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2012 Nissan Sentra

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

When the Nissan Sentra was introduced nearly thirty years ago, this compact sedan had the best EPA fuel economy rating among gas-powered engines and in just one year of sales, became the best-selling import car.

I drove the four-door, five-passenger 2012 Nissan Sentra with a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter Dual Overhead Cam four-cylinder engine and the automatic Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission. Under this drivetrain configuration, the Sentra offers four trim levels: Base, S, SR and SL. My S trim came with the following standard features: a six-speaker audio system; interface for iPod; steering wheel audio controls; rear-seat center armrest with cup holders; trip computer with outside temp; and a rear decked spoiler. Additional optional features included an $850 Convenience Package with keyless ignition, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Total vehicle price came to $19,870.

Despite its illustrious start, the 2012 model has fallen behind the competition as the compact sedan market right now is very steep; makers like Mazda, Hyundai, and its sister brand Kia are putting out more impressive powertrains, better fuel economy and a lot more interior freebies for the same price – and in some cases, can beat the Sentra’s.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Sentra has a satisfactory interior feel with a highlight being firm and well-constructed seats. Several basic features are missing, or just not offered at my one-above base trim, such as a telescope steering wheel. In a case like this, it’s best to compare the Sentra with what you are not getting. For example, for about a thousand less, a 2012 Mazda3 at the base iTouring trim comes with a six-speaker audio system with auxiliary input jacks and steering wheel mounted controls like the Sentra, but also adds as standard features a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and Bluetooth connectivity – features you have to pay for with the Sentra. And a few reviews back my 2012 Ford Focus SE test drive came with the programmable MyKey technology and additional options like a Convenience Package (SYNC, upgraded six-speaker audio system) and a Sport Package (leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear spoiler, larger 17-inch alloy wheels) with a vehicle price of just south of $20k.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2012 Nissan Sentra earned ratings of “Good” in frontal offset testing, but “Acceptable” in both side impact and roof strength tests by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Sentra and overall rating of 4-Stars.

Cost Issues: Gone are the days where you should feel impressed that $20k buys you a compact commuter sedan that gets 34 miles-per-gallon highway. The new numbers are $18k and 38- to 40 miles-per-gallon highway – the Mazda3 can do this. The Kia Forte’s 2.0-liter delivers 37 miles-per-gallon highway.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Sentra is still a commuter’s friend at 30 miles-per-gallon combined, but hardly a memorable ride. The steering is stiff and the automatic CVT emits a droning noise during hard acceleration. The handling is passable. The good news is two sportier SE-R trims are offered that exchange the smaller 2.0-liter engine for a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter and a performance-oriented suspension, better tires and larger front brakes.

The Green Concern: Fuel economy numbers of 27 miles-per-gallon city and 34 highway is an achievement. But because the Sentra doesn’t offer unique powertrain technology to advance these numbers further. The Mazda3 features a new 155-horsepower Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 27 city and 38 highway miles-per-gallon by using combustion engine improvements like a direct-fuel injector. And the 2012 Ford Focus 160-horsepower 2.0-liter Ti-VCT gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder engine delivers class-leading fuel economy at 40 miles-per-gallon highway.


While the 2012 Nissan Sentra is fairly priced and offers fuel economy, this compact sedan is unfortunately outclassed in both style and powertrain performance by just about every competitor. However, both the SE-R and SE-R Spec V trims bring out a sportier Sentra with a larger 2.5-liter engine and performance-oriented modifications.

2012 Katrina Ramser