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2021 Nissan Sentra vs. 2021 Mazda3: Which Is Better?

The 2021 Nissan Sentra and the 2021 Mazda3 are compact sedans both offer a nicer experience than you might be expecting. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Nissan Sentra underwent a complete redesigned last year.
  • The Mazda3 is offered in sedan and hatchback body styles.

2021 Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan SentraBase Price: $21,000 (est.) / Read our 2021 Nissan Sentra Review

What we like: Standard active-safety features, affordable pricing, good fuel economy

What we would change: A more powerful engine option would be nice, base trim missing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, continuously variable transmission still isn’t a favorite

Overview: The Nissan Sentra really upped its game with last year’s redesign. The Sentra is larger, nicer inside, more powerful, and better equipped than before. The new standard (and only) engine is a 2.0-liter four that makes 149 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque, a notable improvement over the previous 1.8-liter though it’s about average for the segment. Nissan’s Xtronic CVT transmission mimics the shift points of a conventional automatic, but there’s still some droning under acceleration. Fuel economy is 32 or 33 mpg combined, depending on trim. An independent rear suspension makes for more nimble handling. Inside, Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats are plush, and the available quilted-stitch leather impresses. Pricing remains affordable, starting at just over $20,000 and not climbing too much higher from there.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, there are virtually no changes since the vehicle received a total makeover for the 2020 model year.

Features and technology: The 2021 Nissan Sentra is sold as the S, SV, and SR, and a Premium Package can be added to the latter two. Commendably, even at this low price point, all trims come with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high-beams, and automatic rear braking. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard, although on the base S it comes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SV includes those connectivity features in an 8-inch touchscreen as well as 16-inch alloy wheels (versus steel wheels with hubcaps), adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, remote start, satellite radio, and a few additional items. The SV Premium Package adds heated seats, a power driver’s seat, leather with quilted stitching, a sunroof, and 17-inch wheels. The SR gets you 18-inch wheels and sporty design elements inside and out. The SR’s Premium Package is similar to the SV’s but with the addition of a 360-degree-view monitor and an 8-speaker stereo.

What does the future hold: The freshly redesigned Sentra is not likely to see major changes soon. See 2021 Nissan Sentra models for sale near you.

2021 Mazda Mazda3

2020 Mazda3Base Price: $21,445 / Read our 2021 Mazda3 Review

What we like: Sedan and hatchback body styles, two available engines, optional all-wheel drive, upscale interior, engaging driving experience

What we would change: Tight rear seat, hatchback’s large rear blind spots, base trim missing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, pricey Turbo starts at $30,845

Overview: Upscale and fun to drive, the 2021 Mazda3 delivers something more than the stereotypical small-car experience. The Mazda’s interior design and materials are a class above, although the perceived luxury does not extend to rear-seat space, which is tight. The Mazda3 offers both sedan and hatchback body styles, the latter with greater cargo-carrying versatility but also big blind spots to the rear. We’ve been captivated by the little Mazda’s lively steering and eager handling but bemoaned the fact that this sophisticated chassis had only one engine offering. Now, there are three: 2.0-liter, a 2.5, and a 2.5 turbo. The 2.0 makes 155 horsepower and is relegated to the base sedan only. The 2.5, with 186 horses, is widely available and can be paired with front-wheel drive or AWD. The latter is uncommon among small cars. A new 2.5-liter turbo (250 hp/320 lb-ft with premium fuel, 227 hp/310 lb-ft with regular) comes standard with AWD. Mazda also still offers the rare choice of a six-speed manual transmission, but it’s available only on the 2.5 S Premium hatchback with front-wheel drive.

What’s new for 2021: Mazda has added two new engines this year, which bracket the previous 2.5-liter. A new 2.0-liter powers the base sedan and lowers the entry price by $1,000. The more exciting news is a 2.5-liter turbo that brings an additional 64 horsepower over the naturally aspirated 2.5. Elsewhere, standard and optional features have been reshuffled among the various trim levels.

Features and technology: The base sedan comes with the 2.0-liter engine, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beams, a driver attention alert, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. An 8.8-inch infotainment display operated via a rotary controller is standard, but the base car skips Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those arrive with the 2.5 S trim, which includes the 2.5-liter engine and also is the entry point for the hatchback. The 2.5 S Select unlocks the AWD option and adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, passive entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette upholstery, and 18-inch wheels. The 2.5 S Preferred brings a sunroof, heated seats, a power driver’s seat with memory, and gloss-black exterior trim. The 2.5 S Premium includes navigation, 12-speaker Bose audio, a head-up display, adaptive headlights, leather, and additional interior colors. The Turbo sedan and hatchback have three trim levels. The base Turbo includes nearly everything in the 2.5 S Premium, minus leather and navigation. Those arrive with the Turbo Premium Plus along with a 360-degree-view camera, Traffic Jam Assist, and rear auto-braking.

What does the future hold: The low take-rate for manual transmissions means that the stick shift could disappear at any time. Other than that, we’re likely to see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto spread to the base trim. See 2021 Mazda3 models for sale near you.

Sentra vs. Mazda3: Strengths comparison

Nissan Sentra Benefits: Better fuel economy; less expensive; standard active-safety features on all trims

Mazda3 Benefits: Choice of engines, transmissions, and body styles; more power; available AWD; rich-looking interior; fun-to-drive demeanor

Sentra vs. Mazda3: Which is better?

The latest Nissan Sentra is far nicer than the car you may remember. It drives better, looks better, and has a more inviting interior. The Mazda3, though, is equally stylish, has an even richer interior, and is even more engaging to drive. It also has two significantly more powerful engine options, an available hatchback body style, and optional AWD. Nice as that all is, however, an upper-end Mazda3 is nearly 50 percent more expensive than a Sentra. The Sentra is the better low-priced economy sedan, while the Mazda3 is the upscale near-luxury choice. Find a Nissan Sentra for sale or Find a Mazda Mazda3 for sale

2021 Nissan Sentra 2021 Mazda3
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.0-liter I-4 2.0-liter I-4
Horsepower 149 hp  at 6,400 rpm 155 hp  at 6,000 rpm
Torque 146 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm 150 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Transmission CVT automatic 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 33 mpg (29 city/39 hwy) 31 mpg (28 city/36 hwy)
Also Available 2.5, manual, AWD, 2.5 turbo AWD
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 106.8 inches 107.3 inches
Overall Length 182.7 inches 183.5 inches
Width 71.5 inches 70.7 inches
Height 56.9 inches 56.9 inches
Turning Diameter 38.1 feet 37.3 feet
Headroom, Front 38.9 inches 38.0 inches
Headroom, Rear 36.7 inches 37.3 inches
Legroom, Front 44.0 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, Rear 37.4 inches 35.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 56.4 inches 56.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 54.5 inches 55.3 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 96.0 cu. ft. 96.0 cu. ft.
EPA Cargo Volume 14.3 cu. ft. 14.4 cu. ft.

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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