Automobile manufacturers have pretty much mastered the art of building cars. Some 125 years on, today’s breed of automobile is safer, more powerful, thriftier, more comfortable and more reliable than ever.
Things like climate control, heated/ventilated seats, satellite radio, accident alert warning systems, anti-locking brakes, hybrid drivetrains, etc., etc., have made driving more palatable than ever.
And carmakers are outdoing themselves when it comes to pampering vehicle occupants and giving buyers the most bang for the buck.
Perhaps they’ve even gone too far and are building in things that are unnecessary and extraneous. Do we really need ventilated seats? Perimeter cameras? Radar-controlled cruise control? Seats that vibrate?
While nice to have, none of these things are crucial. You can spend a modest amount of money on an automobile without fripperies and still get everything you need.
Take for example the Nissan Sentra, which received a full redesign for 2020.
With a starting price well under $20,000, the Sentra gives you everything you really need in a car without making any sacrifices. It’s available in five trim levels, starting with the S base model.
Along with its perennial rivals the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, it pretty much represents the state of the art when it comes to compact four-door sedans.
Power is amply delivered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops almost 150 horsepower. While the Sentra isn’t a rocket by any stretch, this lively sedan can hold its own in city traffic while providing more than enough reserve power for highway driving.
Unfortunately, it’s mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is the car’s weakest link. A six-speed manual is also available and that’d be my choice.
Most of the time, the CVT is fine. But if you’re tight traffic and need bottom-end power in a hurry, it takes its sweet time giving it to you. This is a common failing with the CVTs I’ve encountered but seems to be particularly pronounced here.
But what’s really appealing about the Sentra is its list of standard features. You get air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering, power door locks, one-touch up/down power windows, and the usual driver-automobile interface: touch-screen display, hands-free text messaging, steering-wheel-mounted controls and so on.
Some of these things I can do without but, again, they’re kind of cool to have.
Depending on the model, options include Sirius radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, remote start, dual zone climate control and an “intelligent” key.
According to Nissan, you’ll get a combined fuel economy rating of 8.0 litres/100 km, with the CVT or the manual gearbox. While not scintillating, that’s more than reasonable and compares favourably with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
The Sentra will seat five adults and trunk space, a major consideration in this market, is put at nine cubic feet (404 litres). The Civic has 15 cubic feet, while the Corolla delivers 13 cubic feet. So the Sentra is a little shy in the luggage-carrying department.
Still, I liked this car. It represents decent value and does almost everything it’s supposed to. It doesn’t confront you with incomprehensible switchgear and overly-complicated controls and convenience features.
I don’t want to be challenged by a car every time I slip behind the wheel. I want no-nonsense, reliable, efficient transportation that offers some degree of comfort without being silly about it.
With the Sentra, that’s exactly what you get.
2020 Nissan Sentra
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: continuously variable
Horsepower: 149 at 6.400 rpm
Torque: 145 foot pounds at 4,400 rpm
Base price: $18,798
Fuel economy: 9.4 litres/100 km city and 6.4 litres/100 km highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Subaru Impreza, Mazda3
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).