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First Drive Review: 2020 Nissan Sentra is a compelling combination of interior refinement, tech

Nissan has redesigned the Sentra for the 2020 model year.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2020 Nissan Sentra is all new with a sportier design, upgraded interior, and new standard safety technologies. It also has a more powerful engine that helps make this compact sedan fun to drive. Together, these features offer a compelling combination designed to entice sedan buyers.

Despite decreased interest in sedans, the Sentra is Nissan's best-selling model in the United States with over six million deliveries since its debut back in 1982. It is available in a range of three trims with just two options packages and sits between the smaller, more affordable Nissan Versa and the larger, more well-equipped Nissan Altima.

2020 Nissan Sentra exterior body wheels The new Sentra has many of Nissan's signature design attributes.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

New sportier exterior styling includes a bold stance that's two inches lower and two inches wider than the previous generation. Nissan's signature V-motion grille dominates the front of the Sentra with thin LED headlamps and a floating roof. The Sentra SR offers an especially aggressive look with black and dark chrome accents, sport-style rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust finisher.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. That's 20 percent more horsepower and 17 percent more torque than before and it makes a big difference in how the Sentra drives.

It easily merges into highway traffic and delivers ample power for passing slower moving vehicles. The transmission is smooth and quiet, even under hard acceleration, making the ride more pleasant for everyone. The Sentra provides a responsive drive experience not often found in affordable sedans.

2020 Nissan Sentra exterior face grille The car provides a pleasant behind-the-wheel experience.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Inside, styling is refined with higher quality materials. It looks and feels good creating a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere. Details like contrast stitching and a D-shaped steering wheel reinforce the Sentra's sporty new demeanor.

There's room for five passengers with Nissan's Zero Gravity seats up front. These provide support without being stiff and stay comfortable even through longer road trips. The rear seats accommodate three passengers, but it's a tight fit. Taller adults will feel a bit cramped with low headroom. Push the front seats back and rear legroom is also compromised.

The base infotainment system in the Sentra is somewhat limited and includes a 7-inch touch screen with Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free. Smartphone connectivity through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is only available on the SV and SR trim. These trims also see the addition of an 8-inch multi-touch display and NissanConnect. While the system is intuitive and quick to learn, the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the base model will disappoint buyers on a budget.

2020 Nissan Sentra interior seats wheel shifter radio Inside, the Sentra is a refined auto for its price point.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan offers a comprehensive suite of safety features through Nissan Safety Shield 360. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

Rear door alert is also standard. This feature reminds drivers to check the rear seats so nothing is accidentally left in the car. There's also intelligent driver alertness, which detects driving patterns that indicate a tired drive and issues a warning to take a break.

2020 Nissan Sentra interior seats Zero Gravity seats keep the driver and front passenger comfortable on long trips.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Sentra offer a good mix of features along with a pleasant drive experience. It targets value-minded buyers with affordable pricing while still incorporating advanced safety and technology. The base S is priced from $19,090 while the top SR comes in with pricing of $21,430. The Premium Package ups SV pricing to $22,730 and SR pricing to $23,600. Those looking for an affordable, comfortable, and well-equipped sedan can find the 2020 Nissan Sentra in local dealerships in late January.

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The 2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST gives buyers more performance at a lower price.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer lineup is getting a three-model enhancement for the 2021 model year. The Explorer Enthusiast ST, Platinum, and Platinum Hybrid will be making their way to dealership lots later this year in a targeted attempt to identify customer desires.

The new models join the just-announced 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch, also a new addition.

2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST

The Enthusiast ST grade takes a lot of what customers like about the existing Explorer ST and delivers it at a far cheaper price. The Enthusiast ST has a starting MSRP of $48,750 as opposed to the ST, which starts at $52,830.

Setting it apart from there Explorers is the Enthusiast ST's quad chrome exhaust tips, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, and sideview mirrors with ST projection lamps.

The new model comes equipped with the same 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine that's in the Explorer ST that churns out 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission completes the powertrain.

Ford has given the model a sport-tuned suspension and a top track speed of 143 mph. A standard Class III Trailer Tow Package provides towing capability of up to 5,600 pounds.

The cabin of the Enthusiast ST is complete with leather seating surfaces, unique Miko micro-perforated inserts, and City Silver accent stitching with the ST logo. There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, heated sport-style steering wheel with the ST logo, and paddle shifters.

The Explorer Enthusiast ST also features standard Ford Co-Pilot360 technology.

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

2021 Ford Explorer Plat Ford has two new Platinum models coming to a dealership near you.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2021 Ford Explorer Plat

The new Explorer Platinum is powered by a 3.0-liter engine and comes standard with rear-wheel drive. Four-when drive is available.

To make the Platinum version worthy of its upscale price tag, its packaging includes door handles with satin aluminum insert, liftgate appliqué, lower bodyside cladding insert, roof-rack side rails, a twin-panel moonroof, and a unique grille with satin aluminum finish. Its cabin is fitted with leather seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard, door rollovers, and door and front console armrests.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Platinum has a starting MSRP of $52,480. The hybrid version of that model starts at $53,085.

All the models are currently available for order via Ford dealerships. Deliveries are expected to begin this summer.

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2022 Hyundai Kona N revealed, but the automaker isn't telling all just yet.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai is giving its highest performance Kona the same transmission that you'll find in the Veloster N. For enthusiasts, that's a very good thing.

The compact crossover is more and more being seen as the American successor to the hot hatch. The Mazda CX-30 Turbo recently piqued enthusiasm among true drivers who can't afford supercars and need something more practical to hoon around in.

Now, the Kona N is poised to deliver similar driving dynamics and performance. Hyundai has slowly been leaking out details about the 2022 Hyundai Kona N over the last year and the revelation that it will have an eight-speed wet-type dual-clutch transmission, known as N DCT, is just the latest tidbit to come to light.

2022 Hyundai Kona Hyundai has upgraded its wet DCT mechanics in recent years making it hard-wearing.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

2022 Hyundai Kona

The Kona N DCT is based on a modified version of its in-house-developed 8DCT. It's had enhancements in recent years that have made it more durable and ready to handle the demands of high-performance vehicles. The N DCT will be standard on the Kona.

Hyundai will pair the N DCT with a 276-horsepower, 2.0-liter direct-injected engine that has been tuned especially for the model. The transmission control unit is calibrated for N enthusiasts.

The wet-type DCT is structurally similar to a manual transmission but, instead of the typical dry-type gearbox, it uses two electric oil pumps that are designed to reduce friction between the moving parts, cooling the clutch, and allowing greater torque.

Other features of the N DCT include N Grin Shift, N Power Shift and N Track Sense Shift functionality. These settings have dedicated shift-logic management. N Power Shift engages when the car accelerates with more than 90-percent throttle. N Grin Shift maximizes engine and DCT performance for 20 seconds, providing a boost. N Track Sense optimized adaptive shift for the race track.

The N Grin Control System has five different drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, N and Custom. Unlike with a traditional automatic transmission vehicle, in Hyundai vehicles with N DCT, the driver can choose to turn off the creep function. When the creep function is turned "off" and the car is in gear D, the car does not automatically roll forward when the brake pedal is released.

Drivers can switch to manual mode for more control over shift points, utilizing the paddle shifters or gear knob. In manual mode, the downshift memory logic will avoid downshifting during high RPM operation. Memory functionality remembers the command and executes only when the acceptable RPM is reached.

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