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The Nissan Sentra and Mazda3 offer abundant features and value in the compact sedan segment. However, the 2019 models could not be more different. That year, Mazda introduced an all-new Mazda3 while Nissan soldiered on with the same Sentra, last refreshed in 2013. On paper, the 2019 Nissan Sentra and 2019 Mazda3 appear similar. But in the real world, one is the more satisfying used car to buy.

The 2019 Mazda3 boasts a more powerful base engine than the 2019 Nissan Sentra

A red 2019 Mazda3 hatchback traveling on a highway past dry grass and mountains
2019 Mazda3 | Mazda North American Operations

The 2019 Nissan Sentra has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Power is rated at 124 hp and 125 lb-feet of torque. And fuel economy is estimated at 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Buyers seeking more oomph can opt for the 1.6-liter turbo. It offers 188 hp and a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.0 seconds, but fuel economy drops to 26/32 mpg city/highway.  

The 2019 Mazda3’s base engine matches the Sentra’s turbo for power. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder puts out 186 hp and 186 lb-feet of torque. And performance is comparable to the Sentra turbo while returning slightly better fuel economy. 

The Mazda3 has more updated safety features than the Sentra

Front seats of the 2019 Mazda3 with black faux leather.
2019 Mazda3 interior | Mazda

Both the Mazda3 and Nissan Sentra offer similar safety features, including head and side airbags for the driver and outside passengers. Antilock brakes with brake assist are standard, along with traction and electronic stability controls. 

However, as a sign of the Sentra’s age, it makes do with rear drum brakes, while the Mazda3 has four-wheel disc brakes. The Sentra also doesn’t include daytime running lights, while the Mazda3 does. 

Mazda outdoes Nissan in technology 

Both vehicles provide plentiful standard equipment, including a rear backup camera, cruise control, an anti-theft system, and power doors, windows, and locks. But the Mazda3 boasts more, including keyless/remote start and a sound system with smart device integration. 

Some of those features are optional on the 2019 Sentra, while the lack of other items shows the car’s age compared with the more up-to-date Mazda. 

Which compact car is better? 

Despite its shortcomings, the 2019 Nissan Sentra is still a good car. U.S. News sums up its review thus: “Its appealing traits include a spacious cabin, huge trunk, and straightforward infotainment system. Ride quality and gas mileage are both decent as well, though neither is exceptional.” 

Similarly, Car and Driver praises the 2019 Sentra for its soft ride and spacious interior but calls it “bland” and the kind of car for people “who prize value over style.” There lies the rub with the 2019 Sentra. It’s a good car but not a great car. Good isn’t good enough in a competitive field that includes the Kia Forte, Honda Civic, and redesigned Mazda3. 

2019 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo compact sedan
2019 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo | Nissan Motor Corporation

The 2019 Mazda3 ranks near the top of U.S. News’ compact car list. The site rates the model highly for its new design and says, “It’s one of the most fun-to-drive small cars, with dynamic steering attributes and good acceleration. Inside, quality materials help create a luxury-like atmosphere, and the infotainment technology is intuitive.”

What it comes down to is the 2019 Nissan Sentra is a good car up against a great car. The Mazda3 not only ranks near the top of the compact car segment but also punches above its weight class in performance and a premium interior. That’s what makes the 2019 Mazda3 a better car and why it’s the clear winner in this head-to-head comparison.