After all, what’s not to like? Outside, it looks like the stylish Altima, minus the steroids.

This year’s redesigned Sentra, built on Nissan’s new C platform, adds 6 in. to the wheelbase. It’s also several inches wider and taller. The rich-looking polished granite exterior, smart halogen headlights, and sexy tail lamps make it look like a more-expensive model. The beige cloth interior, however, lets the cat out of the bag. This car cries out for leather or at least another interior color. But then I’ve never been the beige sort. Otherwise, fit and finish are good. And front-seat passengers have lots of head and shoulder room, but legroom is scarce in the back. A divider in the 13-cu ft trunk hides valuables.

I was so averse to the interior (and an unpleasant odor of mysterious origin), it took me three days to appreciate the Sentra for what it is: a stylish, economical, and comfortable vehicle that’s fun to drive. The keyless ignition may be an attractive feature, but the plastic cover over the ignition feels cheap. A port in the cover lets the driver use a key hidden in the fob to start the car if the fob battery goes dead. (You still have to turn the ignition, but as long as the fob is inside the vehicle, you don’t need the key.)

The continuously variable transmission, hitched to a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, is super smooth and surprisingly responsive. The Sentra can also be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission. My only concern was that by the time I remembered there’s no second, third, or any other gear to remind me to let off the gas, I’d be having a conversation with a state trooper I had just blown past. EPA gives this model a 29 (city) and 36-mpg (highway) rating but I was only getting about 30 on the interstate.

The exhaust note won’t stir your blood but 140 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque will get you on the freeway with no worries. The ride is firm and quiet, and braking and handling are good for an economy sedan. A base price of $16,450 buys torsion-beam rear suspension and independent- strut front suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, power-assisted vented front disc/rear drum brakes, power steering, tachometer, halogen headlights, six-speaker AM/FM/CD, speed-sensitive audio volume, radio data system, and 60/40 fold-flat rear seat. Our tester had the so-called Convenience Plus Package ($900) including a CVT Bluetooth hands-free phone system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, divide-n-hide trunk system with hidden compartment and cargo net, and keyless ignition. Another $600 buys 16-in. alloy wheels, ABS, and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD). A delivery charge of $615 brought this one to $18,565.

Assuming the untraceable odor is unique to our vehicle, all Nissan needs to do is upgrade the interior and this is a class contender.

— Patrick Mahoney

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2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0 S