THE COLOR WAS "platinum gold," which was no color at all. Insunlight, it looked gray. At night, it looked white. Anyway you lookedat the 1995 Nissan Sentra GXE sedan, it didn't look right.Nissan should've painted it vanilla, perhaps "rich vanilla." Thatwould've captured its spirit and styling.Look at the Sentra's "all-new" body. It's an oval trying to becomea square. Or maybe it's the other way around. But it's not exciting, noris it distinguishable from many other small cars in the U.S. automarket. It's pure vanilla.Ditto the Sentra's "all-new" interior. It's improved, butremains a yawn. There's an oval, hooded instrument panel with analoggauges. There's a center console festooned with dials and buttons tooperate the climate control and sound systems.The instrument panel and console are arranged pretty much theway they were in previous Sentras. But they're a bit rounder thanbefore, and a bit easier to see and use. But still boring as . . . .Well, they're just blah, which is in keeping with the rest of the testcar's grayer-than-thou interior.Aw, but what am I gripin' about? Though it's a compact car, thenew Sentra sedan has lots of interior room, thanks to a design changethat's added 4.1 inches to its wheelbase. And though it's no hot rod,the new Sentra is reasonably competent on the road, especially on shortcommuter trips. Besides, I kinda like vanilla anyway.Background: The 1995 Sentra is the grandchild of the Datsun510, a small Nissan sedan introduced in 1968. The Sentra name itselffirst appeared in 1982. Since then there have been three iterations ofthe little car, the latest of which is represented by the current model.This newest Sentra is better made than its predecessors, whichis saying something, because so many older Sentras are still runningaround. The new car has a substantially more rigid body than the 1994model. That means it's less inclined to squeak and rumble.All Sentras are front-wheel-drive, five-passenger mobiles.They're equipped with a standard, 1.6-liter, double-overhead cam,four-cylinder, 16-valve engine rated, ahem, 115-horsepower at 6,000 rpm.That's a slight improvement over the older 110-horsepower version of thesame engine. Torque on the new model is 108-pound feet at 4,000 rpm.The standard transmission is a five-speed manual. A four-speedautomatic is optional. I'd advise going with the manual -- the automatictransmission simply works that little engine too hard.Dual air bags and pillar-adjustable front shoulder harnesses andseat belts are standard. Standard brakes include power front discs/reardrums. The anti-lock braking system is optional and is sold with afour-wheel disc-brake package.The Sentras are available in four trim levels: base, less-baseXE, upscale GXE and more upscale GLE. Keep in mind that the Sentraessentially is an economy car, and that trim has little to do withperformance.Complaints: Enough said.Praise: A solid, practical little car that offers reliable andpotentially enjoyable experiences to people who understand that it'sjust a solid, practical little car. An excellent commuter that alsocomes with decent cargo space, 10.7 cubic feet.Head-turning quotient: The Sentra is car as dungaree. It's aT-shirt -- and a dry one at that. People who are looking for party suitsand sexy clothes should shop for something else.Ride, acceleration and handling: Good, lousy and acceptable inthat order. This car, especially when equipped with the four-speedautomatic, does 0 to 60 miles per hour eventually. Braking was good.Mileage: Superior, which is why people buy the Sentra in thefirst place. About 37 miles per gallon with the tested four-speedautomatic (13.2-gallon tank, estimated 476-mile range on usable volumeof regular unleaded), running mostly highway with three occupants andlight cargo.Sound system: Dolby four-speaker, AM/FM stereo radio andcassette. Good.Pr ice: Base price on the four-speed automatic Sentra GXE is$14,679. Dealer's invoice on base model is $13,154. Add $995 for theanti-lock brake option and another $405 for the destination charge.Price as tested is $16,079.Purse-strings note: The Sentra is surrounded by competitors.Compare with Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire, Ford Escort, MazdaProtege, Geo Prizm/Toyota Corolla, Chrysler Neon, Hyundai Accent, HondaCivic, Mitsubishi Mirage ES Sedan/Eagle Summit, Subaru Impreza andSaturn SL1 and SL2.
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