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2013 Nissan Sentra covers the bases

In a perfect world, compact sedans would hit 40 mpg on the highway, accommodate four adults in comfort, embrace the latest technology and be as spirited as an MX-5 Miata.  
 
As a week in the 2013 Nissan Sentra proves, though, three out of four ain’t bad. 
 
The new Sentra ($16,780, with destination) offers best-in-class economy and a truly adult-worthy back seat. Up front, the available NissanConnect system adds handsfree text assistance, Bluetooth streaming audio and assorted Google mapping functions.
 
Economy, comfort and tech. Bases covered. 
 
Performance not so much. In most cases, the Sentra’s 1.8-liter, 130-horsepower engine is paired with a thrifty continuously variable transmission (CVT) and returns EPA numbers of 30 city/39 highway.
 
FE+, A high-mileage options package available on lower trims, adds wind-cheating spoilers, low-rolling-resistance tires and under-body air splitters. Mileage gets a mild — but marketable — bump to 30/40/34.
 
Acceleration is predictably casual. 
 
The new Sentra’s exterior borrows liberally from the midsize Altima. Nissan’s new signature design elements — the trapezoid grill, wraparound headlights and LED headlight accents — are present and accounted for. Such touches as chrome door handles and optional heated mirrors with integrated turn signals project a professionalism sought by upwardly mobile owners, says Nissan.
 
Inside, the updated cabin features new soft-touch materials and a generally upscale atmosphere. The Sentra’s new, lower beltline increases window size and lends the cabin an open feel. A chrome-trimmed waterfall console houses a well-organized instrument panel and flows into an abbreviated center console.
 
The Sentra’s oversized glove compartment remains, but additional cabin storage is scant.
 
Most drivers will enjoy sufficient leg- and headroom, though the optional moonroof reduces headroom. Rear seating is generous for the class, although here, too, headroom is limited. The trunk is as big as those typically found in the midsize segment. The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo space.
 
Standard equipment on the modestly equipped S trim includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a four-speaker audio system. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the S. The CVT can be had for another $1,270.
 
Nissan committed itself to the CVT a while back and builds some of the best in the business. Hints persist of the elastic, rubber-band feel common to CTVs, but few drivers will notice or care. 
 
Assorted options packages available on upper trims add amenities like keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and satellite radio. New this year is the Smart Auto Headlights system. After four sweeps of the windshield wipers, the headlights turn on automatically.
 
The cabin redesign is mostly effective, though our tester’s gray-and-dun color scheme lacked vitality and the surface textures had a mix-and-match feel. Seat comfort is good at all four positions.
 
Sentra’s ride-and-handling package favors comfort at the expense of performance. Expect a relaxed highway drive and body lean in the corners. 
 
The perfect car doesn’t exist, especially at this price point. But the Sentra hits the right marks in the compact-sedan canon. Three out of four ain’t bad. Not bad, at all.
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com
 
2013 Nissan Sentra SV
Vehicle base price: $15,990
Trim level base price: $17,970
As tested: $20,635
Optional equipment included keyless entry and ignition; Smart Auto headlights; Bluetooth phone and audio streaming; satellite radio; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; Tire Pressure Monitoring system; voice-activated navigation; NavTraffic and NavWeather; handsfree text messaging assistant; rearview monitor.
EPA ratings: 30 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified