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2012 Nissan Sentra

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2012 Nissan Sentra Review

KBB Editors' Overview

By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 11/4/2011


The Sentra has been one of Nissan's most successful cars year after year, decade after decade. The 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan continues to appeal to buyers for one reason: value. Available in four trims (2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SL and 2.0 SR), the Sentra runs the gamut from simple and affordable to quite nicely equipped but still very affordable. Thanks to its Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan posts some very respectable fuel-economy numbers, and its 2.0-liter engine is far from underpowered. With styling that is close enough to the mainstream as to be widely acceptable, the Sentra's ability to appeal to a varied consumer audience is yet another key to its success. With the performance-oriented SE-R and SE-R SPEC V rounding out the line, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan proves its versatile design will continue to remain competitive against heavy hitters like the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota Corolla, as well as newcomers such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte.

You'll Like This Car If...

If a roomy, comfortable interior and lots of low-priced, high-end features mean more to you than a flashy exterior and go-kartlike handling, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan is a great choice. Its Xtronic CVT transmission, which is standard on all but the base trim, is so efficient it delivers better fuel economy than the 6-speed manual.

You May Not Like This Car If...

If you are seeking a flashy exterior and go-kartlike handling, not to mention a more powerful engine and a manual transmission on the top-of-the-line trim, the Mazda Mazda3, Honda Civic or VW Golf is probably better suited to your needs. If you can afford to spend a bit more, the 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R might also be a better choice.

What's New for 2012

Changes for the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan are limited to a new Technology Package on the S trim, and a Special Edition package for the SL that combines the Technology, Convenience and Moonroof packages into one low-cost bundle.

Driving It Driving Impressions

Because most people don't dart in and out of traffic or attack S-curves with Formula1-like zeal, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan has been infused with the appropriate balance between capable handling characteristics and a smooth, quiet ride. The front-disc/rear-drum brake setup works fine for the Sentra, and is another reason Nissan is able to keep the cost of this vehicle so low. The 2012 Nissan Sentra's small size and quick steering make it easy to move about in city traffic (not to mention to parallel park), while on the highway the car's interior remains commendably quiet. Although engine power is hardly overwhelming, the 2012 Nissan Sentra's CVT automatic makes the most of the 2.0-liter's output, providing snappy off-the-line launches and adequate power for merging and passing.

Favorite Features

Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
While it lacks the "sport mode" found on several other Xtronic applications, this seamless automatic is a good match for the Sentra engine and offers EPA fuel-economy ratings that are superior to those of the 6-speed manual gearbox that's standard on the 2.0 S.

Navigation System
The newest navigation/radio system from Nissan includes a large, bright view screen, points of interest (POI) data base, touch-screen controls and XM NavTraffic updates (requires subscription). Best of all, the unit costs a mere $650, an amazing price for a factory-installed system.

Vehicle Details Interior   photo

Designed with American-sized buyers in mind, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan's well-appointed interior provides plenty of room to stretch out in all directions. Large door openings both front and rear mean you won't have to squeeze to fit into the Sentra, and its seat cushions are both wide and long, providing good support for tall drivers. Because Nissan knows we Americans love to take our gadgets everywhere we go, the Sentra is given a number of storage compartments including a laptop-sized locking glove compartment and a deep 13.1-cubic-foot trunk that can be expanded via the 60/40 split-folding rear seat. Interior color choices include beige or charcoal punctuated by either aluminum or faux-wood accents (depending on trim). The 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan's large and clearly labeled controls are easy for all to see and operate. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the charcoal-and-orange LCD displays for the fuel and temperature indicators.

Exterior   photo

The 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan retains the upright angular style that filtered down through Nissan's line a few years back. While not as sleek as the new Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan's styling is bold and attractive, and its tall roof makes for impressive headroom in this segment. The Sentra's long 105-inch wheelbase is responsible for the car's smooth ride and stable handling; it also makes the Sentra look much bigger than a standard compact car. How attractive you want your 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan to be depends on how much you're willing to invest. Where the base 2.0 and 2.0 S trims feature steel rims with wheel covers and simple exterior treatment, the 2.0 SR and SL gain 16-inch alloy wheels. The SR also touts foglights, a sport grille and front fascia, smoked headlight surrounds and smoked taillights, and chrome exhaust finishers.

Notable Standard Equipment

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 sedan includes a 6-speed manual transmission, front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction and stability control, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, trip computer, and an AM/FM/CD audio system. The 2.0 S adds the Xtronic CVT automatic transmission, standard iPod integration, 6-speaker stereo, larger wheels with lower-profile tires, remote keyless entry, cruise control and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The 2.0 SL provides keyless start, 16-inch alloy wheels, XM Satellite Radio, 4.3-inch color audio head unit with controls for iPod and Bluetooth, and a power trunk lid release. The SE-R and Spec V add features such as sport seats, special trim, more instrumentation and unique alloy wheels.

Notable Optional Equipment

Sentra extras are largely model specific and are bundled into packages. The Convenience Package (2.0 S, 2.0 SR) offers Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless entry and start, power trunk lid release, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Technology Package, which costs just $650, brings navigation with XM NavTraffic and XM Satellite Radio as well as a USB interface. The 2.0 S and 2.0 SR models can also be equipped with a 4.3-inch color display audio head unit, USB port and 8-speaker 340-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. The SL trim offers leather seating, RearView monitor, heated front seats, a power sunroof, Rockford Fosgate premium audio and a 5-inch navigation/radio system that includes XM NavTraffic real-time traffic information updates.

Under the Hood

All 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 sedans share an identical 140-horsepower version of Nissan's 2.0-liter, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine that was co-developed with parent-company Renault. The 2.0-liter makes an impressive 147 pound-feet of torque, and features variable timing on the intake valves that helps enhance its mid-range punch. Acceleration with either transmission is decent if not exhilarating, with a 0-to-60-mph sprint requiring about nine seconds. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that EPA fuel-economy figures with the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) actually surpass those of the 6-speed manual gearbox, in both city and highway mode. Due to different emissions regulations, the 2.0-liter's output in California is rated at 135 horsepower and 142 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5-liter in the Spec V employs more high-tech features, such as a dual-branch exhaust manifold and revised piston crown shape to create a 10.5:1 compression ratio and higher horsepower and torque output.

2.0-liter in-line 4
140 horsepower @ 5,100 rpm
135 Horsepower @ 5,100 rpm (California)
147 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
142 lb-ft of torque @4,800 rpm (California)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/31 (manual), 27/34 (automatic)

2.5-liter in-line 4
177 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
200 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm (Spec V)
172 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm
180 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 rpm (Spec V)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/28 (manual), 24/30 (automatic)

Pricing Notes

The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 sedan with the 6-speed manual transmission starts just over $16,700; adding the CVT automatic adds about $1,200 to the bottom line, although generous incentives from Nissan will greatly reduce the Sentra's starting price. The 2.0 S and SR are priced closer to $19,000, while a fully loaded SL with navigation tops out at a very reasonable $24,000. The SE-R starts around $21,000 and a loaded Spec V tops out just past $26,000. To see what others in your area are paying for their Sentras, be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price on kbb.com. As for resale values, the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan does a good job of holding value over time. While still falling far behind residual values of the new 2012 Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, the Sentra remains on par with the Toyota Corolla and Mazda Mazda3, and outperforms the Kia Forte and Mitsubishi Lancer.

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