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2018 Toyota Corolla vs. 2018 Nissan Sentra: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt September 2018

The Toyota Corolla and the Nissan Sentra have been duking it out in the competitive compact car segment since the 1980s. Both models have come a long way since their introductions decades ago, now having some of the latest technology, modern styling and many more safety features than ever before.

The Corolla and the Sentra in their current generations are getting a little long in the tooth compared to more recently refreshed competitors, but they both still offer affordable options and various trims, ensuring both lineups have something for just about every driver in the market for a compact sedan. Let's take a look at what's different, what's similar and which is better between the 2018 Toyota Corolla and 2018 Nissan Sentra.

Exterior

The Sentra and the Corolla might not be the most exciting-looking cars on the road or even in their class, but they both have styling that's handsome and modern. They're actually both fairly big for their segment, both almost reaching midsize dimensions. Exterior dimensions are almost identical for the two cars, so neither one will take up noticeably more space in your garage than the other, and they're equally maneuverable in parking lots.

Interior

The above-average size of both of these compacts makes for rather roomy interiors. The Toyota Corolla is a class leader by a long shot in the important category of rear seat legroom. While a midsize sedan might be more desirable as a family car, the back seat of the Corolla is so spacious that it might make you think you're in the bigger Camry. You won't hear any complaints from kids or adults about the space in the back of the Corolla. The legroom in the back of the Sentra is pretty generous as well, but it's about four inches less than what you get in the Corolla.

As for interior design, both cars tend to suffer from cheap materials on the inside, particularly on the lower trims. They can serve as a reminder of why these cars are so affordable, but both interiors are reasonably comfortable and can get quite luxurious in the higher trims. Both are available with leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel if you're looking for a premium feel without paying a premium price.

With a more modern interior design and with class-leading rear legroom, we like the interior of the Corolla a little more than that of the Sentra.

Mechanicals

The Toyota Corolla has one engine available, and the Nissan Sentra has two. The Corolla's only engine is a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter inline four that only makes 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Cars this size don't require a lot of power to move along adequately, but this engine is quite underpowered for its segment. The engine in the LE Eco trim is tuned differently, giving it a little more horsepower and a little less torque, and it does offer respectable fuel economy numbers of 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. The non-Eco variants of the Corolla return middling fuel economy of 28 mpg city/36 mpg hwy.

The Corolla's engine is pokey, but the Sentra's base engine isn't in too much of a hurry, either. This 1.8-liter 4-cylinder produces 130 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque while returning 29 mpg city/37 mpg hwy. Those numbers are very similar to the Corolla's, and neither engine is really much better than the other.

However, there is a more exciting alternative available under the hood of the Sentra. It's a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four that makes 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, a noticeable and much-needed improvement over the base engine. Its fuel economy is still decent at 27 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Unfortunately, the Sentra can get a little expensive when you upgrade to the turbocharged model.

Both cars are available with a 6-speed manual transmission, which can make for a more engaging drive, but most examples you'll find for sale are equipped with CVT automatic transmissions.

The base engines in both the Corolla and the Sentra won't be particularly satisfying to driving enthusiasts, but if performance isn't a priority for you, then they're both perfectly adequate and reasonably efficient. They won't win any street races, but they'll get you where you're going without any fuss.

Infotainment

Every 2018 Toyota Corolla comes with some form of Toyota's Etune infotainment system. The base unit is a 6.1-in touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, an aux jack and a USB port with an iPod interface. It's upgradable to a 7-in unit that adds SiriusXM and HD Radio and is available with navigation and premium audio.

The Sentra comes with an infotainment system with similar features to the Etune system in the Corolla, but with a smaller screen. The base screen is five inches and can be upgraded to 5.8 inches with available navigation.

Both systems are pretty user-friendly, but the one in the Nissan is a bit snappier with faster response times. Unfortunately, neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay is available in any trim of either car. If you insist on having one of these features in your next car, you'll want to look elsewhere.

Safety

The Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) safety tech suite comes standard on every 2018 Toyota Corolla. TSS-P includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control. A lot of competitors offer features like these as option packages or only make them standard on higher trims, and the fact that these features are standard on every Corolla is awesome.

One of those competitors is the Sentra, which has optional Nissan Intelligent Mobility, a collection of safety tech features similar to TSS-P. The Sentra comes standard with automatic emergency braking and is available with blind spot assist, intelligent cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert. The Nissan is not available with lane-keeping assist or automatic high beams.

The Corolla is a clear winner when it comes to safety technology, thanks to standard TSS-P on every model.

Pricing

The Toyota Corolla is an affordable car, but the Nissan Sentra is even more affordable, at least on the low end. The Corolla has a starting MSRP of $18,600, and the Sentra starts at just $16,990. On the higher end, the Corolla gets into the low $20k range, and the Sentra can go over $25k with the Nismo trim, giving the Sentra the turbocharged engine, Nismo-tuned suspension and a sporty appearance package. The most affordable way to get a turbo Sentra is the SR Turbo model, which starts at $22,490.

Pricing is about the same when the two cars are similarly equipped, and the Sentra is both the most affordable and most expensive on the lowest and highest trims, respectively. If you're simply looking for the most affordable car you can get in this class, then you'll probably like the price of the Sentra.

Conclusion

The Nissan Sentra can be a fun little compact when it's packing the optional turbocharged engine, but if we're comparing base engines, we'd go with the Corolla over the Sentra. It may cost a little more on the low end, but we think the excellent standard safety tech and roomy, nicer-looking interior make it the better choice between these two compacts.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Toyota Corolla vs. 2018 Nissan Sentra: Which Is Better? - Autotrader