Many people have approached me inquiring about which SUV to purchase. But watch gas prices spike briefly and suddenly everyone wants to know which economy car to buy.

Talk about a fickle public.

Fickle or not, the Sentra is just one of many small cars competing for your attention.

Redesigned for the 2000 model year, the Sentra has one mission: capture small-car and first-time buyers. The new model, while not a standout, is still a very credible candidate for the fuelish among us.

The Sentra comes as a four-door sub-compact and is available in four trim levels: base XE, mid-level GXE and top-of-the-line SE. A California-only CA model rounds out the line.

Nissan provided an SE model for testing.

While not the styling standouts that the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Jetta are, the Sentra still has a pleasing rounded shape. A rear spoiler and bright red paint, along with a chrome-tipped exhaust, gave the Sentra that I tested some distinction.

One newsroom staff member mistook the vehicle for a new BMW, so obviously the styling endows the Sentra with more sophistication than its predecessor. Maybe it's because the car was designed in good ol' Michigan. Who knows? Nissan's designers did stretch the overall length 6.5 inches and raised the height a full inch.

Despite the additional length, passenger space in the back is about the same as always, somewhat snug. Front seat space is just fine. Seat comfort is also typical. Rear-seat riders will find the backrest somewhat upright, while front seaters will find the bucket seats have good bolstering, even if they do lack thigh support. The driver's seat on the SE model gets many adjustments. It's quite convenient.

The dash is the usual model of efficiency. The SE model gets white-faced gauges that are relatively easy to read. Instruments include a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature. The radio is petite and mounted atop the center of the dash, where it's easy to reach and operate. The climate controls are just below that. The test model had a 6-CD dash-mounted changer that was buried at the bottom of the center stack. Oddly, the power button for the changer works independently of the radio, but the radio still controls the volume of the CD changer.

Power comes from two double-overhead-cam power plants. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder is no slouch, offering 126 horsepower. It's standard on the XE, GXE and CA models.

A 2-liter four-cylinder pumps out 145 horsepower on SE models. While that's an impressive number on paper, you won't win any stoplight grand prix. Power is stronger once up to speed and provides zipping-around-town fun. The 2-liter makes a wonderful, expensive noise when pushed. But engines have always been a Nissan strong point. Both engines have 100,000 mile service intervals.

The power is fed through your choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, with the automatic being standard on CA models.

Brakes are front disc/rear drum on all models except the SE, which gets disc brakes all-around. As is quickly becoming common practice at Nissan, the suspension is independent up front with a beam axle bringing up the rear. Most motorists won't mind the compromise, although it is fairly easy to break the rear loose. Road shock thumps through to a passenger, although the shock is pretty well absorbed. Body lean is in evidence, even in the sporty SE, but grip from the Firestone tires assures the driver. Road noise is subdued, but road, tire and engine noise do filter through.

The test vehicle was well loaded for an economy car, with a sunroof, CD changer, power windows/locks/mirrors and a lovely leather-wrapped steering wheel.

As for economy, the car returned 24 miles to the gallon in an even split of city and highway driving.

The car has a typical Nissan feel, with sporting ride, good engine power and a modestly stylish exterior. While not a standout, the car could easily be con ered alongside the many other competent small cars vying for your attention.

Consider your question answered.