Nissan's redesigned Sentra economy-sport sedan is in many respects a "mini-me" version of the current Maxima. It shares similar styling -- and like the current Maxima, its former aggressiveness has been toned down somewhat in favor of things like a larger, much more comfortable interior. But the Sentra still delivers respectable performance/sporty driving characteristics -- especially when ordered in S trim with the available six-speed manual transmission.

As such, it's a distinct alternative to completely vanilla economy sedans on the one hand -- and stiff-riding, winged-up boy-racer cop bait on the other.

To provide a bigger cabin, the '07 Sentra rides on a wheelbase that's six inches longer than the previous version -- almost enough of a stretch job to qualify this technically "compact" sedan as a mid-sized sedan. The body's much taller, too (by some four inches) than previously -- and four inches wider. These changes give the Sentra segment-leading interior space for front seat occupants -- and a much more serviceable back seat area. The old Sentra may have been more of an enthusiast driver's car, but simply could not cut it as a family car. This one can. There's better-than-average room for other-than-human cargo, too -- including a large-for-this-class 13.1 cubic foot trunk (with a clever hidden storage/divider system), as well as oversized glovebox and center console storage area -- plus a number of nooks and crannies carved into the interior panels (including a roof console CD storage system that can handle eight compact discs).

Four large adults and their gear can fit inside the new Sentra -- and remain comfortable for a drive of several hours' duration. In the old Sentra, you risked everything from deep vein thrombosis to a Skinner Box-like riot if you tried to stuff four victims into the thing for a long ride.

Value's also a strong suit for the new Sentra; the base model ($14,570) comes with 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks -- as well as side-impact and curtain air bags. (ABS is, however, optional equipment). The sport-oriented S version ($15,650) adds 16-inch alloy wheels with more aggressive tires, plus remote keyless entry, an upgraded stereo system and trim upgrades, etc. At the top-of-the-line, there's the SL ($18,400) which is getting pricey for a car of this type -- but it's available for those who want things like leather seats, keyless ignition and Bluetooth wireless.

An Audio Fanatic 340 watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo with eight speakers, Sirius satellite and MP3 capability is available -- but GPS isn't. Several competitors -- including Mazda and Honda -- offer GPS in their lower-priced/entry level models; NIssan may have made a mistake by not at least putting GPS on the options list. Satellite navigation is a major draw -- even a "must have" feature for many buyers. Unfortunately, it's a "can't have" deal here.

All Sentras come standard with a revised (and more powerful than before) 2 liter, four-cylinder engine that's rated at 140 horsepower -- a decent upgrade over last year's 1.8 liter, 126-hp engine.

Buyers can choose either the standard (in all but SL trims) six-speed manual transaxle or the optional CVT automatic (standard in the SL).

Nissan's committed itself in a very big way to the CVT -- which is now the standard/only transmission in several models, from the Murano crossover to the Maxima sedan. The CVT's chief attractions over a conventional automatic are better fuel economy potential and no "shift shock" between gear changes. Step on the gas, and the engine revs up like a turbine, with the transmission holding the RPMs at the just the right spot in the powerband for optimum acceleration. The usual progression of up-shifting from first to second to third, etc., is eliminated -- as are the coffee-spilling surges that often accompany hard, full-throttle up and downshifts in a car equipped with a conventional automatic.

But there are downsides -- including a good bit of engine/drivetrain noise and (for those not used to the operating characteristics of a CVT) the feeling that maybe the transmission is "slipping." The latter is easy enough to get used to; but the former (excess noise) is a factor you'd be advised to check out (via an extended test drive) before you decide to go with the CVT over the six-speed manual.

Also, performance with the CVT's a bit flat. The Sentra needs just over 9 seconds to make 60 mph. Over 70 mph and it begins to feel strained; getting it close to triple digits is challenging.

It's true the speed limit's well below the Sentra's all-out capability -- but when a car is getting close to "given' er all she's got, cap'n!" to get near 100 mph, all out, attempting a fast pass at 65 can require a bit more nerve (and room) than it ought to.

Just food for thought.

And something to consider when you test drive the Sentra.

Enthusiast drivers may want to wait a couple of months for the mid-year introduction of the SE-R version of the Sentra, which will pack significantly more power (expect around 170 hp) plus suspension and trim/appearance enhancements.

The addition of 20-30 horsepower (or more) would transform the Sentra -- and make it at least as much fun to drive as it is comfortable to drive.