Sentra has a lot of luxury touches to love

Hoping to appeal to the so-called Echo boomers, Nissan is pitching its redesigned 2007 Sentra compact sedan as a car in which you could live.

Not that the target buyers are homeless, Nissan says, just that they're kinetic, go-do-move young adults, born after 1976, whose demands on a car might, in fact, include using it as a temporary shelter.

Sentra is worth a hard look. The test cars were (with a few exceptions), smooth, refined and feature-laden beyond what you'd expect in their $15,000 to $22,000 price range. And roomier than rivals.

PHOTOS/AUDIO:Sentra with Healey's comments

First, though, you have to like, or accept, the look. The fat, flat rear flank emulates the Nissan Maxima and is an ugly, ungainly look — although reasonable people often disagree on matters of taste.

Inside, it becomes easy to appreciate the improved fuel economy, engaging driving feel, pleasant interior ambiance and general handiness. Among Sentra's thoughtful and premium touches:

•Electric power steering. That costly system usually is reserved for more expensive cars. Works nicely on the Sentra, providing good on-center feel and quick response when the driver demands. It saves fuel because the engine isn't turning a belt for the power steering pump.

•Liquid-filled engine mounts. Also usually saved for higher-price cars, the devices cradle the engine and calm its vibrations and noises. At idle, the engine is eerily quiet and vibration-free.

•Trunk divider. It's an optional, movable bulkhead that separates the part of the trunk that's immediately behind the rear seat from the rest of it. You can keep the trunk's permanent residents — jumper cables, soccer ball, change of clothes — ahead of the divider. You can put groceries and other temporary cargo in the main part of the trunk.

When it's time to fold down the back seat to expand cargo space, the divider folds onto the trunk floor via a single, finger-tip latch.

•Handy storage. See-through net pockets on the backs of the front seats mean guests are less likely to leave behind cargo because they can see it.

•Bluetooth link. It's an uncommon option on lower-price cars. Bluetooth is the technology that automatically and wirelessly connects Bluetooth-compatible cellphones, enabling hands-free, voice-activated use.

•Proximity key. Standard on SL, optional on S, it allows you to simply turn the ignition switch without first inserting a key. And the doors unlock when you have the key in your pocket or nearby, without pushing the remote lock control or inserting the key in the lock. Handy when your hands are full and seldom seen south of the premium market.

•Premium feel. Windshield-wiper and climate-control switches operate as if they came from a luxury car. Optional leather-covered steering wheel gives your palms deluxe treatment without forcing you to order the whole dead-cow-covered interior.

On the other hand:

You can't get stability control at any price. Nissan thinks buyers are interested in an optional Rockford Fosgate high-end audio system but not in an anti-skid device that could keep them alive to hear it.

Anti-lock brakes, one of the most basic safety technologies, are optional, not standard. Traction control isn't available.

Two test vehicles driven around here and in the suburbs of Northern Virginia were similar to what most people will buy, 2.0S with continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A third tester was a high-end SL with leather upholstery and CVT.

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