Taking a look at the 2020 Nissan Sentra is a bit like walking into a high-school reunion and being floored by how much someone has changed for the better in just a few short years.
As with the recent redesign of its Versa subcompact, Nissan has decided to take its budget compact sedan and make it seem not so budget anymore.
In fact, with this redesign and new platform, the only thing that this car shares with its predecessor is the name.
This is a much needed overhaul for Nissan’s all-time biggest seller in the United States, which placed dead last, 51 points behind the next-highest competitor, in a compact-sedan comparison test we conducted in July 2016.
Visually, the 2020 Sentra does what is sometimes called a “glow up”—it looks sharp, well defined, and even borderline muscular, a head turner in all respects, appearing far more expensive than its budget roots suggest.
The new front end takes styling cues from the larger Nissan Altima and Maxima, with the signature V-Motion grille and LED headlights, available on the top-level SR trim.
Another design element plucked from the larger Nissan sedans is the floating roof; it’s becoming a cliché, but it works okay on the Sentra’s smaller scale.
The taillights and rear bumper get an update, too, but nothing as pronounced as what is going on in the front.
The new platform that it rides on is two inches wider, and the car is two inches lower, giving the 2020 model a far more athletic stance than its predecessor.
The overall body lines are more defined as well, and there’s even the slightest hint of the GT-R’s fender flares on the Sentra’s body side.
The 2020 Sentra gets some interesting exterior color choices to complement its new and improved bodywork.
The single-color options include Electric Blue, Brilliant Silver, Rosewood, and Gun metallic; Aspen White and Scarlet Ember tri-coat; and Super Black and Fresh Powder shades.
Nissan is also offering a two-tone color option for the first time on the Sentra, as the scheme proved to be popular on the Nissan Juke and Leaf.
The two-tone color combinations on the Sentra are Super Black/Gun Metallic, Super Black/Aspen White TriCoat, and Super Black/Monarch Orange Metallic.
The interior also gets a makeover, and it seems as if Nissan peeked inside the Chevrolet Camaro for some inspiration, considering the three large fanlike vents in the middle of the center stack, with a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system above it and a climate-control panel below it.
There is also an option for an 8.0-inch touchscreen on the higher trim levels, which also upgrades the driver’s digital display from 4.2 inches to 7.0 inches.
The upgraded system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
The sporty, driver-oriented interior features a revised gauge cluster, a clean-looking central tunnel and gearshift, and a flat-bottom steering wheel.
The cabin is filled with nicer materials at higher trim levels, bearing little resemblance to the no-frills sedan you’d expect to pick up from the rental fleet at your local Hertz or Enterprise.
There are options for leather and quilted seats that can be heated, all of which will further enhance the Zero Gravity seats which have made an appearance in many other Nissan products to date.
New engine, more power
We sure hope the 2020 Sentra drives as good as it looks, given its previous lackluster moves.
There are a number of changes to the chassis and powertrain that should help in this regard. The biggest change to the powertrain is an all-new naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-four engine.
It delivers 149 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, which are gains of 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, over the previous 1.8-liter inline-four.
This new engine, despite being larger and more powerful, should offer improved fuel economy. While the last Sentra SR Turbo we tested posted 33 mpg in our real-world fuel-economy testing, 1 mpg better than its highway EPA rating, competitors have more impressive numbers in the high 30s and low 40s in our testing.
Unfortunately, the manual transmission is not going to be offered for the 2020 model year in the United States, despite what our spy photos suggested.
We assume that the manual-optioned car we spotted is meant for markets outside the States. The sole transmission choice for 2020 is a continuously variable automatic (CVT).
The Sentra’s chassis also sees some major changes, including a new independent rear suspension, which should improve handling and ride quality, areas where the Sentra suffered in previous generations.
This new suspension setup, along with a wider stance and a lower center of gravity compared to the previous-generation car, should help it improve on the previous model’s lackluster 0.79 g’s on our 300-foot skidpad.
As proved by the Altima’s 0.93-g effort, which outperformed a BMW 3-series on summer tires, Nissan knows how to build a high-grip mainstream sedan.
Other upgrades are a new dual-pinion-rack electric power-steering system, which is on a Sentra for the first time, and vented rear disc brakes that are an option for the SV trim and above.
These changes aren’t about to make the Sentra a track-day special, but it should be more capable than before.
If the driving dynamics aren’t enough to fuel your excitement for the new Sentra, the boatload of driving-assistance technology will.
Just like Nissan’s other sedans, the Sentra will now get Nissan Safety Shield 360, a suite of six active-safety features: front automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automated emergency braking, blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, rear cross-traffic alert, and high-beam assist.
Supplementing those six features are rear-door alert to keep you from forgetting a child in the back seat, 10 supplemental air bags, and a driver-alertness monitor.
Don’t expect all that high-tech equipment to jack up the Sentra’s price: all of these features come standard on every Sentra.
For 2020, the Sentra lineup has been simplified and cut from five to three trim levels: S, SV, and SR. Gone, at least for now, are the SR Turbo and NISMO models.
The number of option packages is reduced as well down to two. The base level, rental-fleet-spec S includes 16-inch steel wheels with full covers and remote keyless entry with push-button start.
The mid-tier Sentra SV swaps the steel wheels for aluminum alloys and gets NissanConnect, featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, plus the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, and an upgraded cloth interior.
The top Sentra SR looks the sportiest of the bunch and rides on 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Joining the SR party are a dark chrome V-Motion grille, LED headlights and fog lights, orange contrast stitching on the sporty cloth interior (leather-trimmed heated seats are optional), a rear spoiler, and lower body-side sill extensions.
Nissan has yet to release pricing information, but we expect the 2020 Sentra to be priced slightly higher than the 2019 model, which started at $18,815 for the base S equipped with a manual transmission.
The new Sentra goes on sale in January 2020.
With its previous major competitors, the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, gone, there’s a big chunk of the market up for grabs.
And now, the Sentra has the tools to compete in the ever-shrinking compact-sedan segment.