In the last update we shared some observations MotorTrend SEO guru Thomas Rosquin garnered when he took our long-term 2020 Nissan Sentra on a family road trip to Arizona. Well, I caught the bug and shortly thereafter packed up the Sentra for my own getaway to our cabin at Bass Lake, California, one that ended up being much more taxing than it was relaxing.
Although the Sentra appears petite on the outside, it can house an incredible amount of luggage and other assorted stuff. In our case, the 14.3-cubic-foot trunk stored backpacks, folding chairs, a large cooler, board games, inflatable lake toys, a case of citronella candles, even a huge beach umbrella, which the split-folding rear seat accommodated nicely while still leaving room for a back-seat passenger.
The 310-mile drive proved to be both uneventful and comfortable. Although the 149-hp four-banger struggled a tad to get up to speed on the highway onramp, once it got going it mostly held its own for a low-powered compact sedan. There were two exceptions, though. The first came when we hit Interstate 5’s notorious Grapevine. This demanding section of the Tejon Pass has a 6 percent grade, making it comparable to the Davis Dam road our test team uses during Truck of the Year testing. As expected, the Sentra didn’t appreciate the steep uphill and took its sweet time getting us to the top, but at no time did it feel unsafe. Our second climbing adventure happened once we got to the lake and started up the insanely steep private road to our cabin. The Sentra slowed almost to a halt and spun up to nearly 6,000 rpm before I instinctively looked down and noticed an “L” on the gear shift, something I wish I’d thought to do on the Grapevine. In low gear, the Sentra conquered the hill without breaking a sweat.
On the interstate the steering was reassuringly firm, helping the car drive straight without requiring a lot of exhausting tiny adjustments. On the winding mountain roads closer to our destination, the car seemed to hug the road. It didn’t cause much body roll, making that part of the drive less nauseating than it can be in some cars. As for gas mileage, we started with a full tank and made it 302 miles to North Fork (the geographic center of California!) before our first fill-up. Over the entire trip, we traveled 653 miles on 19.7 gallons of regular unleaded, netting us an overall mpg of 33.12, square on the EPA’s 33-mpg combined estimate.
At our gas stop, after five uninterrupted hours in the driver’s seat, I was expecting plenty of grief from my creaky bones and was surprised and delighted to notice some stiffness but no pain. Nissan’s ZeroGravity seats are supremely comfortable and supportive, and best of all, they’re standard in all Sentras regardless of trim.
Since a built-in navigation system is not available on any variant of 2020 Sentra, we relied on Apple CarPlay, which, along with Android Auto, is standard on the SV and SR trims. CarPlay performed flawlessly the entire trip.
Upon arrival, like good scouts, we almost completely unpacked, lugging our belongings up the dirt driveway and settling into the cabin for the night. The misadventure part of this adventure? At 9:00 the next morning, it looked like the sun had failed to come out. A quick poke of the head outside revealed heavy smoke, and a scan of the news showed that the 380,000-acre Creek Fire had started the day before at nearby Shaver Lake. We spent most of the day inside, enjoying the clean air and listening to emergency alerts. That evening the sheriff came through town announcing a mandatory evacuation, so everything got repacked into the Sentra and back home we went—without even dipping a toe into the lake.
Because of its admirable performance the day before, I had plenty of confidence in the Sentra, and by and large it did a fine job again getting us home. Although this admission will likely get me crucified around the MT offices, I’ll admit to not being a fan of driving mountain roads. No, forget that, I hate driving mountain roads, and I loathe driving them even more at night. The silver lining was that I had a chance to test out the Sentra’s high-beams and its High Beam Assist (auto-dimming) function. High Beam Assist did its job, but it always seemed to wait just a hair too long for my liking before it dimmed the lights. On top of my ruined vacation, I didn’t want to be the … ahem … jerk-face who blinds oncoming traffic, so I adjusted the high-beams manually.
The moral? Check for wildfires before you load up for a road trip. And if you need a decently powered, comfortable compact sedan with lots of storage space and good gas mileage, you could do a lot worse than the Sentra.
- Update 1: 2020 Nissan Sentra Road-Trip Review: The Pros and Cons of Compact Car Travel
- Update 2: Our Nissan Sentra Goes to the Test Track
- Update 4: The Repair and Maintenance Experience
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