Contender: The 2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR
It hasn't been easy being Nissan lately. An aging product portfolio, scandal and intrigue at the top of the company, and a big gap in consumer perception between Japan's best-selling US cars (Toyota, Honda) and Nissan. The good news is that Nissan's showing signs of shaking all that off. Fix product and you've got a good chance of fixing perception.
That brings us to the 2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR. It's all-new this year, with a much more contemporary, attractive design and a marketing philosophy that could pay off big for Nissan.
Under the hood, it's a 149-horsepower, two-liter four-cylinder engine, making 145 pounds per foot of torque and mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT. None of that is especially lustworthy, but it does put the new Sentra 2.0 SR right in the thick of the competition in terms of performance. Zero to 60 will happen in eight seconds. And the EPA fuel economy estimate is a fairly strong 28 miles per gallon city, 37 highway.
I did have one issue with the 2020 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR. I couldn't find the parking brake the first day. There's no handbrake, so I figured it must be an electronic brake. Nope. No button anywhere. Okay, it's a foot-activated brake. I put my foot where the foot-activated parking brake should be, and my foot went straight to the floor.
I had to get out of the car to see that, somehow, Nissan put the foot-activated parking brake in the new Sentra so far to the right that it's where you'd expect the clutch pedal to be. There's no problem with that, I guess, given that you can't get a manual in the 2020 Nissan Sentra in any trim level, but it's just one of the oddest design choices I've seen in a car in a long, long time.
That marketing philosophy I mentioned? With the 2020 Sentra 2.0 SR, Nissan's taking a page from the Hyundai playbook---make the car competitive in its class on every metric, then offer a high feature content for a low price. The base price for the SR is $21,430 (lower trim levels start at $19,090). The window sticker is at the end of the review, so you can see the full list, but among the highlights on the standard equipment list are a vehicle security system, keyless entry and pushbutton start, remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Siri Eyes Free, along with a six-speaker audio system, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and LED fog lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter and a sport cloth interior with orange stitching. Again---that's for $21,430.
Our tester did have some extra-cost options---the Premium Package ($2,170) added thin-type LED headlights and daytime running lights, a power glass moonroof, a heated steering wheel, heated front leatherette seats (swapping out the manual driver's seat for a six-way power seat with two-way power lumbar), an upgraded eight-speaker Bose premium audio system, intelligent around-view monitor, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and sunvisors with illuminated vanity mirrors. Another $500 went for the Lighting Package, which adds external ground lighting and interior ambient lighting, the two-tone Stone Gray with black roof paint job added $250 and there was another $200 for carpeted floormats and a trunk mat.
With $925 in destination charges, the as-tested price is $25,480, which is a truly great price for that much content in this segment.