They have 140 hp, so they'd be OK in a straight line but they're really tall and don't handle worth crap. I asked the dealer at the autoshow about performance and he said "It'll take a Civic in a straight line." He didn't comment about how poorly it would handle vs. the same Civic. Sentras weren't mentioned at all, out of fear I guess.
Check out the comparo in the June 2002 issue of Car and Driver. The Aerio was compared to six other cars, the Pontiac Vibe, Ford Focus ZX5, Toyota Matrix, PT Cruiser, and the Mazda Protege5. The cars I mentioned are in order from worst to best, with the Aerio in sixth and the Protege5 in first. Car and Driver said the highs of the Aerio were "Honest and direct responses to all your control inputs, the easy step up to the llist price, and you get a free plastic bucket in the trunk." The lows were "Having to look at it and trying to defend it when the neighbors gather in your driveway with burning torches" Car and Driver's verdict on the Aerio is "Dollar for dollar, inch for inch, your best buy for antler room" I interpreted all of this as "the Aerio sucks major ass".