Table of Contents
We began this long-term test of the 2020 Nissan Sentra at a very strange time in human history. The vehicle arrived in May 2020, just a couple of months into the worldwide pandemic. This was the Tiger King era of COVID-19, the “Where is my next roll of TP coming from?” epoch. I was sitting quietly on my government stimulus checks, waiting until baking yeast became available again so I could start perfecting my sourdough loaves. The first tank of 87-octane I put in the Sentra cost $3.09 a gallon—about half of where prices sit in California as I write this—to give you an idea of how different things were just that short time ago.
My biggest concern with the spanking-fresh Sentra parked in my driveway? With my new office located approximately 10 feet from my bed and vacations seeming like something we did in the olden days, how would I ever manage to put 20,000 miles on this thing in a year? Spoiler alert: I didn’t. The Sentra went back to Nissan with 9,370 miles on its clock. (It arrived with 97.) With my compliments to Eden Dranger’s brilliant “COVID Eras” tweet, here’s how it went.
The Sentra has never had skin in the power game, and our experience bore that out. With a modest 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, the car was at its best in everyday around-town driving situations. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is the only engine option available on the model, so if you’re looking to save on gas with a hybrid, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The moderate power required a more mindful approach to freeway passing situations, but the lack of grunt never felt unsafe. Nissan wisely included a low-gear setting in the transmission, which helped alleviate some of the drag. Road test editor Chris Walton tried out the “L” gear on our figure-eight course and said it “proved quicker due to the engine revving more quickly to near redline.” It also came in quite handy when driving up the steeply graded dirt road to our lake cabin, a task the Sentra labored more with in D.
Is This a Cake?
Like that perfect “eggplant” with an interior made of flour and eggs, the Sentra was full of surprises. Contrary to its forebears, the 2020 model has looks. The econobox styling has been replaced by a lithe, swoopy design.
It’s no sex bomb like a 911, but it’s easy on the eyes. In another pleasant surprise, the interior and cargo space were much more capacious than I expected from a compact car. With the combination of its 14.3-cubic-foot trunk and 60/40 split-folding rear seat, this thing holds a ton of stuff. On the first of its two road trips, it accommodated a week’s worth of gear for two without necessitating an inordinate amount of trunk Tetris.
What’s more comfortable than Bernie Sanders rocking his cozy coat and fluffy mittens? Our Sentra. Nissan’s ZeroGravity seats are the most supportive I’ve encountered. At our first gas stop on our road trip, after five uninterrupted hours of driving, I was astounded to stand up feeling like a 20-year-old. The $2,460 SV Premium package on our test car includes, among other niceties, a six-way power driver’s seat with two-way lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, and some of the most gorgeous quilted leather you’ve ever seen.
And here’s where things take a turn. Nine months into our review period, the Sentra was clocked with a nonfunctioning door actuator that prevented the driver’s door from opening. Nissan was right on the job, picking up the car, replacing the actuator at no cost, performing the 7,500-mile maintenance service, providing a loaner, and returning the car cleaned and sanitized within a week. Stellar service, to be sure, but an important part biting the dust in a car less than a year old is troubling. Nissan said it was “not aware of any data that indicates a widespread issue with this component on the new Sentra,” and it has not issued a recall.
Pretending the Pandemic Is Over
Eleven months into our loan and desperate for a vacation, I packed up the Sentra for another road trip, this time for a weekend in nearby Palm Springs. In addition to coddling its occupants, the car kept us cool as cucumbers in the 100-plus-degree heat and did a fantastic job withstanding the desert’s high winds.I appreciated Nissan’s Active Ride Control technology, which modulates the throttle and brakes to smooth out the jolts from bumps and ruts in the road.
CDC Said …
I wasn’t the only one with an opinion of the Sentra. MT SEO guru Thomas Rosquin was a frequent borrower and always provided amusing anecdotes. “The seats were supremely comfortable. Even after a five-hour road trip, my bum-bum still had maximum feeling.” Beat that endorsement.
And that brings us to now. The Sentra didn’t cost much to chaperone for just over a year. We spent $196 on its one maintenance service over 9,000 miles. For comparison, our long-term 2020 Hyundai Sonata cost us $92.01 for one maintenance service (that car also had a pandemic-shortened mileage total), and our 2020 Mazda 3 set us back $288.06 for two service visits (but the 3 accumulated twice the mileage). We spent $1,149.30 on 313.8 gallons of gas and logged an overall average of 29.9 mpg, slightly less than the Sentra’s 33-mpg EPA combined rating.
There was so much to enjoy in the 2020 Nissan Sentra despite a few demerits. It’s a strong value, a reliable if not terribly exciting around-towner, and an eminently comfortable road-tripper with cargo and passenger room to spare. As affordable, practical transport with style above its pay grade, it’s hard to beat. As a busy mom blessedly out of the car seat phase and well into the kid-with-more-stuff-OMG-where-does-all-this-stuff-even-come-from phase, I thought it suited my lifestyle perfectly. If it had been a hybrid, I would have considered purchasing it at the end of my test. Nissan, that’s a hint.
Looks good! More details?
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2020 Nissan Sentra SV|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1,997 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||149 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||146 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||20.7 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.0-in vented disc; 10.2-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.0 x 17-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||215/50R17 91V Michelin Primacy A/S (M+S)|
|TRACK, F/R||62.0/62.0 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.7 x 71.5 x 56.9 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,087 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||61/39%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.5/36.7 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||44.0/37.6 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.4/54.5 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||14.3 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.4|
|QUARTER MILE||16.6 sec @ 85.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,900 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$24,800|
|AIRBAGS||10: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||12.4 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||29/39/33 mpg|
|EPA RANGE (COMB)||409 miles|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|
|SERVICE LIFE||13 mo / 9,273 mi|
|OPTIONS||SV Premium Package ($2,460: LED headlights, moonroof, leather seats, power adjustable driver’s seat, heated seats), Lighting package ($500: exterior ground lighting, interior ambient lighting), Electronics Package ($440: frameless rearview mirror w/ universal remote); Carpeted floor- and trunk mats ($205)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$24,800|
|AVG ECON||29.9 mpg|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$196 (oil change, inspection, tire rotation)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$22,300 (90%)|
|*IntelliChoice data; assumes 42,000 miles at the end of 3-years|