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2021 Nissan Sentra vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which Is Better?

The recently redesigned 2021 Nissan Sentra goes up against the best-selling 2021 Kia Forte. They both offer plenty of features at a great price, but which is better?

Quick Facts

  • Forte comes with a class-leading warranty.
  • Sentra’s zero-gravity seats provide hours of comfort.

2021 Nissan Sentra

2021 Nissan SentraBase price: $20,335 / Read our 2021 Nissan Sentra review 

What we like: Steering, great seats; sharp styling; lots of tech and safety features

What we would change: Only one engine choice; poor rear visibility; no hybrid

Overview: Completely redesigned for 2020, the Nissan Sentra now resembles its larger sedan family members, with chiseled looks and a distinctive V grille. There’s only one engine and transmission choice, but it provides enough zip for a compact sedan. Combine that with a new chassis and suspension and communicative steering, and the 2021 Sentra handles itself well. Starting just above $20K, the Sentra is very well equipped, with a standard 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, plus all Nissans gets Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite, which includes blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alerts. This is good because the sloping roofline and thick C-pillars hamper rear visibility somewhat.

What’s new for 2021: 2020 brought a full redesign, so changes to the 2021 Nissan Sentra are minimal. Formerly only available on the upper trims, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are now standard across the board, and Nissan Connect with a Wi-fi hotspot is now available on the SR trim. There’s a new two-tone paint combination available for the SR trim: Electric Blue metallic with a black roof.

Features and technology: Available in three trim levels, the 2021 Nissan Sentra includes a single engine choice, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder powering the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The base S trim is handsomely equipped, with a push-button start, a 7-inch touchscreen, and a 4.2-inch digital display. Included are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. All 2021 Sentras get Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite, which includes a blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alerts, and automatic braking with pedestrian detection. The Suspension includes Active Ride Control and Intelligent Trace Control.

The SV trim includes an 8-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system, and intelligent cruise control, while the top SR trim adds 18-inch wheels, LED lights and foglights, a rear spoiler, a sportier interior, and heated exterior mirrors. Options include an upgraded Bose audio system and leather heated front seats.

What does the future hold: For the 2020 redesign, Nissan limited the Sentra to a single-engine and got rid of the hybrid. We would like to see an upgraded engine, possibly a turbo, to match the Sentra’s sporty intentions. Find a 2021 Nissan Sentra for sale near you

2021 Kia Forte

2021 Kia ForteBase price: $18,855 / Read our 2021 Kia Forte Review

What we like: Roominess; impressive number of standard features; good CVT; class-leading warranty

What we would change: Improve the looks; replace some plastic with more soft-touch surfaces; improve reliability

Overview: Just because a car is an entry-level compact sedan does not mean it needs to be dull, particularly in this very competitive segment, and the 2021 Kia Forte presents a compelling case for itself, with a roomy interior, ample standard features list, a choice of transmissions, and even an uplevel GT trim that brings a turbocharged engine and a more sophisticated suspension. If anything, Kia’s exterior is not the most exciting thing, but the interior, aside from some hard plastics, is perfectly pleasant and amply equipped. The Kia comes with a manual, but there’s also a surprisingly good CVT at mimicking the shifts of an automatic. While resale values have not been strong, buyers can at least take some solace from Kia’s class-leading warranty.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021,  the Kia Forte gets added equipment at different trim levels. For example, the EX trim now includes a powered sunroof, wireless charging, and the Harman Kardon upgraded stereo system. It also gets Uvo telematics through a smartphone app, which can set cabin temperature, or dial roadside assistance and 911. The GT trim with an automatic transmission now gains blind-spot monitoring, and models with a manual transmission get Michelin summer tires. The GT Line Premium also includes a power-adjustable driver’s seat.

Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Forte is offered in five different trim levels, although the basic trim is impressively equipped. Prices range up to $23,655 for the GT with an automatic. Most noticeably, every Forte includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. There’s also a fair amount of active safety equipment, including forward-collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, and driver attention monitoring. It also has an adjustable steering wheel, 6-way manually adjustable front seats, A/C, a USB port, Bluetooth, and a 4-speaker audio system. The next LXS trim includes different wheels and the CVT, plus some nicer plastics and split-folding seats.

The GT Line adds 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6-speaker stereo. The GT Line Premium includes the 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, two USB ports, wireless charging, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The EX adds even more features, and there’s also a GT2 package for the GT trim that includes Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires and a more sophisticated transmission.

What does the future hold: As the tweaks for 2021 mostly include upgrades to packages, we expect more of the same. We would like to see more soft-touch surfaces across the model range, however. Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale near you

Sentra vs. Forte: Strengths comparison

Sentra Benefits: Great seats; sharp looks; base engine makes more power but with the same fuel economy; more responsive steering.

Forte Benefits: Class-leading warranty.

2021 Nissan Sentra vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which is better?

In the 2020 redesign, the Sentra really upped its game, and the 2021 Nissan Sentra is still a great little car, with sharp looks, great seats, good driving manners, and a ton of features at a very reasonable price. The Kia Forte offers a ton of fantastic amenities, looks good (though some find it more polarizing), and gets a best-in-class warranty. In this comparison, it’s a dead heat. Our editors liked both vehicles equally, and it really will come down to style preference.   Find a 2021 Nissan Sentra for sale or Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Nissan Sentra 2021 Kia Forte
Engine 2.0-liter I-4 2.0-liter I4
Horsepower 149 hp  at 6,400 rpm 147 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 146 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm 132 lb-ft @ 4,500rpm
Transmission CVT automatic CVT
Fuel Economy 33 mpg (29 city/39 highway) 31 mpg (27 city/37 highway)
Also Available 1.6-liter turbo I4; 6-speed manual; 7-spd DCT
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 4 Stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 106.8 inches 106.3 inches
Overall Length 182.7 inches 182.7 inches
Width 71.5 inches 70.9 inches
Height 56.9 inches 56.5 inches
Turning Diameter 38.1 feet 34.8 feet
Headroom, Front 38.9 inches 38.8 inches
Headroom, Rear 36.7 inches 37.5 inches
Legroom, Front 44.0 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, Rear 37.4 inches 35.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 56.4 inches 56.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 54.5 inches 55.3 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 96.0 cubic feet 96.0 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 14.3 cubic feet 15.3 cubic feet

Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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