2012 Nissan Sentra Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 23, 2012

The 2012 Nissan Sentra no longer looks fresh, but especially in base 2.0 form or SE-R Spec V guise it represents a strong value for the money with a roomy, comfortable interior.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that appeals to shoppers looking for a practical, affordable, economical small sedan. Just below the Altima mid-size sedan yet a little more substantial and refined than the Versa sedan, the 2012 Sentra hits a size and price sweet spot also occupied by the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus.

While the Sentra borrows many cues—including the flared-outward headlamps and prominent fender flanks—from the still-current Altima sedan and Maxima, this small sedan's somewhat slab-sizes look and blunt rear design end up looking a bit dated compared to newer, more curvaceous rivals. Sportier SE-R and Spec V models are dressed up a bit more. The Sentra's instrument panel is a little more chunky and angular than those of most other small cars today, but a nice neat center stack has well-arranged controls and there's a good driving position from upright seating and a relatively low beltline.

Most of the Sentra models you find at the dealership will pair a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and Xtronic CVT; it's a decent combination for city driving, but on hills and in passing it can feel a bit sluggish or delayed. There's a six-speed manual gearbox that makes the Sentra a lot more enjoyable, but it's only offered in the base model. The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. Then at the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox. Suspension tuning that's very different between trims, with the firmer tuning giving the Spec V especially a much tighter, more eager personality. But gas mileage is a letdown throughout the Sentra line; even with the base engine, it's several mpg lower than in many rival models.

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Refinement and ride comfort remain strengths for the Sentra. The Sentra comes in only a single sedan body style, but it's a well-designed one, with tasteful but budget-grade appointments. Front seats are somewhat flat and unsupportive, but it's easy to find a good driving position and there's just enough rear space for a couple of adults—thanks to the rather high roofline. . While the seats themselves are flat and unsupportive, with padding that just won't work for long trips, most will be happy with the space and the driving position. The back seat, too, is a place good enough for adults for a trip across town.

Compared to many compact-sedan alternatives, the 2012 Nissan Sentra has unimpressive safety ratings, with mostly 'acceptable' ratings from the IIHS and just three-star ratings for frontal and side impact from the federal government. Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints.

For less than $17k In its base 2.0 form, the 2012 Sentra is a makes a good commuter car and is a strong value for the money, with power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt  sound system all stanard. Sentra 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trims get you a few more extras like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth; but the issue with both of these models is that they cost a lot more and only come with the CVT. For 2012, the Sentra 2.0 S can be optioned with a navigation system that includes five-inch touch screen and USB/iPod connectivity. A special-edition package on the SR also loads it with popular options.

At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork.

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2012 Nissan Sentra

Styling

The 2012 Nissan Sentra borrows its exterior styling from Nissan's larger cars—with mixed results.

While the Sentra borrows many cues—including the flared-outward headlamps and prominent fender flanks—from the still-current Altima sedan and Maxima, this small sedan's somewhat slab-sizes look and blunt rear design end up looking a bit dated compared to newer, more curvaceous rivals.

Up close, the 2012 Sentra doesn't look nearly as comely as the larger Altima; the arched roofline simply doesn't hold up well with these proportions, with the end result bearing some likeness, to our eyes, to the former Saturn Ion.

Sportier SE-R and Spec V models are dressed up a bit more, and while the aero work and upgraded wheels

The Sentra's instrument panel is a little more chunky and angular than those of most other small cars today, but a nice neat center stack has well-arranged controls and there's a good driving position from upright seating and a relatively low beltline.

7

2012 Nissan Sentra

Performance

The simpler, more affordable models in the 2012 Nissan Sentra lineup perform well enough as commuter cars, but top SE-R and Spec V performance models aren't convincing enough as performance machines.

The 2012 Sentra spans several quite different personalities. But most of the Sentra models you find at the dealership will pair a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and Xtronic CVT; it's a decent combination for city driving, but on hills and in passing it can feel a bit sluggish or delayed.

There's a six-speed manual gearbox that makes the Sentra a lot more enjoyable, but it's only offered in the base model. The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. Then at the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox.

Based on several drives covering the various models of the Sentra, our editors have found the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions to make the most sense. The CVT might take a little getting used to as there's a slight delay while the revs ramp up, then a raucous drone during hard acceleration. These basic Sentra models don't make any sporty claims, but they're actually quite light and nimble-feeling—and very maneuverable—and the driving experience is pleasantly straightforward.

