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Affordable cars are in limited supply as bargain-priced makes are dipping below manufacturers’ 30-day supply. With their exceeding popularity, it’d be nice to know what you’re getting into before pushing people out of the way at the dealership. Therefore, here’s are some of the cheapest in the segment: the 2023 Kia Forte and the 2023 Nissan Sentra. Find out which does the most with the least.

How much does the 2023 Kia Forte cost?

Which is the better affordable car: the 2023 Kia Forte or 2023 Nissan Sentra?
2023 Kia Forte GT | Kia Media

Kia shuffled the Forte’s trim lineup for 2023. With four to choose from, each was gifted a refreshed exterior design and stuffed with more standard tech features the year prior. Otherwise, it’s mainly a carryover model as an already-impressive third-generation compact sedan.

Kia Forte trim levelStarting MSRP
GT Manual$25,090

The 2023 Kia Forte is the last remaining vehicle with a starting MSRP under $20,000. That’s because the loveable Mitsubishi Mirage sadly left the U.S., and the Nissan Sentra was hit with inflation.

How much does the 2023 Nissan Sentra cost?

Is the 2023 Kia Forte or the 2023 Nissan Sentra the better affordable car?
2023 Nissan Sentra SR | Nissan U.S. Newsroom

Nissan’s Sentra doesn’t share in the Forte’s bargain-basement entry price. At $50 over $20,000, the Sentra’s MSRP doesn’t include “tax, title license, options, and destination and handling charges,” Nissan says. But neither does the Forte. So, were you really getting a car for under $20,000 anyway?  

Nissan Sentra trim levelStarting MSRP
SR Midnight Edition$23,635

Given the 2023 Kia Forte and the 2023 Nissan Sentra are effectively identical in price, taking into account that dealer prices will be slightly different nationwide, it’s challenging to see which gives you more.

Affordable car performance isn’t what you expect

It’s easy to assume that four-cylinder economy cars are built to merely putter. While the base Kia Forte engine won’t inspire anything more than shutting it off when you’re done, the turbo-four could provide an internal effervescent fizz with its low-pressure boost. At least with the Korean compact four-door, you can choose a reasonably exciting powertrain. For the Japanese Sentra, things are different; highly advanced, yet restrained—less Banzai, more Buddha.

Make, model, trim levelEngine TransmissionHPTorque (lb-ft)
Nissan Sentra (S, SV, SR)2.0-liter I4CVT (continuously variable automatic)149146
Kia Forte (LX, LXS, GT-Line)2.0-liter I4CVT147132
Kia Forte (GT)1.6-liter turbocharged I4Six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT (dual-clutch)195180

Neither of these affordable cars will Do-si-do in the corners very well, but they will saunter at least semi-confidently when goosed on a backroad. Mixed reviews seem to plague the 2023 Kia Forte’s handling routine. Yet, it might be the expertise of the dance partner: an expert car reviewer or a novice driver. Otherwise, its on-road composition isn’t as exciting as its Stinger-inspired exterior would suggest.

Choreographical metaphors aside, this is where the 2023 Nissan Sentra has the Forte nixed in sporty underpinnings. With proprietary Active Ride Control and Intelligent Engine Brake and Trace Control, the Sentra has the tech to back up a comfortable ride. The Xtronic CVT can apply engine braking to level the car when stopping or adjust engine torque to smooth the ride. The Sentra’s brain can even brake a single wheel slightly to remain flat in the bends.

If it didn’t have such a pathetic, French-like power output (that’s you, Renault), then Nissan could have made the Sentra its “four-door sports car.” Because we all know the Maxima isn’t. Fortunately, the Sentra’s flat-bottomed steering wheel will match your flat-brimmed backward hat from a baseball team you’ve never seen play. But the optional heated unit will make your hands warmer than catching a pitch from the MLB’s best.

No cliche affordable car interior

With interior amenities, affordable cars are usually quite spartan. But as the segment ebbed into its popular season, given prevailing economic times, the 2023 Kia Forte and 2023 Nissan Sentra are more than fit for purpose.

In the Forte, a straightforward eight-inch infotainment system commands the center stack. It even has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The pricier trim levels gain a navigation-ready 10.25-inch touchscreen, but the entertainment apps are unfavorably wired. For the eight-speaker Harmon-Kardon sound system, dual-zone climate control, and a sunroof, potential buyers must opt for the top-of-the-line Kia Forte GT-Line of GT.

