Without really trying, the Toyota Corolla has become an icon of the automotive industry. It surpassed the Beetle and Model T long ago to become the best-selling car in history. Buyers have always lined up for the compact sedan, attracted to its mix of price, economy and reliability.
After years of playing second fiddle, the Nissan Sentra underwent a transformation in 2013. It's more conservative, with mini-luxury car styling and a mature interior that would look at home in a much larger sedan.
How well does the new-formula Sentra stack up against the stalwart Corolla?
It's hard to say anything bad about the Toyota. It's a quiet, smooth performer that's roomy for its class and screwed together well. Parents can feel safe sending their kids off to college in a Corolla, and its easy drivability makes it a natural choice for the average commuter.
All models carry a 132-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder matched to a five-speed stick or four-speed automatic. Options are plentiful in the upper trim levels, and even the base model comes with standard power windows, locks and outside mirrors.
Sentra Grows Up
The Sentra aims for above-average refinement for its class, and certainly achieves it. The understated styling will remind you of more expensive cars and is likely to wear well over time. There's more passenger space than before, even though weight has dropped a bit following the 2013 makeover. Fit and finish are excellent throughout, well beyond anything found in previous Sentras.
Underneath the skin, the focus is efficiency. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder makes 130 horsepower, actually less than its 2012 predecessor, but fuel economy is up -– a sign of the times seen in many recent redesigns.
Which Works Better?
Very little separates these models in terms of performance and everyday drivability. Buyers stepping down from larger cars will undoubtedly appreciate the refined new Sentra, while the Corolla maintains its position as a paragon economy-car virtue.
Our Verdict: Toyota Corolla
The Sentra might be more impressive at a valet stand, but the Corolla is a better representative of what consumers care about the most in an inexpensive car.