Meatloaf? Mac and cheese? Mama’s fried chicken? Everyone has a favorite comfort food, especially in times of stress. For me, I prefer comfort cars: tried-and-true chariots, loaded with just enough excitement to keep things interesting. Here are three of my faves.
Mpg: 29 city/39 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9.2 seconds
The first Nissan Sentra landed on U.S. shores in 1982, back when “Dynasty” and “Dallas” ruled the airwaves. Snarky Alexis may have had a ritzy Rolls-Royce, but today’s Sentra—completely redesigned for 2020—offers a lot more bells and whistles. The striking design mimics the larger Altima and Maxima sedans, with a V-shaped grille and dramatically curved headlights. This updated subcompact is lower and wider than the previous model, giving it a more muscular stance. There also are some nifty exterior colors: Electric Blue, Rosewood and Scarlet Ember, to name a few. And for the first time, two-tone color combinations are available. Inside, the cabin gets a much-needed makeover, filled with high-quality materials, optional 8-inch touchscreen and a racy flat-bottom steering wheel. Three trim levels are all powered by a new four-cylinder, 149-hp engine that is adequate—but not exactly thrilling. Still, fuel economy is impressive, and overall handling and braking have improved. Standard safety features include blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and automatic braking. Options include bigger tires, heated seats, Bose audio and more. For anyone hoping to save enough and emulate J.R. Ewing’s lifestyle someday, there’s a lot of value here. After all, the average price of a car today is close to $38,000—about twice the cost of a base-model Sentra.
Mpg: 22 city/32 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6 seconds
Toyota’s flagship sedan—the full-size Avalon sedan—has been around since 1994. But it wasn’t until a 2015 facelift that this four-door land yacht could be considered somewhat sporty. A complete redo rolled into dealer showrooms a few years later, with a daring design and punchy powertrain. This year there’s a new TRD trim level, full of more bells and whistles. Yet even regular trims offer plenty of pizzazz: LED headlights, keyless entry/ignition, heated seats and advanced safety features. The 9-inch touchscreen is especially nice, part of a center stack of user-friendly switchgear. Along with a roomy cabin loaded with cupholders, the trunk can handle a decent amount of gear. And somehow Toyota has combined an exceedingly comfy ride with performance-like handling. Alas, the low roofline can impinge on taller passengers. And while fuel economy is decent, you’ll need the hybrid version to really bump up gas mileage. As for the TRD trim level, spicy is the word: stiffer suspension, better brakes, 19-inch wheels and a crackling dual-exhaust system that will wake the dead. It also comes with a trendy black and gray cabin, accented with red seatbelts, red edging on the floor mats, and red stitching on the seats, steering wheel and gearshift. Yes, springing for the TRD adds $4,000 to the deal. But trust me, you’ll turn just as many heads with this souped-up Avalon as with a hepped-up exotic car.
Mpg: 24 city/35 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.1 seconds
Compared with the Nissan Sentra and Toyota Avalon, the Mercedes A220 appears to be the new kid on the block. But this all-new subcompact sedan simply continues the high standards set by Carl Benz when he developed the world’s first production car in 1885. Yikes, talk about provenance! The A220 is the first A-Class vehicle in the United States. It’s also the smallest and least expensive Mercedes available. But it boasts the automaker’s trademark styling, sublime handling and poised performance. Acceleration may be slower than some competitors, and fuel efficiency falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. But steering is superb, and the richly appointed cabin is dazzling. Amenities include form-fitting seats, panoramic sunroof, head-up display, massaging seats and 12-speaker Burmester stereo. Unfortunately, the trunk is relatively tiny, so be sure to pack light. A high-performance AMG A35 model amps up the fun, with a 302-hp engine, all-wheel drive and seductive exhaust growl. At $46,000, it also amps up the price. Add in various options, such as enhanced navigation, driver assistance and other packages, and suddenly you’re at $50,000-plus. It may be cold comfort, but that’s a bargain when you consider how many AMG models easily top $100,000.