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Test Drive column: 2021 Nissan Sentra SV CVT

Greg Zyla
More Content Now
2021 Nissan Sentra SV CVT

Entry price: $19,410

Price as tested: $25,560

This week, we’re driving the 2021 Nissan Sentra, completely redesigned in 2020 and now listed by the EPA as a five-passenger midsize sedan instead of a compact class sedan. This new Sentra still offers its low entry price, lots of safety features and its impressive new generation styling.

Now in its eighth generation after a 1982 debut as a subcompact, the popular Sentra grew over the years in both popularity and sales numbers and today is available in three trims ala the entry level S at $19,410, midline SV at $20,470 and top line SR at $21,750.

Outwardly, it’s hard to find fault with Sentra’s fresh, new generation styling. Our SV offers a sporty theme thanks to new front and rear designs and some special paint offerings that make the layout easy on the eyes. Sentra’s exterior now features a new grill layout and standard Halogen headlamps that replace the former dated pattern. Additionally, Sentra now sits lower for ease of entry along with wider than the last generation dimensions making for additional room inside.

The biggest improvement for the new generation 2020 Sentra leftovers and 2021 models is a new, larger 2.0-liter four cylinder that replaces the previous generation’s 1.8-liter design used in 2019. This upgrade results in better acceleration and more torque throughout the RPM range. Surprisingly, this bigger 2.0 delivers better fuel mileage at 29 city and 39 highway than the 1.8 engine as the 2019 Sentra is rated at 29 city and 37 highway with the automatic and even less at 27 city and 35 highway with the six-speed manual. A manual transmission is not available on 2020 and 2021 Sentra models as both now rely on the Xtronic CVT automatics with three selectable modes of Eco, Sport or Normal.

Nissan was an early adopter of CVT transmissions, and went through several years of growing pains. Early on, its CVT was the only real Achilles Heel that plagued the noted manufacturer but thankfully, Nissan addressed the problem as today’s CVT is an overall more reliable, sturdy unit and improved to deliver a subliminal “gear change” feeling.

On the safety side, Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is standard across the line and worthy of special note. Included are standard features like intelligent forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure and blind sport warning, rear cross traffic alert, rear braking, high beam assist, and even intelligent driver assist is now standard even on the entry S. All Sentra trims also receive door guard beams, at least one USB port, 10 airbags including roof mounted curtains, ABS anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force, traction control, vehicle dynamics control and a vehicle security system. Apple and Android compatibility is also standard across the trim line as is streaming audio via Bluetooth. The S comes with a four-speaker stereo.

However, when you move up to SV, things improve from an amenities standpoint as SV adds a second USB port up front with a third USB-charge only port in back. SiriusXM Satellite is also standard and offers advanced features and three months free. Other SV notables are Intelligent Key with two FOBs, remote engine start, push button start, tilt and telescopic steering, and intelligent cruise control. Your dealer will explain everything when you visit including current incentives on new generation leftover 2020 and new 2021 models.

Inside, Sentry is very roomy with lots of new additions. Standard fare includes Nissan backup safety camera, all the powers, cloth seats, a six-speaker AM/FM stereo, steering wheel controls, 60/40 split rear seat, 8-inch color touch display, rear seat armrest with cup holders, remote fuel door and trunk release and more. The gauges and all buttons and switches are easy to operate and seating is comfy.

In addition to 16-inch tires that are standard on the SV, power mirrors, chrome V-motion grille, dual zone automatic climate control, and SV grade emblem are noteworthy. Overall, we like the 2021 Sentra as much if not better than the 2020 model (more MPG) as it really is a big improvement over the generation seven Sentra effort that ended in 2019. It handles great thanks to an improved independent suspension and acceleration is just OK as zero to 60 arrives in about 8.5 seconds. It’s no speedster, but does well overall although a turbo would really pep things up

Our Sentra featured a Premium Package for $2,270 that adds 17-inch Michelin tires on nice alloy wheels, quilted leather style stitched seating, power sliding glass moonroof with tilt, heated front seats, six-way power and lumbar driver seat, and a leather wrapped shifter.

A lighting package for $500 (not necessary), $395 for special premium paint (yes), $345 for a rear spoiler and $215 for carpeted floor and trunk mats rounded out the options. With $925 destination, the final retail comes in at $25,560 for a midsize car loaded with everything.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.6 inches, 3,038 pound curb weight, 12.4 gallon fuel tank and 14.3 cu. ft. of cargo space.

I’ve always liked Nissan for its progressive styling and return for money spent. These new 2021 Sentras in any trim are most impressive over and above what many competitors offer for the same dollar. Even the $19,400 entry S has more high-tech safety than cars that start elsewhere for $25K or more.

Dealers are awaiting your call to explain current lease and purchase incentives, be it new or leftover. If it’s real value you seek, you can’t miss the new Nissan Sentra.

Likes: Looks, standard safety, great fuel mileage, very affordable.

Dislikes: SiriusXM unavailable on entry S, not a CVT fan, could use more horsepower.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.

2021 Nissan Sentra SV CVT