Nissan aims to lift Sentra image with upscale look

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LOS ANGELES — Nissan wrapped its 2020 Sentra sedan in a more upscale design and loaded it with technology to help it compete in the mass-market compact segment. To do so, the Japanese automaker drew inspiration from near-luxury brands.

With a starting price of $20,015 including shipping, the Sentra is a near-entry model aimed at young professionals and empty nesters.

But the Sentra has the same muscular and sporty profile of Nissan’s upmarket siblings, the Maxima and GT-R. It also borrows styling elements from Nissan’s “Emotional Geometry” design language seen on the brand’s higher-end models, such as the V-motion grille, boomerang-shaped LED headlamps and a floating roof.

By developing more aspirational products, Nissan hopes to attract more creditworthy customers and reduce the need for discounting, which has harmed the brand’s image and wreaked havoc on dealer margins.

The interior boasts a leather-wrapped instrument panel, satin-chrome aluminum accents, Nissan’s Zero Gravity front seats and a power sliding glass moonroof.

Research shows even compact-segment customers value craftsmanship and high-quality materials, brand manager Rob Warren told Automotive News at a press event in Santa Monica, Calif.

“What we are seeing in the compact segment is really about blending that balance of advanced tech and quality fit and finish,” Warren said. “So rather than benchmark Corolla or Civic, we started benchmarking higher-level cars to really kind of bring in that craftsmanship that customers were wanting, and that appearance that they were looking for.”

Interior materials in the 2020 Sentra, such as the leather-wrapped instrument cluster and door trim accents, were inspired by Audi, said Stephen Soley, senior manager of engineering marketability at Nissan.

The new Sentra, which debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show and goes on sale in January, is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 149 hp, up 19 percent from the current generation’s 1.8-liter engine.

Riding on a new platform, the 2020 model introduces a new independent rear suspension, which Nissan said improves ride and handling and fuel economy. A dual-pinion-rack electric power steering, also a first for the model, improves steering feel and maneuverability.

“Steering feedback is really what we targeted from the VW Golf,” Soley sad. “From a handling perspective, that’s what we went after.”

To appeal to more tech-oriented young buyers, Nissan loaded the Sentra with safety and connectivity bells and whistles once reserved for premium sedans. The dashboard is anchored by a 4.2-inch digital driver’s display and a standard 7-inch touch screen. On higher trims, there is an optional 7-inch digital driver’s display paired to a floating 8-inch multitouch center display.

The Sentra comes standard with a suite of safety technologies and driver-assist systems, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking and lane-departure warning.

Safety technology “is not a reason to purchase, but it’s a potential big reason to reject,” said Laurent Marion, a regional product manager for Nissan.

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