2021 Mazda3 vs. Nissan Sentra: Which Car Is Better?

A brand-new car is a major investment. You want the vehicle that suits your commuting needs, offers reliability, fits into your budget, and lasts several years. The good news is there are plenty of excellent new cars, including the Mazda3 and the Nissan Sentra. The bad news: Trying to decide which one gives you the best bang for your buck is a challenge.

The 2021 Mazda3

Clint Simone, a reviewer for Motor1, thought recent versions of the Mazda3 lacked the get-up-and-go that drivers expected. He liked that Mazda tried to correct that issue with the 2021 model. 

“The new car uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with — you guessed it — a turbocharger, for a total output of 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet on 93-octane fuel (91-octane fuel cuts output to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet),” Simone wrote. “Those figures represent a healthy gain over the naturally aspirated Mazda3’s 186 hp and 186 lb-ft and should help bring some Zoom-Zoom (remember that?) back into the mix.”

Simone reported that although he was excited about what the changes could mean to the Mazda3 when he test-drove the vehicle, it didn’t blow him away. Yes, it had some get-up-and-go, but it still wasn’t what he remembered from older versions. He did note the car handled well around corners and curves.

Car and Driver noted the Mazda3 looked and felt like a high-end vehicle, not a budget-friendly car. The luxurious feel of the cabin and the car’s handling impressed the publication. It also reported that the Mazda3 averaged 41 mpg over a 200-mile test drive.

Three engine options are available: a 2.0-liter that provides 155 hp; a 186-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder; and a 250-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter. You can choose an optional six-speed manual transmission, but it’s available only with front-wheel drive. 

The 2021 Nissan Sentra

RELATED: The 2021 Nissan Sentra Comes With All the Safety Features You Need

If you’re familiar with the 2020 Sentra, you’ll notice that the 2021 version offers only a few updates. The biggest differences are the technology: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard features, and the SR trim offers Wi-Fi hotspot capability and NissanConnect Services. If you want heated seats, you’ll have to upgrade to the Nissan Sentra Premium model. There are five Sentra trim packages to choose from.

The 2021 Sentra impressed AutoTrader‘s reviewer. “The 2021 Sentra doesn’t feel like a reasonably priced new car. The cabin materials are classy, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces. Even though this is a compact sedan, hip and shoulder room is plentiful,” Colin Ryan wrote. “But the Sentra doesn’t have as much rear legroom as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.”

Nissan claims the 2021 Sentra gets 29 to 39 mpg. Car and Driver tested those averages on a 75-mph highway adventure and found them accurate. The car has a 2.0-liter, 149-hp inline-4 engine paired with a continuously variable transmission. 

The Car Connection wrote a similarly positive review. It said the Sentra has “matured from its budget-car roots into a balanced compact car that’s long on value and loaded with standard features. It earns a 6.0 overall TCC Rating with extra points in value, features, and styling.”

Nearly every 2021 Nissan Sentra reviewer appreciated that a car of this class was designed so adults could use the backseat. 

Which car is better?

Trying to decide between the 2021 Nissan Sentra and 2021 Mazda3 isn’t easy. Both cars bring a lot to the table. The two major things that set the vehicles apart are the amount of backseat space and price. In both categories, the Sentra has the edge. The Mazda3’s backseat is fine for luggage and pets, but there isn’t much legroom for adults to use the space comfortably. The price of a new Sentra ranges from $19,410 to $21,750. A new Mazda3 costs $20,500 to $33,750.

The Nissan Sentra is probably a slightly better option for anyone looking for a family car. But Kelly Blue Book reported that the Mazda3 provides better performance. That makes the Mazda a solid choice for anyone wanting a nice commuter vehicle that looks good and is fun to drive.