The small car market is a voracious one. It is the largest sales segment in Canada and the best represented in the overall sales charts. Four of the top 10 selling vehicles so far in 2014 are compact cars, the rest: pickups (four), the Dodge Caravan and the Ford Escape.

Compact cars lead the charge with over 224,000 units sold to date in 2014. Compact SUVs are the next-largest group with 203,066 units and pickup trucks are third with 191,988.

So that’s the lay of the land. Clearly there is a hunger in Canada for small, affordable, and frugal cars.

Enter the Nissan Sentra.

With a 1.8L inline four mated to a D-Step CVT, the Sentra is taking aim squarely at the “frugal” part of that equation. In the sales charts mentioned above, it’s 8th in class, and 30th overall, with 8,734 sold so far this year – the Civic by comparison has sold 37,745, Elantra 32,346 and Corolla 29,946.

It’s those three plus the critically acclaimed Mazda3 that Nissan has benchmarked for this 2014 edition, taking pains to highlight its fuel economy competitiveness against the Civic in a television advertisement in which fuel pumps attack a Honda driver, who is rescued by a Sentra. The Sentra is good for 6.9 L/100 km combined versus 7.1 for the Civic, but both have the same city/highway figures of 7.8 and 6.0. Go figure.

The Sentra has more cargo capacity than the others, with 428 L and the second-highest passenger volume (2,716 L to the Corolla’s 2,761).

We tested the 2013 Sentra head to head against 10 of its competitors in a mega 11-car compact car comparison test last year and found its value and practicality to be top notch. The rear legroom and headroom, plus the cargo capacity were judged best of the lot, and it was its low price that helped the Sentra into fifth place.

The things that held it back were the driver’s seat comfort, handling, noise and vibration, features and the noisy CVT.

2014 Nissan Sentra SL2014 Nissan Sentra SL dashboard
2014 Nissan Sentra SL, dashboard. Click image to enlarge

That one was a base model though, this one is far better equipped with a 5.8-inch touchscreen, hands-free text messaging (text to voice), dual-zone automatic climate control, heated leather seats, a moonroof and navigation. Worth noting, you can get navigation, proximity entry and SiriusXM at a lower price point than the chief competitors, and Nissan has a minor edge with its suite of Google-powered NissanConnect apps – though HondaLink is not far off in terms of functionality.

The driver’s seat has been redesigned to make it more comfortable and there is more sound deadening than the previous model. The springs and shocks have been retuned as well, but the Sentra still suffers from more pitch, dive and body roll than its competitors. Turn-in is impressive though, as is initial throttle response, and the suspension does a good job of soaking up the seams, bumps and animal carcasses one encounters on the highway.

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