What do you do if you're an automaker trying to compete in a tough segment against juggernauts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla?

For Nissan, the answer is undercut the competitors on price.

The 2013 Nissan Sentra is a small sedan which is cheaper than all of its competitors. Nissan completely redesigned the Sentra to make it stand out from the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. They picked a good time to try to upset the competition, given the Toyota Corolla is really showing its age and Honda customers might have been turned off by the Civic's bad redesign which ended with the 2012 model year.

But even though the Sentra is cheaper than all the others, is it a good enough car to make our recommended list?

Nissan has been very good at offering tantalizing prices for its cars, including its luxury Infiniti brand, and the Sentra is no exception to the rule: They've priced the Sentra at an aggressive $15,990 to $22,580.

But, while car shoppers may be drawn into Nissan showrooms at the prospect of scoring a cheap ride, is there a catch with quality? Does the Sentra really compete with the heavyweights of its segment at a cheaper price? Read on to see what I liked -- and didn't -- about the all-new 2013 Nissan Sentra.

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The Basics

The Basics

MSRP: $15,990 - $22,580
Invoice Price: $15,423 - $18,484
As Tested (with options): $22,580

Engine: 1.8L I4

Transmission: 6-speed manual or Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Performance: 130 hp, 128 lb-ft of torque

Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway (30 mpg City, 39 mpg Hwy with CVT)

Seating: 5 people

Cargo: 15.1 cubic feet max

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Exterior Styling

Exterior Styling

The Sentra was completely redesigned on the outside for 2013 and its looks are, well, polarizing.

The differentiation between the new and old Sentra is obvious. The 2013 Sentra is much more rounded up front, with new headlights and a new grille that raised eyebrows from some reviewers. Personally, I think it looks pretty good in person, though I'm in agreement with Seyth Miersma over at Autoblog, who said that "in total, despite the fact that this Sentra is just a little bit lower and longer than the last model, it looks altogether more top-heavy."

The reason for this is that, when viewed from the front, the new front end allows for more of the windshield and roof to be seen, making the car look a little bit like a hat. I personally don't hate it, but it's going to turn some people off.

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Interior

Interior

Along with the exterior, the interior of the 2013 Sentra is also completely new. I didn't have the top-of-the-line SL trim, which adds leather seats and other more luxurious appointments, but the new seats and surrounding touch points in my SR were just fine.

The cabin is particularly spacious, especially in the backseat. The roominess of the rear seats is among the best that I've seen in the segment, making it possible to actually fit a full 5 people inside.

The cabin is also remarkably quiet, especially at highway speeds. Cruising along the freeway is a pleasant experience, and road and wind noise is quieted down to the point to where you can actually have a conversation with someone via the car's Bluetooth connectivity. Usually in smaller cars, talking on Bluetooth is almost impossible, given the maddening drone constantly humming in the background.

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Passenger And Cargo Space

Passenger And Cargo Space

As mentioned in the previous slide, passenger space in the Sentra is quite impressive. A taller person shouldn't have a problem up front and can fairly easily squeeze into the back.

Cargo volume is rated at 15.1 cubic feet, which is slightly bigger than most of its competition. That number is meaningless to most people, so just know that cargo space is quite good for a small sedan. Trips to the grocery store or hardware store won't be a problem, but a weekend away with a family of four may prove a little tricky if everyone wants to bring a suitcase.

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Driving Dynamics

Driving Dynamics

The Sentra is especially adept at freeway driving, where the ride is way more smooth and quiet than I would have expected for a car in this segment. I wouldn't have a problem taking this car on a long road trip.

But if you're shopping for a car with sporty driving dynamics, this isn't going to be your best bet. Its 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque don't get the car moving with any kind of gusto and handling feels numb and uninspired. Nissan did include a "Sport" mode, which increases throttle response and makes the ride a bit more exciting. Along with an "ECO" mode to improve MPGs, these settings allow the driver to customize the driving experience a bit. But at the end of the day, there's little that is remarkable about the Sentra's dynamics.

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Tech And Infotainment

Tech And Infotainment

My tester came with the navigation package, which employs what the automaker calls NissanConnectSM with Navigation. The package includes a 5.8-inch color touchscreen, voice recognition, POIs powered by Google and real-time traffic and weather information, among other things. The package is really pretty good. The user interface is clean, simple and easy to use. The Google POIs are great to have if you're driving somewhere unfamiliar and include a wide range of businesses from restaurants and gas stations to dealerships and libraries. The traffic information was legitimately real-time, which at one point helped me avoid a nasty jam on US 101.

I think Nissan has one of the better infotainment systems in the industry right now. It's fast, very intuitive and just nice to look at. The navigation package gets you all of this plus a rear view camera for $650. That's a pretty solid deal.

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Fuel Economy

Fuel Economy

Nissan has improved the 2013 Sentra's fuel economy to 27 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway (the numbers go up to 30 mpg City/39 mpg Hwy if you're driving the CVT, which most people will do). To put those numbers in perspective, here's how the Sentra compares to other cars in its class:

Honda Civic: 28 mpg City, 36 mpg Hwy

Toyota Corolla: 27 mpg City, 34 mpg Hwy

Ford Focus: 26 mpg City, 36 mpg Hwy

Hyundai Elantra: 28 mpg City, 38 mpg Hwy

Chevrolet Cruze: 25 mpg City, 36 mpg Hwy

Mazda3: 25 mpg City, 33 mpg Hwy

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Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The bottom line is the Sentra is a good small sedan that deserves mention in the same breath as Corolla and Civic. Its great fuel economy, interior space, tech and infotainment and, most importantly, value make this car worthy of a look from car shoppers in this segment.

That said, this isn't the best car in the small sedan class. I'll give that title to the Hyundai Elantra or possibly the Chevrolet Cruze. But given the bang for your buck that the Sentra offers, it should be on your list to test drive.

The Sentra will get you from A to B and will do it efficiently and comfortably. Keep in mind if you're shopping for this vehicle, the Nissan Versa could likely provide you with everything you need from your car, for thousands of dollars less. And for just a few thousand more, you could upgrade to a bigger, more well-appointed and better driving Nissan Altima.

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