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2012 Nissan Sentra ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Nissan Sentra compact receives a number of new add-on packages for 2012 and continues to deliver a solid, smooth ride with a comfortable cabin and good fuel economy.The Bad
Some testers find fault with the 2012 Sentra's back seat, which they say is too tight, and note that the lack of a telescopic steering wheel makes it difficult for some taller drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel.
The CarGurus View
Now in the last year of its current generation, the Sentra is treading water until a redesigned version arrives in 2012. For savvy buyers, however, this represents an opportunity to get a great deal on a well-equipped 2012 Sentra. Many new owners are reporting that they're finding good values at their local Nissan dealers, who are attempting to clear the lots before the new 2013 Sentras arrive, and the new owners are adding that they're pleasantly surprised once they spend some time with their vehicles.
At a Glance
With a redesigned Sentra waiting in the wings for 2013, the 2012 version receives only very minor updating, in the form of several add-on packages. The automaker offers a new Technology Package for the Sentra 2.0 S, and new Moonroof, Technology and Special Edition Packages for the Sentra 2.0 SR. Other than that, the Sentra rolls into 2012 unchanged.
Although it's 6 years into its current generation, the Nissan Sentra 4-door compact car continues to sell well and historically has been one of the automaker's bestselling vehicles. For a compact car, it comes with a number of available upscale features, including leather upholstery, a navigation system with a 5-inch color screen and Nissan's Intelligent keyless entry system.
However, the Sentra is showing its age. In the 6 years since its last redesign, the compact car automotive segment has become hugely competitive, and most of the Sentra's competitors have leap-frogged it in a number of ways. Competitive vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Mazda3, Chevy Cruze and Honda Civic offer more powerful engines with better fuel economy than the Sentra's, and many of the competitive vehicles cost less as well. In addition, the Sentra has a tight back seat, and some testers find its ride too harsh. On the plus side, even the base Sentra trim comes well-equipped, and many of the Sentra's optional features are relatively affordable. In addition, Nissan offers a couple of performance-oriented Sentra trims that help close the performance gap.
For 2012, the Sentra comes in 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL flavors, as well as sport-oriented SE-R and SE-R Spec V trims. Most are equipped with a somewhat anemic 4-cylinder powerplant that leaves the Sentra feeling underpowered, although the performance-oriented SE trims receive a beefed-up 4-cylinder that does a better job of moving the car through its paces.
The Sentra's exterior design continues to show its age as well. Again, competitors such as Ford and Hyundai have recently delivered competitive vehicles that push the design envelope with their fluid shapes, making the Sentra's more squared-off lines seem dated and unexciting. Nissan dresses up the 2.0 SR trim a little with a unique grille, fascias, rear spoiler and sport headlights and taillights, while the SE-R also gets a real spoiler. It's probably safe to say that the new 2013 Sentra will address the current generation's design issue. For now, buyers looking for deals might find plenty to choose on their local Nissan lots.
Nissan offers the Sentra with a choice of powerplants. All 2.0 trims are powered by a base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 140 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque. It links to either a 6-speed manual transmission, which comes standard in the Sentra 2.0, or an Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), standard in the 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL, and optional for the 2.0. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine posts fuel economy numbers of 24/31 mpg with the manual transmission and 27/34 with the CVT. For the most part, owners and testers find the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder adequate for around-town driving, though they note that the powerplant can be noisy when pushed and can leave the Sentra feeling underpowered under heavy acceleration or when passing, especially when fully loaded.
For the Sentra SE-R, Nissan drops a larger 2.5-liter 4-cylinder under the hood. It delivers 177 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, and mates to the Xtronic CVT. The SE-R Spec V receives an even more powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which pumps out 200 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. It connects to the 6-speed manual transmission for a sportier driving experience. Fuel economy numbers check in at 24/30 mpg for the SE-R's engine and 21/28 for the SE-R Spec V with the 200-hp powerplant.
Overall, testers like the CVT transmission, noting that it delivers smooth acceleration, although they say it can be noisy at times, emitting a droning sound. They also note that the manual transmission doesn't deliver the precise shifting they'd prefer, which affects the SE-R Spec V's sporty driving experience. All engines run on regular fuel except the SE-R Spec V's engine, which requires premium fuel.
Ride & Handling
The Sentra rides on Nissan's global C platform, with front-wheel drive, and features an independent strut suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars in its standard configuration. Showing its age like the rest of the vehicle, the suspension and tuning deliver an adequate ride over paved roads but can be harsh over rougher surfaces or broken pavement. Some testers note moderate body lean and roll in trims powered by the 2.0-liter engine, although overall the Sentra delivers a solid, stable feel.
