2010 Nissan Sentras: Ordinary People Movers Reviewed

Nissan's Sentra--a front-drive, compact sedan--was redesigned for 2007.  The result:  a transformer-robot exterior, ersatz 1959 Cadillac grille and goofy tiny side-view mirrors.  The interior's dot-effect seat fabric is playful, though; the Spec V adds sporty red accents and bolstered front seats.

Nissan revised the Sentra's fascia for 2010; it now offers optional stability control. Inside, tall drivers find adequate leg and headroom.  The distant steering wheel tilts, but doesn't telescope.  Interior surfaces:  a mixture of textured plastics.  Some cast annoying windshield reflections.  Many pieces are hard and unpleasant.  Controls work well.  However, the car's amber-light, liquid crystal displays lack contrast.  Heater performance was good; defrosting needs improvement.  Back seat drivers sit on flat cushions.

There's a wireless key fob.  Carry it and you start the engine, by twisting a switch. The 2.0-liter, 140-hp engine can be attached to an automated continuously variable transmission.  A CVT's wide gear ratios should improve fuel economy.  It works, but sometimes lets the engine whine annoyingly.  It also bumped (slowing down) and lurched (turning takeoff). In contrast, the Spec V's 2.5-liter, 200-hp mill and clumsy-shifting, six-speed manual tranny were lively.

Sentras ride softly.  Steering is lackluster.  Its initially firm, becomes too light off center, and then stiffens, as one tightens the arc.  Add excessive body roll and you've got a sloppy, tipsy handling buggy.  The sports-tuned V is better.  Stability control or Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control is recommended.  It's found on the 2.0 SL, SE-R and SE-R Spec V.  Standard antilock brakes worked well.

Nit-picker's delight:  CVT-shifter console doesn't indicate mode, muddy sounding radio and unsightly, exposed trunk floor.  Pluses:  big glove box and three nicely spaced climate-control knobs; 2.0 model's rear-seat backs fold flat.

The CVT's fuel economy, during a wintry drive: 21 mpg.  EPAs estimates: 29 mpg city; 36 hwy.  In contrast, the horsey 2.5-liter delivered 27.  Estimates:  21 city and 29 hwy.

Nissan has new prices.  They were $18,600 for the 2.0 S with CVT, which includes cruise control, a trunk divider and alloy wheels.  A Spec V was $22,000.

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