- The Nissan Sentra underwent a complete redesigned last year.
- The Mazda3 is offered in sedan and hatchback body styles.
2021 Nissan Sentra
Base 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
Base 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|
|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.|