Sentra has a lot of luxury touches to love

Nissan is committed to CVTs, and this one's pretty good. If you tap the button in the shifter that turns off the overdrive (meant for good mileage cruising on the highway), you also signal the transmission to keep the engine revved up. It's meant for hilly terrain, Nissan says, but it works nicely as a faux sport mode that lets you coax some extra beans from the modest-power 2-liter engine, rated only 140 horsepower.

Sentra's engine, beyond its underwhelming power, is rackety and whiny at start-up, coarse and unwilling under spur — maddeningly at odds with its smooth silence at idle.

The suspension is tuned more for comfort than crisp handling. Works fine most of the time, even feeling sporty. Until you whiz into a tight corner that's also bumpy, in which case the ride gets harsh momentarily.

Inside, the cloth seats are remarkably comfortable, more so than the leathered chairs in the SL. The feel and appearance of interior materials is considerably better than in Sentras past. Air-conditioning hardware has been relocated from behind the glove box, where it is in most cars, toward the center of the dashboard. That allows a roomier glove box, deep enough for a laptop computer.

In back, the knee room is tight if the front seat is adjusted back for a tall person. But seats are pleasant enough for those who fit.

Folding the back seat momentarily exposes wires and tubes you'd probably prefer covered. And the flat space created by the folded seats isn't level with the trunk floor.

If it weren't for the ugly styling and the cranky-sounding engine, Sentra would be an easy car to applaud, mainly for its driving feel and pleasant furnishings. But it's not necessarily pick of the litter.

As a quick for-instance, for about the same price, the new Volkswagen Rabbit gives you these things Sentra doesn't: manual-shift mode on the automatic transmission; anti-skid and traction controls, plus an electronic locking differential for tough traction situations; one-touch up or down operation of all four power windows; longer warranty.

On the other hand, Rabbit has 4% less passenger space than the Sentra and a 22% lower fuel economy rating in combined city/highway driving.

Other Sentra rivals: Mazda3, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, are all strong contenders.

But Sentra is pleasant to drive, roomy-feeling and, hey, you can live in it.

2007 Nissan Sentra

•What is it? Bigger, more powerful redesign of the brand's front-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger compact sedan. Available with six-speed manual transmission or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Manufactured at Aguascalientes, Mexico.

•How soon? On sale since Oct. 10.

•How much? Base Sentra 2.0 starts at $15,365, including $615 destination charge. Midlevel 2.0S starts at $16,265. High-end SL starts at $19,015 and hits nearly $22,000 with all listed options.

Expect to pay full window-sticker price, more or less, online car-shopping sites say.

•Who'll buy? Nissan calls them Echo boomers — young adults born after 1976 — who have a "morning to morning" lifestyle, sleep only a few hours a day, are social and use their cars as mobile backpacks.

•How many? More than the previous version, which has been running 100,000 to 120,000 per year, but Nissan won't forecast specifically.

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