The more I test drive sporty, little-ish sedans like Nissan’s 2020 Sentra SR, the more I wonder why so many buyers bother to drop $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or more on a daily driver that gives them their daily dose of driver jollies.
Why? Why spend so much? I mean, how many of you have taken multiple high-performance driving courses – or any? Because if you haven’t, you lack the skills to carve corners like Lewis Hamilton, even with today’s high-tech driver nannies. And even if you are a driving savant, a naturally gifted steering/braking/throttling genius, you have so, so very few places to set your hair on fire from behind the wheel – legally, that is.
I say this not to brag, but to clarify. I have taken scores of driving courses and have had a performance license. I have piloted race cars from an F1 beast driven by world champ Damon Hill, to race-prepped Trans Ams, Porshes, BMWs, Neons and even a delightful Renault Clio. I have played on race tracks all around the world. And lived to tell the tales. The scariest? Watkins Glen, New York.
I’m no Jackie Stewart, but I have driven with him. I don’t have the skills that Derek Bell has in his little finger, but I have learned about how to handle a car from him. And how to read one.
So, when I tell you that a tidy little Nissan four-door, this Sentra SR, delivers good value in an entertaining package, I share my views with some experience and a lot of history behind me. Yes, it’s a front-driver, which suggests some balance and braking challenges in enthusiastic driving.
Yes, the little 2.0-litre four-banger, while modern and fuel efficient enough (7.2 litres/100 km combined), spins up a modest 149 hp/145 lb-ft or torque. And I’ll concede that a CVT (continuously variable transmission) sending that power to the front wheels is not exactly Steve McQueen-ish, but it’s not the rubber-banding nightmare that defined earlier CVTs.
If you or I were to slide this Sentra onto a very fine semi-public race track like Area27 near Osoyoos, British Columbia, you would be challenged and entertained. It’s quick enough, but certainly not overpowering. The independent strut suspension up front, multilink rear, is fine. Not a work of genius, but combined with some smart electronic driver-assist technologies – like Active Understeer Control – this design is perfectly suitable for the driver who enjoys firm but not punishing road manners.
The bottom line: $23,998. That’s the price of a Sentra SR with a mountain of standard equipment. Yes, that’s right. For twenty-four grand, Nissan will sell you a surprisingly able four-door, right down to its fairly muscular 215/45R18 radial rubber wrapped around handsome alloy wheels.
But there’s more. This Sentra is, in fact, dressed up like a luxury car – from LED fog lamps to remote keyless entry with remote start; from dual-zone climate control to steering-wheel-mounted controls; from Apple CarPlay to Android Auto. The nicely designed seats in my tester were covered in a faux leather, but the shift knob and steering wheel were wrapped with the real things. The standard package comes even with intelligent cruise control.
For an extra $2,135, Nissan offers snazzier headlamps and seat coverings, a very good Bose sound system, the around-view monitor and a bit more. Add everything up, and toss in the $1,670 freight charge, and you get sharp-looking value package that comes in at $27,803.
Go ahead, spend $30,000-plus on something else, something more mechanically sophisticated and from a fancier brand. Let me know if it was worth it.