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Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Sentra is Lesley Wimbush's choice for best small car under $21,000.

Top pick: Nissan Sentra, $20,083

If this were a horse race, a tattoo check might be in order. So clearly does the Sentra outclass the competition, it could well be accused of being a ringer.

The new 7th-generation Sentra trades its traditional jelly-bean looks for a more sophisticated image, with standard LED head and tail lamps and a cabin that features soft-touch materials and premium gauges. Rear legroom increases to 950 mm ? more than Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Mazda3. Most importantly, a new 130 hp, 128 lb.-ft., 1.8 L engine and CVT combination help Sentra achieve a class-leading 5.8 L/100 km combined fuel economy.

We like:

-Well-executed cabin punches well above its weight, with soft-touch materials and premium-look Electroluminescent gauges

-Quiet, composed and completely drama-free, the Sentra goes where you want it in a completely respectable manner

-Standard LED head and tail lamps add an upscale touch

Mazda3 Skyactiv, $20,895

Mazda?s venerable 3 returns, equipped with fuel-saving SkyActiv technology that helps it achieve 6.1 L/100 km. The Mazda3 has long been a segment favourite.

We like:

-Joyous, nimble handling and great steering

-Impressive technology delivers great fuel economy

-Roomy cabin, straight-forward, well-designed

Dodge Dart, $20,895

A fusion of Italian character and Detroit attitude that?s one of the first fruits of the Chrysler-Fiat collaboration, the Dart blends a surprisingly upscale drive experience with a modicum of fun.

We like:

-Stiff chassis, neutral handling and surprisingly decent steering feedback

-Steel shifter ball fits perfectly in the palm of the hand

-Nicely equipped for an entry-level car, with a spacious, comfortable cabin.

Toyota Prius C, $20,950

The forerunner of the hybrid segment is reworked as a handy little hatchback, with sharp, fun styling belying its conservative roots.

We like:

-Outstanding fuel economy and the reduced emissions

-Reasonably priced for a hybrid compact car

-Pleasant driving experience with utility of a hatchback

Kia Rio LX, $16,695

The Rio has evolved from a humble econo-box into a value-laden, yet stylish, compact.

We like:

-European esthetic to the cabin?s uncluttered design.

-Eco system remaps throttle response and shift points for better fuel economy.

-Sharp styling re-shapes expectations for this segment

  • Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra
  • Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra
  • Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra
  • Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra
  • Best small car under $21,000: Nissan Sentra

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