The 2014 Nissan Sentra is all grown up. A modern compact sedan bordering on midsize territory, the stylish Sentra offers room, comfort, style and features, all at a very competitive price.

Although it competes with the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the newest Sentra charts a decidedly different course. It's quieter than Sentras of old and bigger, too, especially in back. Crucially, it's also much more fuel efficient, yielding an estimated 30 miles per gallon city/39 mpg hwy (40 mpg hwy with the FE+ package).

One potential drawback is that the Sentra's mandatory 1.8-liter engine is less powerful than most everything else in this class. That might not mean much to those who care more about fuel economy than power until the need to overtake slower-moving traffic or merge onto a busy freeway arises.

Still, in every other category that matters, Nissan's newest compact comes up smelling like a rose. We think it's the company's most well-rounded small sedan in years.

What's New for 2014?

The available navigation system now includes NissanConnect apps, allowing for smartphone integration with Apple and Android phones. A number of engineering improvements help quiet the cabin from engine noise, as well as improve the Sentra's steering feel, ride and handling.

What We Like

Spacious interior; strong fuel economy; agreeable ride; attractively priced; user-friendly navigation and instruments

What We Don't

Not a speed demon; cheaper models sparsely equipped; no 5-door hatchback or performance-oriented model

How Much?

$16,800-$24,000

Fuel Economy

Every Sentra is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that produces 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. That's about what the Corolla gets out of its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, but almost every other engine in this class has more juice. Still, the Sentra barely weighs 2,800 pounds, so it generally keeps up with traffic well enough.

In most Sentras, the little 1.8 will be overseen by a gearless, continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). While the base Sentra S offers a 6-speed manual transmission, the rest of the lineup comes only with the CVT. Nissan's been building CVTs for a while now, and this one is a good match for the humble motor, delivering nearly seamless acceleration.

Fuel economy estimates for mainstream models with the CVT are very good at 30 mpg city/39 mpg hwy. The CVT-only FE+ package creeps up to 40 mpg hwy, while the 6-speed manual drops to a more pedestrian 27/36 mpg.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Nissan Sentra is offered in six trims: S, FE+S, SV, FE+SV, SR and SL. Only the base S trim offers a manual transmission; all others employ a CVT.

The Sentra S ($16,800) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, LED headlight and taillight accents, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack.

The Sentra FE+S ($18,000) adds the CVT, a rear spoiler and low-rolling resistance tires.

The Sentra SV ($18,300) features cruise control, a 6-speaker audio system (still lacking USB/Bluetooth), illuminated steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a security system and upgraded cloth trim.

The Sentra FE+SV ($18,700) has the same features as the SV plus a rear spoiler and low-rolling resistance tires.

The Sentra SR ($19,500) includes 17-in alloy wheels, more aggressive front and rear fascias, side-sill extensions, a rear spoiler, fog lights, a chrome exhaust tip, a special silver interior trim and unique sport-cloth upholstery.

The Sentra SL ($20,400) is stocked with different 17-in alloys, automatic headlights, heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, keyless entry with push-button start, leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim, wood-tone interior accents, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 4.3-in audio display with SiriusXM satellite radio (subscription sold separately) and USB/Bluetooth connectivity.

Five option packages are offered on various trims. The SV Driver's Package has Bluetooth, Intelligent Key with push-button start, automatic headlights, a 6-speaker upgrade, a tire-pressure monitor and an AM/FM/CD stereo with satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface. The SR Driver's Package is the same, only it adds rear disc brakes. The Navigation Package features a navigation radio, a rearview monitor, Bluetooth streaming audio, NissanConnect apps and SiriusXM Travel Link. The Premium Package adds a powered glass moonroof and an 8-speaker Bose audio system, while the SL Leather Package has leather seat trim, heated front seats and rear disc brakes.

Safety

The 2013 Nissan Sentra comes with anti-lock brakes that use front discs and rear drums. Cheaper and simpler than disc brakes, rear drum brakes are a common feature on entry-level economy cars, but you want discs if you can help it. To this end, note that the Sentra S and SV models come only with rear drums, while the SR and SL have standard rear drums but can be equipped with discs all around if you pay extra.

Every Sentra is outfitted with six airbags (front, front-side and full-length side curtain).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2014 Nissan Sentra an overall score of four out of five stars, with four stars awarded in the front and rollover tests and five stars in the side impact test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Sentra Good scores in all but its small overlap front crash test, which earned the Sentra a Poor rating.

Behind the Wheel

Unlike some rivals, the Sentra doesn't aspire to be sporty or aggressive on the road. Even the smartly dressed SR is really the same agreeable Sentra underneath. This Nissan just provides comfortable basic transportation, highlighted by a relatively quiet, compliant ride. Handling is adequately composed in emergency maneuvers, but the Sentra is all about setting it and forgetting it. If you're simply looking for an affordable sedan that'll get you through the daily commute with minimal fuss, the 2014 Sentra hits most of the right notes.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Cruze -- The Cruze has an older feel inside than the Sentra, but its handling is sharper, and the turbocharged motor pairs nicely with the manual shifter in the Cruze Eco.

Dodge Dart -- With a chassis by Alfa Romeo, an available turbocharged engine borrowed from the FIAT 500 Abarth and an interior by Chrysler, the new Dart is an intriguing intercontinental mix.

Hyundai Elantra -- A direct rival to the Sentra in terms of both power and fuel economy, the Elantra offers distinctive style and a more generous feature set.

AutoTrader's Advice

As Nissan rightly points out in its marketing materials, the Sentra is a good deal, with even the SL starting at a hair under $20,500. We'd make ours an SL with the Leather Package, which is the only way to get rear disc brakes on the SL, and we'd still be out the door for an MSRP of less than $21,500. That's refreshing.

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