Have you ever noticed that all apartment rentals are marketed as luxury apartments, even though they’re not? My grandmother lived in an apartment building with a doorman, and a large swimming pool with private cabanas. Its lobby contained a market, a florist, a beauty parlor, a restaurant and bar, a pharmacy, and a dry cleaner. Most new “luxury” apartments offer nothing even close to this, beyond a gym.
Certainly luxury is an overused word, but the concept is simple: A luxury product or service make our lives easier, even enjoyable, and wears a hefty price tag that ensures its exclusivity. But this idea is being challenged in the auto industry, where the technology one might associate with a luxury car — heated seats, heated steering wheel, a high-end audio system, an infotainment touchscreen with high-end audio, and a generous array of driver assistance safety systems — are available on all cars regardless of price. So what does it say about luxury products when the same benefits are attainable without a hefty price tag? Is luxury dead, or is it merely being democratized?
Such questions arise from the redesigned 2020 Nissan Sentra SR, a compact sedan (base price: $19,310-$21,650) competing in a class brimming with worthy competitors. Perhaps this is why the Sentra’s apparel is far more trendy for 2020, mimicking the appearance of the larger Altima and Maxima. And buyers can choose a Sentra with two-tone paint — a $595 option — which makes for a striking look, one that belies its price.
Offered in ascending S, SV and SR trim, the Sentra can be fitted like a little luxury car, especially if you opt for the SR and its $2,170 Premium Package, which adds to the Sentra’s appealing aesthetics with LED headlights, power sliding glass moonroof, heated steering wheel, heated front seats, leatherette seats, power driver’s seat with power lumbar, eight-speaker Bose Premium Audio System, 360-degree view monitor, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and illuminated visor vanity mirrors. Nissan provides USB-A, USB-C, auxiliary, and 12-volt plugs as well as standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a standard 7-inch or optional 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s very easy to use, a luxury that can’t be said of the clunky system used in pricier Nissans. There’s no navigation, but most folks use their smartphones for that anyway.
It’s all set in a roomy cabin is filled with impressive detailing, particularly the stitching on the flat-bottom steering wheel, shifter cover, instrument panel, center console and seats. Although materials feel neither opulent nor cheap, there are soft-touch materials where you expect them to offset the hard plastic used elsewhere. Round air vents add a distinctive design touch, while a $500 Lighting Package adds ambient interior lighting and exterior ground lighting. And the center console bin is huge.
But the ultimate indulgence is the Sentra’s unexpectedly room cabin that provides good head and legroom up front, and surprisingly good leg and foot space in the rear, although headroom is compromised somewhat by the car’s styling. And the trunk is impressively expansive considering the size of the car.
If all of this is not enough to move you, perhaps this will be: the Sentra’s double-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously-variable automatic transmission that develops 149 horsepower, a 20% increase from 2019. Power is fairly good, but the CVT transmission feels reluctant to let loose unless things are already boiling. The flipside of this is good fuel economy of 31 mpg. Remarkably, there’s no engine vibration at idle, although the engine gets raucous when revved. But it sounds great.
While the Sentra SR is no sports sedan in training, it’s a satisfying small sedan to drive. The steering is nicely weighted and returns some road feel. The cabin is astonishingly quiet, more so than cars at twice the price. Ride is fairly absorbent, although, like any compact, the worst road shocks bang through. Body lean is evident in corners, but body motions are very well controlled. There’s still plenty of grip and the Sentra still provides enough eagerness to make it an unexpectedly fun car to drive. Credit the new multilink independent rear suspension that replaces the old torsion-beam suspension. And, should you get in over your head, you’ll find an impressive array of standard driver assist technologies, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist and rear automatic braking.
It proves that you don’t have to live a life of deprivation to obtain an affordable, roomy sedan with the sort of options that would have been luxury league just a decade ago. And it comes wrapped in a package that eschews the dowdiness that has been a Sentra trait for far too long. The 2020 Nissan Sentra is a tempting package for the price, a car that delivers a level of equipment, style and driving satisfaction that would have once classified it as a luxury car. Its quiet, comfortable persona only adds to the illusion.
No, the 2020 Nissan Sentra isn’t a luxury car, even if it has most of the hallmarks. Consider it a secret indulgence. I promise not to tell.
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