There has been a Sentra on the U.S. market ever since Datsun changed its name to Nissan in the early 1980s. The inexpensive and efficient Nissan Sentra replaced the Datsun 210, and entered its seventh generation three decades later.
Although launched more recently, in 2004, the Mazda3 also continues where previous models like the 323 and the Protegé left off. Conceived with Mazda's "zoom zoom" philosophy, it's a peppy, stylish compact that offers more driving fun than competitors.
So how do the Sentra and the Mazda3 compare?
What the Nissan Sentra does right
For 2016, Nissan revised the Sentra's styling, bringing it in line with its larger siblings. It can also be equipped with plenty of high-end amenities, including leather seating, dual automatic climate control, and a Bose premium sound system.
Nissan has obviously decided to emphasize entry-level luxury – and few buyers will complain about that. What's more, the 2016 Sentra undercuts the base Mazda3 by a fairly wide margin.
What the Mazda3 does right
The Mazda3 made quite a splash when it appeared in 2004. Few of its competitors looked as stylish or handled as well. Here was a stylish car with sporty handling that was also affordable.
A second-generation Mazda3 hit the market in 2009, and built on the previous car's strengths with SkyActiv technology that enhanced performance and economy. The latest iteration of the Mazda3 sets itself far apart from the Sentra with its standard 155-horsepower 2-liter engine and its optional 2.5-liter engine with 184 horses.
Does Tradition Win Out Over Flash?
The Nissan Sentra takes a conservative approach to compact transportation, placing an emphasis on solid value and design. In comparison, designers of the zippy Mazda3 seem to have let loose.
Our Verdict: Mazda3
On paper, little separates the Sentra and the Mazda3. Drive them back-to-back, however, and there's no doubt that the Mazda is more fun to drive.