The all-new Sentra is motivated by a naturally aspirated 2.0-L engine paired to a Jatco CVT. (Nissan)

What we’re driving: 2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR CVT

Nissan may have created the most improved vehicle of the year, versus the outgoing model.

Easily mistaken for its Altima big brother at first glance, the 2020 Nissan Sentra finally gets the all-new platform, exterior style and interior upgrades that this thrifty compact has needed for years. With this development program Nissan may have created the most improved vehicle of the year, versus the outgoing model.

The new Sentra is all about the cabin, in my view. And the interior space of my sub-$26,000 tester was comfortable, tastefully trimmed and had a high-quality visual and tactile feel throughout. The $2,200 Premium option package included a 6-way power adjustable (and heated) driver’s seat, its 2-way power lumbar function bringing me lower-back relief. Even the leatherette seating surfaces felt like they were spec’d for an Infiniti model.

Combined with intuitive, user-friendly HMI (thankfully including a mix of analog and touch controls), an 8-speaker Bose audio system and more room to move overall, the 2020 Sentra’s interior tricked me into thinking I was driving a pricier sedan. This is a desirable character trait for affordable sedans if they are to survive the SUV onslaught.

If only the Sentra’s powertrain delivered the same joy. A 2.0-L engine packing 149 hp and 146 lb-ft is quite capable of motivating 3,085 lb (about 1,400 kg) with decent vigor. But the intervening Jatco CVT, or its particular calibration, lets the driving experience down. Stomp the accelerator and the Sentra just feels uninterested. C-segment cars often deliver more in powertrain than they do in comfort and cabin amenities. The 2020 Sentra is the flipside of that – and not a bad thing.

2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR CVT

Base price:  $21,430
As tested:    $25,825
Highs:          Mini-Altima styling, overachieving cabin
Lows:           Lackluster powertrain
Takeaway:   Worth buying for the interior

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