|14.3||Max Cargo Volume (cu.ft.)||12.3|
|7/8||Infotainment Screen (in)||6.5/8|
The compact car segment is littered with inexpensive options that will land you a cheap car payment, but what if you want something a little more exciting to drive? Check out the 2021 Nissan Sentra vs 2021 Subaru Impreza – these two popular vehicles offer some extras not commonly seen in cars around or under $20,000. Still, only one represents the best overall mix of value and style.
When you’re embarking on your first car purchase or looking to buy a vehicle with a low cost of ownership, your budget has to be the very first consideration. In the past, you’d have to leave all your other wish list items behind to achieve that goal. Luckily, manufacturers recognize that style, comfort, and even luxury are important to budget buyers. Buying a new car at any price is a big investment; demanding some of the stuff on your list isn’t too much to ask.
The 2021 Nissan Sentra is newly redesigned and features the latest driver-assist technology, along with plenty of infotainment and connected services to keep drivers entertained while on the go. Can the 2021 Subaru Impreza match the Sentra’s long list of extras? It’s a tall order and one that isn’t immediately obvious. We take a deep dive into each vehicle’s spec sheets to see which one gets you the most bang for your buck.
For the 2021 model year, Nissan offers the Sentra in a simplified three-trim lineup. The base S costs under $20,000 and features 16-inch wheels and a 70-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. All Sentras include a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 149 horsepower paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that optimizes both performance and fuel economy.
Buyers looking for a few additional features should consider the Sentra SV. It includes a large 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and dual-zone climate control. The SV also comes standard with adaptive cruise control, a system that automatically adjusts the vehicle’s speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. An optional SV equipment package adds leather seating and other luxury equipment.
The 2021 Subaru Impreza comes in four trims and two body styles. Trims include the base Impreza, Premium, Sport, and Limited, and buyers can choose from a sedan or hatchback. In any configuration, the Impreza’s performance characteristics didn’t impress. The base Impreza features a 5-speed manual transmission. If you want an automatic, you’ll have to pay more. It does include standard all-wheel drive (the Subaru line is known for it), but base Impreza buyers have to settle for minimal interior appointments. The cabin features a tiny 6.5-inch touchscreen, manual on/off headlights, and a paltry 4-speaker audio system. You also won’t find any driver-assist technology on the base model, so is it worth it to even get this model?
Upgrading to the Premium unlocks more standard features, including Subaru’s suite of four EyeSight driver-assist systems. Sadly, even the next more expensive trim retains the tiny 6.5-inch screen, but drivers will appreciate the automatic on/off headlights and the automatic transmission. The Base and the Premium still rely on a traditional key, which feels old-fashioned compared with the push-button start that’s standard across the Sentra’s trim range.
While these vehicles are excellent for their low pricing and economic trim options, they don't come without their own bit of luxury either. If you like a vehicle with a little bit more comfort, tech, and convenience than the basics and you have a little extra to spend, then you should definitely look at one of the more reasonably priced high-end trims.
The Sentra SV represents a great mid-range option that’s within reach for budget-conscious buyers, but Nissan knows that not all compact sedan buyers are focused on dollars and cents. Commuters and urban drivers with space restrictions often choose compact models, but they still want luxury features or styling add-ons that differentiate their car from entry trims.
If a sporty ride and upgraded styling are what you’re after, turn your attention to the Sentra SR. The SR features 18-inch wheels, an upgraded chrome grille, and LED headlights, taillights, and fog lights. A rear spoiler adorns the exterior, and extra body side trim gives the Sentra SR a lowered street racer profile. Choosing the available SR Premium Package adds a moonroof, heated front seats, and an upgraded 8-speaker Bose audio system. Buyers also receive Nissan’s Intelligent Around View Monitor, a 360-degree camera that offers a bird’s eye view of the area around the vehicle. Or you can get the SR Midnight Edition for a sleeker-looking sedan with all the cool features.
Subaru offers the Impreza in two upper-end trims: the Sport and the Limited. In order to get a larger 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and access Subaru’s Connected Services, which include a Wi-Fi hot spot, remote app-based key capabilities, and more, buyers have to upgrade to one or the other. Unfortunately for budget buyers, the price tag increases substantially, making it out of reach for many.
The lack of a value-priced Impreza with infotainment technology is especially frustrating for first-time buyers who tend to be younger and more concerned about finding a car with robust connectivity features. The price tag for a well-equipped Impreza hovers closer to $30,000, which leaves many first-time buyers out in the cold. Even the basics – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – don’t enter the picture unless buyers spring for a Premium or Limited Impreza.
As for exterior styling, Subaru doesn’t differentiate any of its trims like Nissan has with the SR. Also, the SR’s standard 8-speaker Bose audio system bests the 6-speaker no-name radio that comes with the Impreza Sport and the Limited. If Impreza buyers want a comparable audio system, they’ll have to pay even more for a premium equipment package.
Digging deeper into the Sentra’s extensive convenience and safety technology reveals that Nissan is concerned about maximizing both for all buyers. The Sentra’s standard technology features are excellent specifically because Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included across the entire trim range. Not so on the Impreza. It’s a big miss for Subaru, and one that will cause tech-savvy buyers to walk away.
Nissan also includes its Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety and driver-assist technology as standard on all Sentras. Like many other brands, Nissan shows that it is committed to providing what is best for its customers by making the best safety features standard on all models, not just for those that can afford a higher sticker price. The Sentra also has added keyless entry and a sporty D-shaped steering wheel to the base S. Features like these and the standard driver attention monitoring that’s part of Safety Shield 360 make the Sentra S seem more like a premium sedan.
The Impreza Base lacks even basic standard driver-assist technology. If buyers want it, they’ll have to upgrade to the automatic transmission. Subaru’s EyeSight suite of systems is standard on the Premium Impreza, but it contains far fewer systems than Nissan’s Safety Shield 360. EyeSight includes Pre-Collision Braking and Throttle Management and Lane Departure and Sway Warning with Lane Keep Assist.
By contrast, Nissan Safety Shield 360 includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist, and Rear Automatic Braking. All Sentras also receive Rear Door Alert, an audible reminder to check the back seats every time you park and prepare to exit the vehicle.
It’s notable that even the Premium Impreza doesn’t include High Beam Assist, a system that automatically switches between low and high-beam settings. It also doesn’t include a push-button start. Most disappointing is the lack of infotainment options on the Base and the Premium. The inadequate 6.5-inch touchscreen is dated and severely lacking in features. Even the base Sentra S, which costs nearly $5,000 less than the Impreza Sport, features an interactive infotainment touchscreen.