Some cars change little from year to year. And when they do, they’re often aesthetic or trendy tech refreshes that’ll likely excite consumers. Unless an automaker has taken a major hit due to a high-profile recall, practical changes like wholesale safety upgrades are infrequent. But after a 2020 overhaul, most of the Nissan Sentra‘s new features are firmly rooted in the practical.
Earlier Nissan Sentra models lagged behind rivals
Before the 2020 and 2021 models, the Nissan Sentra had few safety options to speak of. Of course, historically, the Nissan Sentra has had a few other things going for it. Before its major overhaul in 2020, it was notable for its affordability and spaciousness for a compact car. However, those were the only major selling points. In many other areas, it lagged behind most other models in its segment.
For instance, the 2019 Sentra included a 1.8-liter inline-four engine producing 124 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. Not only was it underpowered, but the handling was also underwhelming. Fuel economy was decent at 27/35 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and 29/37 mpg with a continuously variable transmission.
Starting south of $20,000, the 2019 Sentra was a value play. And with plenty of space in the cabin and the trunk, it was also an excellent pick to haul people and cargo. The base-model S included a four-speaker sound system, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, a 5.0-inch gauge display, and other amenities. Higher trim levels added further perks like leather upholstery, larger wheels, and sound system upgrades.
The 2019 model earned a respectable 4 out of 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also received an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award. But oddly, and unlike most vehicles in this segment, the Sentra surprisingly lacked many advanced safety features, even on some higher-level trims.
The Nissan Sentra’s impressive transformation
Enter the 2020 model and a significant overhaul, which some would say was overdue. The new Nissan Sentra’s exterior styling resembled its luxurious sibling, the Maxima. It also featured an overhauled engine: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with a CVT, producing 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. This upgrade helped improve the fuel economy a bit, with the 2020 model achieving 28/37 mpg city/highway. Plus, a multi-link rear suspension improved its performance and handling substantially.
Inside the 2020 Sentra were significant upgrades as well. Though the 2019’s interior styling looked as cheap as the Sentra’s price point, the 2020 model’s materials appeared to be of sufficiently higher quality. Like the 2019 version, the 2020 S model gets the same basic technology options, such as a 7.0-inch touchscreen and similar technology upgrades. And the cabin and trunk — selling points for previous Sentra models — remained spacious.
But in addition to these upgrades, the Nissan Sentra made its Safety Shield package standard across all trims. This package included blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto rear braking, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and auto high beams. A rearview camera was also standard across all trims. Further, the mid-level SV trim came with LED headlights, and the top-trim SR got both LED headlights and foglights.
Critical praise for the 2021 model’s safety overhaul
Nissan’s safety overhaul has garnered praise and even landed the 2021 Sentra on U.S. News‘ “Safest Small Cars of 2021” list. Ranked ninth — above popular rivals such as the Toyota Prius and other Nissan models like the Versa and the Leaf — the Sentra packs plenty of advanced safety features into a car that starts at only $19,140.
Perhaps more important than making the U.S. News list is that safety regulators see the 2021 Nissan Sentra as a safer vehicle. It picked up an extra star from the NHTSA for a perfect 5-star rating. And it grabbed an IIHS Top Safety Pick award for high ratings in all crash tests.
As redesigns go, the Sentra’s is highly effective. By doubling down on practicality, Nissan has enhanced its compact sedan’s attractiveness as a value play. If you’re looking for an affordable, safe, spacious, and practical small car, the 2021 Nissan Sentra deserves your consideration.