Seat comfort is typically an area in the affordable car genre that leaves much to be desired. Nesting into the cockpit of the Sentra, drivers will find a Nissan-NASA collaboration. Focusing on the driver’s spinal column, the Sentra’s “Zero Gravity” seats use 14 pressure points to keep the body as close to a neutral position as possible. They’re standard on every Sentra but only in the front row.

Referencing back to hats, those in the Forte’s rear could probably get away with a fez, given all the headroom. The Sentra’s occupants will be limited to lowly flat caps, yet taller ones will have plenty of legroom to stretch the lower half. The Forte does have the Sentra beat for infotainment size, with the Nissan’s seven-inch unit in the base and only one inch more in the range-topping SR. And if one needs to store all those hats, the Forte’s 15.3 cubic feet of trunk space will fit many, better than the Sentra’s 14.6 cubes.

Which is safer?

Recent updates to side and frontal overlap crash tests have put a damper on small cars. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) rated the 2023 Kia Forte down from its previous five-star rating to a four-star. While they have not tested the 2023 Nissan Sentra, it will likely have the same fate. That doesn’t mean they’re dangerous all of a sudden, and luckily, there are plenty of safety features in both affordable cars to quell collision concerns.

Safety featureNissan Sentra Kia Forte
Adaptive cruise control S, SV, SRGT-Line, GT
Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detectionS, SV, SRLX, LXS, GT-Line, GT Manual
Blind-spot warningS, SV, SRLX, LXS, GT-Line, GT, GT Manual
Driver attention monitoring S, SV, SRLX, LXS, GT-Line, GT, GT Manual
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist w/ Cyclist DetectionN/A GT-Line (optional), GT
Lane departure warning S, SV, SRLX, LXS, GT-Line, GT, GT Manual
Rear automatic emergency brakingS, SV, SRN/A
Rear cross-traffic alertS, SV, SRGT-Line, GT
Rear parking sensorsS, SV, SRGT-Line (optional), GT
Rearview cameraS, SV, SRLX, LXS, GT-Line, GT, GT Manual

Which is less thirsty?

Sentra features a driver-customizable Eco Mode setting. It lets you dial in your Sentra for enhanced comfort and excellent efficiency during every journey, but only on the upper trim levels. The 2023 Kia Forte doesn’t have any of that, but it doesn’t matter. It’s more fuel-efficient than the 2023 Nissan Sentra in every trim level configuration.

Kia Forte Trim LevelLX LXSGT-LineGTGT Manual
Manufacturer-rated fuel economy (City/Highway/Combined)31/41/35
Nissan Sentra trim level S SVSRSR Midnight
Manufacturer-rated fuel economy (City/Highway/Combined)29/39/3328/37/3228/37/3228/37/32

Is the Nissan Sentra a reliable car?

Vehicle History suggests the Nissan Sentra should provide above-average, putting it in the 150,000 to 200,000-mile range. However, remember that those CVTs need a fluid change every 25,000 miles and don’t take kindly to aggressive acceleration. But the lower-priced 2.0-liter Fortes have those too, and the Sentra only has half the warranty the compact Kia boasts.

Is the Kia Forte a reliable car?

Kia cars have become more and more reliable over the years, award-winning even. Vehicle History reports that later second-generation Fortes seem to ditch the prematurely breaking engines. Models from 2020 and newer still require more time on the road. However, Forte owners across the internet claim reaching 150,000 to 200,000 miles on little more than regular maintenance.

Even if the 2023 Kia Forte seemingly can’t go the distance, the automaker backs it with a guarantee. Leading the automotive industry, the Forte, as well as other Kias, comes with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty on top of a five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty. The Sentra only has a three-year, 36,000-mile basic and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain assurance.

Which affordable car provides the most value?

Whichever way you scratch it, both the 2023 Kia Forte and 2023 Nissan Sentra fit the well-stocked affordable car bill rather well. The differences are minimal.

Nevertheless, the top-tier Kia Forte is over $2,000 more than the Sentra SR. Is it worth it? If you’re looking for the base model car, get the Sentra. But if you want a compact sedan with a dollop of real sportiness, then your biggest hurdle with the 2023 Kia Forte is deciding between the DCT or six-speed.


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