2021 Nissan Sentra Review

2021 Nissan Sentra - With flashy styling, loads of features and plenty of comfort, Nissan's compact sedan warrants more than a second look.


Nissan's compact Sentra was completely redesigned in 2020, moving to a new platform, getting a more powerful engine and adding significant tech and safety features. For 2021, the only noteworthy change is the addition of Apple Car Play and Android Auto support across the model lineup. Sentra remains a front-drive sedan that competes with vehicles like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla.

Three trims are available: S, SV and SR. All get a 149-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Sole transmission is a continuously variable automatic. Unlike others in the class, Sentra is not offered as a hybrid and does not come with a turbocharged engine option.

The S lists for $20,875, SV for $22,135 and SR for $23,930. Standard safety features include blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic rear braking and forward-collision warning with brake intervention and pedestrian detection. S models come standard with 16-inch wheels, push-button start, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. SV adds alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-inch touchscreen display, dual-zone climate control and adaptive cruise control. SR adds 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and fog lights, sport exterior trim and rear spoiler. Available options include sunroof, leather upholstery, power driver seat, Bose audio system and heated steering wheel.

Every Sentra gets a 149-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission. That combo produces a middling 0 to 60 MPH time of about 9 seconds --certainly, far from the quickest in the class. More importantly, the CVT automatic saps any enthusiasm with its slurry shifts and the ruckus engine limits the amount of time you'll want to spend at full throttle. To be fair, this is the case for most base offerings in this class, it's just unfortunate that Sentra doesn't offer an optional engine with a bit more scoot.

On the plus side, Sentra is very efficient. EPA ratings are 28 MPG city, 37 MPG highway and 32 MPG combined. Though those numbers trail the class leaders, real-world driving proves that Sentra can be a fuel-economy champ. In an even mix of city and highway driving, owners will see high 30s no problem and in excess of 40 MPG on the highway. Sentra's 12.4-gallon fuel tank is good for a highway range of about 400 miles, impressive for this class.

Sentra comes standard with an independent rear suspension, which gives it a leg up on some competitors. That said (and sporty looks aside), Sentra is tuned more for comfort than sport. The ride, even on the performance-tire-shod SR, is comfortable and complaint. Yes, the 19-inch wheels transfer a bit more road noise and a sharper reaction to road imperfections (potholes), but there's enough compliance in the suspension to soften impacts. At the same time body motions are nicely kept in check and even in quick transitions, Sentra never feels sluggish or lethargic.

The steering, regardless of model, provides good feedback and is nicely weighted, making it easy to carve clean corners and maneuver in parking lots. Brakes have great stopping power and easy-to-modulate pedal. In addition, disc brakes are standard at all four corners, another plus for the class.

Overall noise levels are low, with a couple of caveats. First, the engine can growl in hard acceleration. This is normal for the class, but unfortunate nonetheless. Also, the SR's 19-inch wheels/tires are noisy at times, like on concrete expressways and over expansion joints.

Not only did Sentra get a fantastic new skin on the outside, but an all new, and thoroughly modern, interior. The design is fresh, upscale and quite functional. Materials are a cut above the class nom, easily on par with the swanky Mazda 3. Obviously, the best-looking trim comes in the upscale models with the leather interior, but even base models sport impressive soft-touch surfaces.

Nissan eschews fancy digital instrument clusters for a standard twin-dial setup. Of course, there's a programmable center information cluster as well. A 7-inch touchscreen display is standard on S model with an 8-inch display on SV and SR models. Either way, they are placed up high at the center of the dash and prove easy to read and operate. Thankfully, Nissan provided traditional dials for volume and tuning. Climate controls are traditional as well. In fact, the overall layout is very simple and straight forward but still somehow manages to look modern and fresh.

With ample cushioning and plenty of support, Sentra sports the most comfortable front seats in the class. Leg room is great and head room adequate, but taller folks might not want to check the sunroof box on the option list. Rear seats are spacious -- for the class -- and prove to be quite comfortable as well. Entry/exit is a breeze thanks to wide-opening doors and a fairly reasonable roofline. Outward visibility is quite good with only small blind spots to the rear three quarters.

With 14.3 cubic feet of space, Sentra offers quite a bit of cargo space. The trunk opening is quite large and the rear seats fold. There's even a bit of space under the cargo floor to keep long-term storage items like a safety kit or emergency rations. Interior storage is excellent with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line - Sentra has always been a no-nonsense compact sedan that over achieves in many ways. However, it always lacked a bit of style and polish. Well, no longer. It's stylish, comfortable, richly appointed and loaded with standard safety features. Demerits include an underpowered and loud engine and milquetoast handling. Both will likely be rectified with a sport model in the near future. The ace in the hole is very competitive pricing.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.