How the Nissan Sentra Did in MotorTrend’s 2021 Car of the Year Competition

Last week, we learned the recently redesigned Nissan Sentra was among the six finalists in MotorTrend’s 2021 Car of the Year competition. It’s up against the Hyundai Sonata and Mercedes-Benz CLA, two cars that are at least similar to the Sentra in some ways. The rest of the competition, though? Let’s just say those cars are all wildly different.

Yes, the other finalists are the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Porsche Taycan. But hey, that’s how competitions like this work. It makes the award much more relevant to everyday buyers. Anyway, let’s take a closer look at how MotorTrend thought the Sentra did this year.

What the Nissan Sentra does right

It’s been a long time since we’ve had great things to say about a Nissan, so let’s start with the Sentra’s positives. It’s like a palate cleanser. Or a reminder of what it was like to live in a time when the SE-R name still meant something.

MotorTrend’s judges were big fans of how the Sentra looks now, but they also praised the value it offers and the number of standard safety features. Without having driven the new Sentra, we’d agree with that assessment.

Especially the part about the Sentra’s design. Nissan built a really good-looking car, and it’s still competitively priced. So we had to laugh when we read that one reviewer initially mistook the Sentra in their rearview mirror for a new Audi. That’s as much a compliment for Nissan’s design team as another judge saying the Sentra “looks more expensive than it is inside and out.”

The Sentra also comes with a lot of standard safety equipment that’s unexpectedly advanced. Instead of just including rear cross-traffic sensors that beep at you if you might hit something, the Sentra’s system will automatically apply the brakes. MotorTrend also pointed out the standard automatic emergency braking, a feature that has the potential to significantly reduce accidents. The value continues inside the cabin where you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some great technology.

What the Nissan Sentra does wrong


The 2020 Nissan Sentra’s Interior Is Too Luxurious to Be a Sentra

As far as the downsides go, MotorTrend’s judges complained about the Sentra’s fuel economy, predicted depreciation, and transmission. Even though continuously variable transmissions have improved significantly, it sounds like Nissan still has a way to go there. Although the review did point out that the CVT is better in daily driving situations.

“The CVT continues to wander under hard acceleration, surging and forcing pretend ‘shift’ points,” said one judge. “It just sounds like you’re losing power.” And with a naturally aspirated engine, the Sentra may be quicker than the Toyota Corolla, but it’s not going to be as fuel-efficient as competitors with smaller turbocharged engines.

Reviewers had a few other gripes, too. Some water bottles apparently don’t fit well in the cupholders, and the power seats aren’t as adjustable as they would have preferred. Don’t forget the Sentra’s depreciation problem, either. Unless you plan to drive this car into the ground, several competitors will have higher resale value.

Even though the redesigned Sentra isn’t perfect, it’s still great to see signs of life at Nissan. It also wouldn’t be on this list if the pros didn’t outweigh the cons. As one judge wrote, “It just seems like an honest car, no pretension.”