The 2020 Sentra: Your Neighbors Might Notice this One in Your Driveway

You know that a car's design is underwhelming when you order it in red, and it still doesn't stand out. It gets lost in a parking lot, the mechanic forgets about it, it blends in with the scenery in your driveway. It's like the designers are adding a touch of curves each time they get yelled at, but they don't want to scare off the practical buyer who likes being boring. Even the touch of sporty in the roofline of recent models looks a bit contrived. Oh, and the interior, well, it's utilitarian. In 2020, however, someone gave the green light to some inspired rework. Let's go to China to see, shall we? Wait; what? What's Beijing got to do with it?


Why all the talk about the Chinese Nissan Sylphy among Sentra watchers?

The Sentra and Sylphy are basically the same car, enough to get a pretty good idea of what's arriving in the States for 2020. In China, it's called the Sylphy and is out for showing while Nissan coyly camouflages the 2020 Sentra on test drives. Spy photographers have captured a few 2020 Sentra snaps here and there of the new exterior and, happily, the interior as well. What did they see?


Isn't this just another year of hyping a few incremental changes in a mediocre car? Why is 2020 supposedly the year that the Sentra comes into its own?

Ok, it's not hard to find discussions about recent Sentra model years that use words like "garbage" and "underwhelming" and "what the hell happened?" Fair enough. Over its lifetime the Sentra has evolved from boxy up to boring. The Sylphy and spied-upon U.S. test model are not true to the box heritage with more stylish design and trim inside. There are some inspired external design changes which make it look a lot less, as one reviewer put it, "gawky." Not really a selling point, though, is it?


What about the Nismo version of the 2020 Sentra? Does that redeem the tail-dragging image some?

Actually, the 2020 Sentra is a push towards more sporty styling, so the high-style Nismo can't help but benefit. The previous year's Nismo model jazzed up the doors and front bumper but offered a powertrain which was very similar to the SR model. Both upper models had the same 188 HP engine, same 6-speed manual option, and a CVT transmission on the standard order. In 2020, expect styling upgrades including a lower ride and roofline, but probably the same mechanicals.


So, what are the major external updates for the 2020 Nissan Sentra?

Most notable is a general lowering of the Sentra, ride, and roof, as it finally gets a more sporty, swept-back look. Maybe those box-obsessed designers have been put out to pasture -- Nissan seems to be pulling together design elements from both the Altima and the Maxima to create the new look. The upgrade also invokes new Nissan styling language which recently transformed the Versa. The doors, previously slabs of metal fastened to the sides, have more contours and life in them, a design trend highly visible in Toyotas. The grille is more vertical and aggressive as opposed to the sloped-back design of previous years, and only a hint of the "guppy mouth" industry-wide curse.


Word is that the interior has risen above mediocre, might even be a bit comfortable. Is that so?

A good measure of the interior's success is how drivers want to sit. Are they sitting tall like they're riding a horse and holding the reins tightly? Or are they swept back in sports car position, holding the reins loosely and letting the horses under the hood take the lead? The new Sentra does create an atmosphere of driver engagement, finally. New dash features as seen in the Sylphy include a trio of air vents in a circular jet-style form and a tablet-style infotainment device sitting above the dash keeping eyes on the driving.


How is Nissan outfitting the 2020 Sentra performance-wise? Is there a decent engine? What about keeping the manual transmission option?

Neither spy photos nor the Chinese Sylphy give many clues about the drivetrain for 2020. Guesses include borrowing the 141 HP 2.0L engine from the Rogue to replace the current 130 HP unit and on the SR and Nismo using the 188 HP 1.6L turbo currently available. Chinese Sylphy models have had an EV option, but Nissan is still slow to provide EV and hybrid U.S. sedans. A 6-speed manual is likely to be an option once again -- it comes with a CVT, but if the theme is driver engagement, no thanks.


How does the 2020 Nissan Sentra or at least the Sylphy, drive? Model T style or with a bit of performance and panache?

As with the Sylphy, keeping the manual transmission option and updating the suspension will tempt drivers to relax, get into the groove and drive like nature intended. The rigid, boxy model-T performance is fading away in this renewed Sentra in favor of some fun, finally.


Is the styling of this model just Nissan aligning the Sentra with corporate design or is the Sentra/Sylphy taking a more prominent place in the Nissan lineup in 2020?

With new North American CEO Jose Valls taking on slumping sales, Nissan has clearly jazzed up the Sentra to strengthen its market position. SUVs and crossovers are dominating business, and even buyers interested in "econobox" sedans want something extra. The Sentra was in danger of being left behind on both fronts. The Sylphy is popular in China, and Nissan's updated 2020 Sentra might just catch some attention here in the U.S.


How about step-up and step-down models in the Nissan line? Are there interesting alternatives to the Sentra? Why would you choose them over this model?

The only way to go from the Sentra is up. The full-size Maxima just got a refresh in 2019 and could be an alternative to the Sentra for those who want a bit more room and performance. The mid-sized Altima got its redesign in 2018, sales are slow, and that might just be because crossovers are hotter now. Performance plus safety and other tech features are big reasons to consider a step-up. The Nissan sedan line-up is still not a place for electric enthusiasts to shop.


If I'm interested in getting one, either believing the hype and excited or not believing, just looking for another decent econobox-plus model, how's the pricing and availability?

Really, who can say? The 2020 Nissan Sentra is in hiding until late 2019 or early 2020, but if they're trying to build anticipation, they're doing it wrong. Buyers want to know if it's worth waiting for. Will it be a dressed-up slowpoke like some domestic brands' low-end models? If they choose the 137 HP engine as in China, maybe so. Otherwise, it could have some pep and handling to offer. Pricing will, of course, depend on costs and how much they want us to take notice. For a model they'd like to see selling better, Nissan is almost in reverse-hype mode, keeping the buzz down. Why?

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