 28 mpg city, 37 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined. The reason for the discrepancy is weight. Quite simply, the top trim line has more equipment, so it weighs more. And unlike past models, the new Sentra will not have a manual transmission as an option.
On the rural roads headed west to our lunch stop, we could tell that the new Sentra had a little more pep. It got up and over the small hills here and it handled the curves and turns well. But don’t get it twisted, this was not a very challenging drive in terms of switchbacks, elevation or road surface. However, we came away with some respect for the new suspension.
The Sentra had an all-new chassis and right now it is exclusive to this compact sedan. The result was a car that clung to the road. It was quiet, absorbed the bumps and uneven pavement easily and the new dual-pinion rack electric power steering system made the car easy to drive. So did the D shaped steering wheel. Also, the lateral grip increased four percent and the driver’s seat hip point was lowered.
The new Sentra was wider and lower than the model it replaced. Nissan said improvements included improved body control, steering response, engine response and torque feel, and even wind noise and seat holding were improved. That matched one thing we noted, there was very little sound intrusion from outside.
Engineers gave the front-wheel-drive compact sedan better driving dynamics with a new independent rear suspension, which was matched to a McPherson strut front suspension. Twin-tube shock absorbers were utilized on every corner of the car. All these improvements made for a quality driving experience.
That dealt with the guts of the 2020 Nissan Sentra. It now shared the aggressive styling of other Nissan models. It had the signature V-motion grille, available thin LED headlights and the floating roof. There were sharp creases in the sheet metal, muscular body sides and a lower roofline and wider shoulders and wheels were flush to the body.
Depending on the trim level, LED headlights, daytime running lights and rear taillights are available. LED fog lights are available too. There was other equipment, all of it dependent on the trim level: S, SV and SR. Automatic high beams are standard on all the trim levels
The Sentra can be outfitted with 16, 17 or 18-inch wheels. There are eight exterior colors and a couple of two-tone exterior color combinations as well. Heated outside mirrors and an available moonroof with tilt feature are available. Interiors range from cloth to leatherette to quilted leather.
The 2020 Sentra had a nice interior feel. It was spacious. We had a passenger who said he was 6’3” tall and had plenty of space sitting behind the driver, another almost six-footer.
Of course, the car had satellite radio, voice controls, pushbutton ignition as well as pushbutton lock and unlock. It had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There was intelligent cruise control and a surround-view camera system was also available.
The car had 2 USB ports, an auxiliary jack and 12V plug in an area just beneath the floating infotainment screen. There was a combination analog and digital instrument display in front of the driver. The setup featured a relatively large TFT screen that was placed between the odometer and speedometer.
The S trim line starts at $19,090; the SV trim line has a base price of $20,270 and the SR starts at $21,430. There is a $950 freight charge. The SR has an available premium package that costs $2,170, while the SV premium package goes for $2,470.
Even though it is a crossover market, Nissan is aggressively targeting the U.S. market with a top-notch redo of its bread-and-butter compact sedan.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com