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Quick Spin: Nissan Sentra solid, but not special

Tech Specs

2014 Nissan Sentra SL

Base Price: $24,198; as tested, $26,065

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Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder

Transmission/drive: Continuously Variable Transmission/front-wheel drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.6 city; 5.0 highway

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Ford Fusion, Chev Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Dodge Dart, Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta.

Performance

7.0 It's softer and less responsive than a Civic or Corolla, but not by much. Think of a compact Buick. Handling is marginally better than the base versions, thanks to larger 17-inch wheels and tires, but this is not a road rocket or corner-carver.

Looks

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8.0 Appropriate for this market. Not ugly, but pretty bland. It conveys a slightly upscale image, but is definitely not pulse-raising. The Sentra is what the Altima used to be years ago. There's a sense that maintaining the corporate "look" – the front grille, etc. – is more important to Nissan than adventures in styling with this one.

Interior

9.0 Maybe the Sentra's strongest point. Interior elbow-room is one of the best in this category, with a larger trunk than any of its direct Japanese/Korean rivals. Interior highlights of the SL include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rear-view camera, and Sirius satellite radio. All of which combine to give the SL a moderately upmarket ambience.

Technology

7.0 There's plenty of pep from the 130-hp engine, with decent – but not great – fuel economy. There is an overdrive setting on the CVT and it helps during highway driving, but without it, around-town driving, especially during cold starts, is mainly sound and fury. Alas, the SL is not available with anything else. Pity, because the six-speed manual offered with the S and SV models is more versatile. That said, the CVT does offer slightly better fuel economy.

The Verdict

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8.0: The top-of-the-line Sentra is a well-equipped, surprisingly agreeable package. It's head and shoulders above what it used to be, now that Versa/Micra have taken over the entry level end of Nissan's lineup, and for those seeking a bread-and-butter commuter-mobile with a few extras thrown in, it's right on target. More to the point, it doesn't feel entry-level or built to a price. Is it better than the competition? Probably not, but it's certainly equal.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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