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Comparison: 2020 Hyundai Elantra vs 2020 Nissan Sentra

Our head-to-head duel today features two veterans, though both substantially rejuvenated in recent years. The Sentra arrived in 1983 while the Elantra took its first steps in 1992. In both cases, we’re a long way from the low-rent feel and look of the first editions and in both cases, quality has made a prodigious leap forward. The Sentra is brand-new for 2020 after a seven-year standstill, while the most recent Elantra dates back to 2017.

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2020 Hyundai Elantra

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The Elantra is Hyundai's most popular car in Canada with 39,463 units sold last year compared to only 7,719 for the Sentra, so there's a clear advantage for the Korean model in this regard.

Visually, the Elantra has received a few touch-ups in the area of its grille. Otherwise the only change for 2020 is the addition of a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) to replace last year's 6-speed automatic.

The Elantra GT enters its second generation in 2018. The performance models originally named Elantra GT Sport were rebranded Elantra GT N-Line last year. For 2020, the entry-level N-Line can be equipped with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, which last year was limited to the Ultimate trim level. All other configurations of the Elantra GT are unchanged.

See our Review of the 2020 Hyundai Elantra

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Wide choice of models
In total, there are seven variants on the menu: Essential, Preferred, Luxury, Ultimate, Sport, GT and N-line. The first four versions share a 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine good for 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. The base version comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, and the CVT is available as an option.

The other three variants use a 1.6L, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that offers 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. You get a base 6-speed manual transmission, but an optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is available.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Generous equipment
It’s well known that Korean manufacturers offer excellent value in their vehicles. Here you have for example Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, no matter which version you choose. The Essential (base) version also comes with heated front seats, air conditioning, as well as heated and power-adjustable outside mirrors.

Electronic driving aids enter the picture with the Preferred model, which offers blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, heated steering wheel, keyless entry, LED daytime running lights with automatic function.  

The Luxury model adds automatic climate control, leather seats and a 7-inch screen, while the Ultimate adds pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, heated rear seats, 8 power adjustments for the driver's seat, a 4.2-inch LCD information screen on the instrument cluster, wireless cell phone charging, and LED headlights and lights.

Finally, with the Sport and N-Line versions, 18-inch wheels are added and heated rear seats are removed from the Ultimate variant to add Sport seats.

Photo: Hyundai

Turbo equals fun
In its base-engine package, the Elantra is more about a smooth, flowing ride, and that's what owners will be looking for, too. If you want more pep, you have to go for the turbo engine. In addition to the extra power you then get a multi-link independent rear suspension and larger front and rear brake discs for better driving performance. And all this is accomplished while maintaining good fuel economy.

2020 Nissan Sentra

Photo: Nissan

While the Sentra’s last few years on the market haven't been very rewarding for Nissan, the model has sold more than six million units since its debut in 1982. This 8th generation reveals a car that has now reached full maturity and it’s unquestionably Sentra's most accomplished model since its debut.

The platform is new and the proportions are more generous. It’s a few centimetres lower to the ground and wider to help make its presence more prominently felt. The V-motion grille that now defines all models in the family gets pride of place up front with slimmer LED headlights.

Enhanced equipment
Nissan Safety Shield 360, a suite of six advanced driver assistance systems, is standard on all models. It includes Intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning (BSW), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), lane departure warning (LDW), high beam assist (HBA) and rear intelligent emergency braking (RIEB). Also standard are rear door alert (RDA), 10 airbags and intelligent driver alert (I-DA).

See our Review of the 2020 Nissan Sentra

Photo: Nissan

For 2020, Sentra is available in five trim levels: S, S Plus, SV, SR and SR Premium.

You have to go for the SV to get NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 8-inch colour display with multi-touch control, 6-speaker audio system, remote engine start and dual-zone automatic climate control.

The SR adds a power sliding sunroof, LED daytime running lights and LED fog lights. The SR also offers a 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar support, sunshade with illuminated vanity mirrors and 8-speaker Bose Premium audio system.

Photo: Nissan

New 2-litre engine
The old 1.8L 4-cylinder engine has been replaced by a new 2.0L engine. Well, not quite new. This unit is found in other Nissan products like the Qashqai. In the Sentra, it delivers 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque versus 124 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque with the old base engine.

Fans of manual transmissions will be happy to know that Nissan Canada continues to offer a three-pedal model, though only in the base S model.

We've never been big fans of CVTs, and the Nissan version in particular takes a long time to get into action after you hit the throttle and makes the engine scream in a cacophony of ungainly noise. In this regard, Nissan hasn't come a long way, not at all. Compared to those of some competitors, its CVTs remain unpleasant to use. You have to have a light foot on the pedal to avoid hurting your eardrums and causing your teeth to grind.

Photo: Nissan

On the road
Driving dynamics have improved with a new independent rear suspension that matches a McPherson strut front suspension with twin-tube shock absorbers. A new double rack-and-pinion power steering (DP-EPS) system, a first for Sentra, improves steering feel and handling, while the SR’s 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes ensure improved response.

The cumulative effect of all these changes and the improved handling, stability and ride comfort result a greater driver confidence and control. The Quiet ride and good comfort level give the car a more upscale feel; even extended road trips will be more enjoyable.

Advantage Hyundai Elantra

Dollar for dollar, the Elantra offers more equipment for the money and a better manufacturer's warranty.

Advantage Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Safety Shield suite is a plus, and the Sentra's interior is more refined in the high end versions.

Verdict

The 2020 Sentra is the best version of the model to this day, without question. Although it doesn't really excel in any one department, it doesn't have any major flaws either. It will grow on you, and owners should appreciate more as the months go by. Its biggest problem is still its CVT.

If you compare the two models with naturally aspirated engines, the Sentra wins by a nose, but if you have a few extra bucks to go with the turbocharged models, the Elantra quickly becomes our first choice because of the undeniable driving pleasure that engine configuration adds to the equation.

2020 Hyundai Elantra

We like

Wide range of technologies at and affordable price
Comfortable driving
Quiet cab with simple and intuitive controls
One of the best warranty in its segment

We like less

Efficient but uninspired basic engine
Rear seat is smaller than some competitors
CVT box replacing the automatic

2020 Nissan Sentra

We like

Quiet ride
Excellent fuel economy
Availability of a manual transmission
 
We like less

CVT that still needs refinement
Good at everything, excellent at nothing
A few more horsepower in the engine would be welcome.

Specifications

... 2020 Hyundai Elantra2020 Nissan Sentra
 Transmission6-sp man, CVT, 7-sp dual-clutchCVT
 DrivetrainFWDFWD
    
  2.0L (CVT)2.0L (CVT)
 Fuel consumption (city)8.3L/100 km8.0L/100 km
 Fuel consumption (highway)6.4L/100 km6.0L/100 km
  1.6L T 
 Fuel consumption (city)8.9L/100 km 
 Fuel consumption (highway)7.0L/100 km 
    
 Engine  
 Type2.0L2.0L
 Output147 hp149 hp
 Torque132 lb-ft146 lb-ft
    
 Type1.6L T 
 Output201 hp 
 Torque195 lb-ft 
    
 Capacities  
 Cargo space407 L (sedan)405 L
 Fuel tank53 L47 L
    
 Dimensions  
 Length4620 mm4640 mm
 Width1800 mm1816 mm
 Height1435 mm1448 mm
 Wheelbase2700 mm2712 mm
    
 Warranty5 yrs/100,000 km3 yrs/60,000 km
    
 Prices$18 849 to $27,599$18,798 to $25,998