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2020 Nissan Sentra SR. Photo: Nissan

I drove the 2020 Nissan Sentra SR, a car that actually made me do a double-take.

My thought bubble: The Sentra is the kind of value-priced econobox you'd rent in Omaha — or so I thought — until a sporty-looking orange-and-black number showed up in my driveway. That's a Sentra?

  • It looks like a miniature Nissan Maxima, with an athletic stance and tastefully appealing interior.

The big picture: It's hard to compete with the Honda Civic, which has long dominated the compact sedan market and is due to be updated next year. Even the Toyota Corolla, also redesigned for 2020, has struggled to keep up.

  • Nissan upped its game with the 2020 Sentra and it shows.

Details: The Sentra's attractive makeover is attributed to a new platform that allows better proportions; it's about two inches lower and two inches wider than its predecessor.

  • It gets a new 149-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and a new independent rear suspension, which gives the Sentra a smoother ride.

Driver assistance features are standard, a trend that is becoming more common in lower priced cars.

  • Nissan's technologies are packaged together in what it calls Safety Shield 360.
  • It includes both forward and reverse automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and automatic high beams.
  • It doesn't help steer; it just warns you if you're drifting out of the lane.
  • Higher-priced version like the SV and SR trims add adaptive cruise control, which helps you maintain a safe distance from the car in front.

The value is hard to beat: Starting at $19,090, the Sentra is cheaper than the Civic. The SR I drove, with an extra premium package, topped out at $25,825.

Go deeper

Judge temporarily blocks Biden vaccine mandate for federal contractors

President Biden delivers remarks at the White House on Dec. 6 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal contractors nationwide.

Why it matters: It's the latest setback in the Biden administration's rollout of COVID vaccine requirements. Federal judges in two states temporarily barred the administration from enforcing mandates for millions of workers last week.

Biden threatens Putin

Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a video call that lasted for just over two hours on Tuesday, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if Russia invades Ukraine the U.S. will impose unprecedented sanctions and provide additional weaponry to the Ukrainians, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

Why it matters: Russia's military activity on the border with Ukraine has triggered alarms from the U.S. and its European allies of a potential large-scale Russian invasion in early 2022. Sullivan said Biden made clear to Putin that, "things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now."

Senate leaders sell members on debt limit deal

Sen. Chuck Schumer (L) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are urging their respective caucuses to back a deal that would clear a path to raising the debt ceiling.

Driving the news: The agreement, negotiated by the two leaders and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), involves Congress passing a law allowing a one-time rule change so the Senate can raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 typically needed to overcome the filibuster.