Prospective buyers looking for a tighter, sportier ride can opt for either the SE-R, which receives sport-tuned springs, or the SE-R Spec V, which gets a sport-tuned suspension with sport-tuned shocks and struts, as well as a lowered ride height. With the stiffer suspensions, however, critics say the Sentra's ride becomes too jarring. In addition, they add, the Sentra isn't as quick and nimble as they'd expected. Buyers seeking a happy medium might want to settle on the SE-R trim, which delivers the best of both worlds, thanks to its sporty yet not too aggressive suspension, combined with a more powerful engine and the CVT.
The SE-R trims both ride on 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, while all the 2.0-trims receive 16-inch wheels except for the entry-level trim, which gets 15-inch wheels.
Cabin & Comfort
Nissan offers four new options packages for the 2012 Sentra. A Convenience Package, available for the Sentra 2.0 S and and 2.0 SR trims, includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless entry and ignition system. A Technology Package, also available for the 2.0 S and SR trims, includes a navigation system with a 5-inch color touchscreen, SiriusXM satellite radio, NavTraffic and a USB port. A Moonroof Package, available only for the 2.0 SR trim, features a power sliding/tilt moonroof, while a Special Edition Package, also available only on the 2.0 SR, incorporates all three of the other packages, as well as unique 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and splash guards.
The 5-passenger Sentra offers plenty of headroom and legroom in the front, and second-row legroom is adequate for around-town trips. However, taller passengers might get uncomfortable in the back on longer trips. Overall the cabin has a pleasing, comfortable feel, although reviewers found a few too many hard, plasticky surfaces. Large doors make it easy for families to get into and out of the vehicle.
The current generation of the Sentra has always come well-equipped for a compact car, and that continues for 2012. All the basics, including air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a 60/40-split fold-flat rear seat, a tilt (but not telescopic) steering wheel and a 4-speaker audio system with an input jack, are covered on the base 2.0 trim, while the 2.0 S and 2.0 SR add cruise control, remote keyless entry, overhead map lights, an outside temperature display, a trip computer and 2 more speakers. The 2.0 SL comes well-equipped with such additional features as wood-tone trim with metallic accents, Bluetooth, Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless entry system, SiriusXM satellite radio and a 4.3-inch color display for the audio system, along with a USB connection.
The SE-R and S-ER Spec V trims also receive the 6-speaker audio system with the color display (minus satellite radio), as well as front sport bucket seats with black sport cloth upholstery. Other standard features for the two sport-oriented trims include aluminum pedal pads and unique oil pressure and G-sensor gauges. Cargo capacity for the Sentra checks in at 13.1 cubic feet for the 2.0 trims, which drops to 12 cubic feet for the SE-R trims.
The Sentra gets marginal marks for its safety features. The IIHS awarded the Sentra a top score of Good for protecting passengers during frontal crashes, but only an Acceptable rating for protecting passengers during side-impact crashes and rollovers. Similarly, the NHTSA gave the Sentra 4 out of 5 stars overall, which breaks down to 4 stars for protecting passengers during rollovers and 3 out of 5 for frontal and side-impact crash protection.
All Sentras come equipped with 4-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Traction control, stability control, daytime running lights and 6 airbags are among the other standard features.
What Owners Think
Numerous owners note that they're getting their 2012 Sentras well-equipped at good prices, proof that Nissan is beginning to clear the lots in antipication of the redesigned 2013 Sentra. Most owners note that they like the Sentra's reliability and solid build quality and are pleasantly surprised by its quiet, roomy cabin and comfortable seating. In fact, many owners like the Sentra's cabin better than the cabins of competitive vehicles from Honda and Toyota.
In addition, despite what some critics say, owners like the Sentra's performance and acceleration, as well as the CVT transmission, although they admit that the CVT takes some getting used to. They also like the Sentra's fuel economy, which regularly comes in at 30-plus mpg both around town and on the road, according to many reports. Owners also like the new add-on packages, and many are equipping their Sentras with such top-level features as navigation and the premium audio system. Overall, the word owners use regularly to describe the 2012 Sentra is "value," and many add that the Sentra is underrated by the automotive press.
While owners do have some negative comments about the Sentra, they're less common than one might think. Some owners do note a droning sound from the CVT, while others say their vehicles have various rattles. In addition, a few owners have reported problems with the audio system and occasionally the engine. But most owners report that they've had no serious problems with their Sentras.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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