Don’t tell Nissan that sedans aren’t popular. The all-new eighth-generation Sentra is 5 centimetres lower, 5 cm wider and deliberately targeting younger drivers – cost-conscious consumers who want a car that’s fun to drive.
“If you talk to kids in their 20s, it’s true that they don’t want SUVs and they don’t want crossovers, because that’s what their parents drove all their lives,” said Nissan Canada’s new president, Steve Milette at the 2019 LA Auto Show. “They want a sedan option.”
The new target market for the compact Sentra sedan is buyers who are 30-35 years old. This compares to the car’s current buyers, generally in their late 40s and early 50s, who just want an economical vehicle to get from A to B.
To attract those younger buyers, the new Sentra is designed for a more dynamic drive. It’s built on a new platform that allows independent rear suspension and is driven by a larger, more powerful engine. The new 2.0-litre four-cylinder that replaces the previous 1.8-litre engine has 20 per cent more power and 16 per cent more torque than before – 149 hp and 145 lb.-ft.
Nissan also says the new engine is “projected to offer improved fuel economy,” but has not yet supplied any figures to back up this claim. A six-speed manual transmission will be offered with the base trim.
The 2020 Sentra will come on sale in February in three different trims, and its cost, also not yet revealed, is not expected to be too far off the current $17,000 – $21,000 base pricing.
Despite the entry-level cost, there will be some impressive standard features in all editions, including remote keyless entry with push-button start, emergency braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot warning. Options will include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, intelligent cruise control and LED headlights.
“We’ve paid attention to the small details,” said David Kershaw, Nissan North America’s division vice-president. "[That includes] the feel of the steering wheel in the driver’s hands and the smooth operation of the dials and switches to create the impression of premium quality.”
Engineers specifically targeted vehicles popular with younger drivers in order to improve the Sentra’s dynamics. The Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example, was the target for the feel of the steering, now upgraded with a new dual-pinion design.
Compact sedans are currently the third-most popular vehicle segment in North America, after compact SUVs and pickup trucks. The Sentra is Nissan’s most popular car in Canada, with 6,909 units sold in the first 10 months of this year. However, this pales in comparison to the 32,000 Rogue and 16,000 Qashqai SUVs that Nissan sold over the same period.
One big difference in the Sentra’s predicted sales is that it will no longer be targeted at fleet buyers, such as rental-car agencies, which have traditionally bought as many as half of Nissan’s Sentras and Altimas. Milette said there is little profit in the fleet business, and it’s too challenging to guarantee a residual price, so Nissan’s focus is now shifting more to individual consumers.
“It’s a high-fleet vehicle today, but tomorrow, it’s going to be a low-fleet vehicle,” he said. “Not a no-fleet, but a low-fleet, similar to Altima.”
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