Suspension tuning is very different between trims; the firmer tuning of the Spec V especially gives it a much tighter, more eager personality. But gas mileage is a letdown throughout the Sentra line; even with the base engine, it's several mpg lower than in many rival models.

The CVT, in particular, simply doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. The Spec V delivers on the handling front, with substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out; but it doesn't feel as edgy as the MazdaSpeed3, or even the Honda Civic Si.

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2012 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Nissan Sentra is a surprisingly comfortable small sedan, with plenty of interior space, a relatively quiet cabin, and a nice, settled ride.

Relative to most other models of its size and price, the 2012 Nissan Sentra lineup stands out for its refinement and ride comfort.

The Sentra comes in only a single sedan body style, but it's a well-designed one, with tasteful but budget-grade appointments. Front seats are somewhat flat and unsupportive, but it's easy to find a good driving position and there's just enough rear space for a couple of adults—thanks to the rather high roofline.

Also thanks to that roofline, this small sedan's interior feels very spacious. While the seats themselves are flat and unsupportive, with padding that just won't work for long trips, most will be happy with the space and the driving position. The back seat, too, is a place good enough for adults for a trip across town.

Even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models, materials feel about right for this price range—strictly budget-grade, but tasteful—while all the examples our editors have seen have been very well put together.

A comfortable ride is the Sentra's surprise asset; it rides nearly as well as the larger Altima, with a somewhat soft but well-controlled attitude, though it can have a little bit of small-car pitchiness on the highway. Sportier SE-R Spec.V models are louder and somewhat harder-riding (although still quite tolerable), because of their stiffer suspension settings. But it should be noted that in the SE-R and some of the other models, you'll probably notice more engine noise if you get the CVT (continuously variable) automatic transmission.
5

2012 Nissan Sentra

Safety

The 2012 Nissan Sentra has some lackluster crash-test ratings, although in some respects it's impressive.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the 2012 Nissan Sentra is a good, safe pick; but a set of unimpressive federal crash-test scores keep it from being a top choice for those who want peace of mind.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Sentra gets top 'good' ratings in frontal and side-impact tests, along with 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS seat-based rear-impact test. Ratings from the federal government, though the new, tougher NHTSA test program, haven't been so positive, though; the Sentra earned just three stars for frontal and side impact, with a four-star overall score. However it did get a top five-star side-pole test score.

The rest of the Sentra's safety package is quite ordinary for the 2012 model year. Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control.
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2012 Nissan Sentra

Features

Whether considering one of the most affordable models or a loaded SE-R Spec V, the 2012 Sentra is a relatively good value.

The 2012 Sentra is a decent high-value commuter car, at around $17k for the base 2.0-liter Sentra. On those models, standard equipment includes power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt  sound system all stanard.

Sentra 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trims get you a few more extras like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth; but the issue with both of these models is that they cost a lot more and only come with the CVT. And the 2012 Sentra 2.0 S can now be optioned with a navigation system that includes five-inch touch screen and USB/iPod connectivity. A special-edition package on the SR also loads it with popular options.

At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork.

A Rockford Fosgate audio system is among the top options, as is a navigation system with five-inch screen, SD card reader, and XM Satellite Radio. Intelligent Key keyless entry and start is among other extras, and full leather seating is available on the SE-R models. The audio system offered on both top models includes USB connectivity and a full color screen.

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2012 Nissan Sentra

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Nissan Sentra looks like a very fuel-efficient small car, but it has no high-mileage numbers to boast about.

Gas mileage is one of the top considerations for small-car shoppers—especially those who are on a tight budget and likely to consider entry 2012 Sentra models with the 2.0-liter engine.

Here's where the Nissan Sentra is a letdown. Its EPA ratings, of just 24 mpg city, 31 highway, are actually worse than those of many mid-size sedans—and even when you get the more efficient CVT, ratings rise only somewhat, to 27/34. The performance-oriented SE-R Spec.V rates only 21/28—figures that, on the highway are beat by a number of larger V-6 performance coupes.

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April 28, 2015
2012 Nissan Sentra 4-Door Sedan I4 CVT SE-R *Late Avail*

Great but avoid due to transmission

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Great car if it were not due to the transmission. The CVT transmission gets too hot and fails; unreliable on long road trips. Google it!
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April 14, 2015
For 2012 Nissan Sentra

A Reasonable Car

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The 2012 Sentra is no glamour girl. The exterior lacks any sophistication and the interior is rather cheap looking. The 2012 does not get the gas mileage touted for the car.
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Styling 6.0
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