Compact Nissan Sentra works well for families

2010 Nissan Sentra front image 2010 Nissan Sentra front image Photo Credit: Kristin Varela / Motherproof.com

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The Nissan Sentra is one of those cars that worked just fine for my small family and even had a few surprising niceties, but it will completely disappear from my memory within a week's time.

With its four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission, this car has the sensation of being sluggish upon initial acceleration. If you try to coax it into going faster the CVT grumbles with a loud revving noise. The rest of the ride quality was fine.

The Sentra starts at $15,420. The base price of my test car, a Sentra SL, was $18,560, and with the addition of splash guards, floormats, the Premium Plus Package (including a moonroof, illuminated vanity mirrors and heated seats) and leather seats, my test car came in at a grand total of $21,060. That's a darn good value if I do say so myself.

Exterior

There's nothing seriously wrong with the Sentra. Its styling has been revised for 2010, and it's a nice-enough-looking car. But there's nothing notable about it, either.

Because it's a sedan, the Sentra has a low step-in height. Opening doors and climbing in and out of the Sentra is easy enough for little ones. For older people, the seats are at the perfect height for sliding right in without having to climb or stoop.

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Stops at the gas station were few during my test drive because the Sentra gets an EPA-estimated 26/34 mpg city/highway. It has a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine that uses regular gas.

Interior

The Sentra SL's interior had a few pleasant surprises such as keyless entry, push-button start and leather seats. The leather seats are part of a $700 Leather Package and are worth it if you ever plan to have kids in this car because they make cleanup so much easier.

My children loved the rear armrest between their two booster seats that had two cupholders in it (one holds a 20-ounce bottle while the other fits a 32-ounce cup), and I appreciated the two adjustable cupholders in the front seats and extra storage space for my cell phone in the center console. An additional storage compartment located above the radio controls was a nice space for overflow items like lip gloss. The large glove box stashed my new iPad safely out of view.

My kids seemed to have plenty of legroom in the back seat. I'm only 5 feet 3 inches tall, so I keep the driver's seat pulled pretty far forward.

The cargo space in the five-seater is quite large and usable. There's plenty of space for all the stuff a family needs to haul, including groceries, sports equipment and more. There's even a partition in the trunk that can be used to form two compartments, so your son's nasty cleats are separated from the roasted chicken that you picked after soccer practice. The 60/40-split folding rear seats accommodate random trips to the home improvement store.

Safety

Buckling up independently was easy for my little ladies because of solid seat belt receptors and enough seat width to comfortably fit large boosters without covering the buckles. However, for those parents who want to use the Latch system to install their child-safety seats, good luck. The two sets of Latch connectors are tightly buried in the seats.

The Sentra has standard antilock brakes, traction control and stability control. It also has standard front- and side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtain airbags for both rows. A standard tire-pressure monitoring system and vehicle immobilizer system are both great features, too.

2010 Nissan Sentra sense and style Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): None Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

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