The Nissan Sentra is a five-passenger compact economy sedan that is now in its eighth-generation of production. The vehicle was completely redesigned for the 2021 model year to deliver better styling, more interior space, additional technology, and more comprehensive safety features. The 2021 Nissan Sentra starts at just under $20,000.
Sentra’s athletic exterior is distinguished by crisp bends and lines, a bold look for a car that used to wear its sheet metal like a house coat. Like all current Nissan vehicles, Sentra’s front end has the V-motion grille with a proud Nissan badge in the center of a black mesh. Expressive horizontally arrayed headlights (LED available) give the car a squinty, serious look. Eight exterior paint colors are available, including Monarch Orange Metallic, Electric Blue Metallic, Scarlet Ember Tintcoat, and Gun Metallic. Not boring. SR trim levels can sport one of three two-tone paint schemes (a $250 option) to call attention to the car’s exterior design. The bulging hood, fast roof line, and muscular wheel arches housing 16-inch steel wheels (S), 16- or 17-inch alloys (SV), or 18-inch alloy wheels (SR) give an air of agility and fun to the Sentra. It’s a good look.
Inside Sentra, the layered dash feels positively expansive, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen (standard on SR; available on lower trim levels) at the top of the center stack is perfectly positioned. The textured plastic on the center console and doors is much better than imitation wood veneers of the past. A flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel is also welcome, adding a subtle sporty touch that also improves comfort for long-limbed drivers. Nissan’s Zero Gravity front bucket seats live up to their reputation, delivering comfort on long rides. Sentra’s second row is roomy for the class, though better suited for two passengers than three across – the hard, narrow center cushion is a bit of a penalty box. Sentra’s trunk can swallow up to 14.3 cubic feet of cargo, and the second row is split 60/40 to fold down for bigger packages to peek through into the cabin.
Standard audio in the Sentra starts with a simple AM/FM/USB with four speakers in the S, upgraded to six speakers and SiriusXM capability in SV and SR, with an optional premium Bose system with eight speakers available in the SR. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is included across the board, along with Bluetooth audio and hands-free, along with hands-free text-messaging assistant. A 7.0-inch touchscreen interface comes with the S, while SV and SR get an 8.0-inch touchscreen at the top of the center stack. Navigation is only available by subscription to NissanConnect services on SR models, though of course, you’ve got navigation and other apps on your smartphone, which you can operate via Sentra’s touchscreen interface and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto when hooked up with a USB cable.
All Sentra models get a new 2.0-liter naturally aspirated (non-turbo) inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine that’s tuned to produce 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive with an Xtronic CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission) makes the S car go, and not at a snail’s pace, either. Tipping the scales at just 3,084 lbs, Sentra SR is a relative lightweight, and while it is not fast, the nicely sorted standard CVT delivers adequate performance for commuting and hops around town. Fuel economy is a miserly 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway/32 mpg combined.
A big part of the driving experience is feel. How does the car align with your body? How do the controls feel under your hands? Is there a feeling of solidity and substance to the vehicle? On all counts, Sentra returns positive feedback, much improved over previous generations of the economy car. While we still don’t love CVT setups, we have to admit Nissan has the best of the bunch. Many drivers will never notice the difference between the CVT and a conventional stepped-gear transmission – they’ll just appreciate the efficiency when they go to the gas pump.
SV and SR models come with front and rear disc brakes, while entry-level Sentra S models are front disc/rear drum. Suspension is four-wheel independent (MacPherson struts front/multi-link rear) with stabilizer bars at both ends. Along with dual pinion electric steering with vehicle-speed sensitive power assist, the results are tidy road manners and cornering – almost fun.
Sentra trim levels are very simple and straightforward. All Sentra models get the same 2.0-liter gasoline engine with a CVT and front-wheel drive.
- S (starting around $19,500) – This is the base model, still nicely equipped.
- SV (starting around $20,500) – Upgrades some tech, rear disc brakes, nicer interior materials.
- SR (starting around $22,000) – The range-topping Sentra, with the most standard and available options.
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Sentra on Nissan’s official web site.
Sentra’s best features are sensations and feelings – a general feeling of solidity, and a serene cabin ambiance. Sentra has grown up, and is a very nice car. Not just an economy car, as it once was, nor a car to settle for.
We can’t resist the top-of-the-line SR model with two-tone paint and 18-inch wheels. It’s the best-looking Sentra of the bunch, especially in a bold color like Monarch Orange Metallic.
High-tech safety has finally trickled down to entry-level vehicles like Sentra. Nissan’s excellent suite of advanced safety features, Nissan Safety Shield 360, is included as standard equipment. Blind-spot monitoring is the most important and notable feature in this suite – we wish every car had it.
If you’re a commuter and you’ve got extra room in your driveway, a 2021 Nissan Sentra would make a great addition. It is efficient, attractive, compact, and reliable. It would also make a great first new car for an aspiring young professional or graduate. With the way used car prices have risen in the past few years, a $20,000 new car makes even more sense.
While Sentra has ripened over the years, the competition hasn’t been sitting still. Sentra must be measured against the new Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and others. Even as crossover vehicles dominate sales, this highly competitive compact sedan slice of the market continues to percolate. We expect Sentra to rise in the ranks, and to push its competitors to get even better. If you buy a 2021 Nissan Sentra, you’ll get one of the best cars for the money, with features and capabilities you can live with for years.
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