Enthusiasts will undoubtedly prefer the more powerful SE-R Spec V (especially since it adds a proper manual transmission), but for those who want some sporty flair in a daily driver, this may be your Sentra. The monochromatic exterior is attractive, the 2.0-liter plenty peppy, and although odd, the CVT does allow those who haven't mastered three pedals a crack behind the wheel. Better yet? Those in colder climates won't immediately have to spring for a new set of tires (the Spec V comes standard with summer performance rubber).
As Eric noted, our test car came relatively well equipped for $22,000 -- Nissan's iPod controls worked well, and I was very impressed with the display and interface on the company's new "budget" navigation system. An extra $3000 may buy a Volkswagen GTI -- and an extra heaping of power and sophistication along with it -- but those features will help push the price tag into the $30,000 realm. So long as you're not looking for a compact sedan that'll double as a track toy, the SE-R remains an interesting -- and relatively affordable -- option.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer