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3/4 Front Glamour 2012 Nissan Sentra

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Expert's Rating


MPG 25 City / 32 Highway
  • Many standard safety features
  • Spacious interior
  • Many interior conveniences
  • Styling may not be for everyone
  • Large blind spots
  • Underwhelming acceleration
, Automotive Editor -
Often overlooked in the crowded compact sedan class, the Sentra scores by offering advanced convenience features at a low price and in a quietly competent package. It's not the flashiest or the newest entry in the market, but Nisaan's compact car has the basic package of a compact sedan nailed down, and Nissan makes desirable features like Bluetooth and remote entry and start available for a lower price than others in the class. Unlike most compact cars, it also comes with a choice of three engines and the inclusion of two performance trim levels that aim to give serious bang for the buck. If you don't have to have the latest fashion in compact cars on your driveway, the Sentra is worth a look.


The base Sentra 2.0 starts with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 140 horsepower, six-speed manual or optional Xtronic CVT transmission, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, four- speaker audio system with AUX input, power windows and locks, a tilt steering wheel and a split-folding rear seat.

The 2.0 S adds power outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, six- speaker audio system with iPod integration, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls and a trip computer.

The 2.0 SR sports up the styling with 16-inch alloy wheels, a body kit package and special grille treatment as well as darkened headlight and taillight lenses.

The 2.0 SL includes more technology and luxury features, like Bluetooth, keyless entry and start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, USB input, a larger color screen for the audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio.

The performance-minded SE-R boasts a stronger, 2.5-liter four cylinder with 177 horsepower. It also adds disc brakes on all four corners, 17-inch alloy wheels, paddle shifters for the CVT transmission, specially bolstered front sport seats and a sports-tuned suspension.

The SE-R Spec V takes it up another notch with a 200 horsepower version of the 2.5, along with a six-speed manual transmission, a lowered ride height and different springs, summer tires, larger brakes and more structural bracing.

Let's look at the competition. The Honda Civic is fuel-efficient and the Si performance version is faster and better to drive, but feels cheap inside. The Ford Focus offers a versatile hatchback and feels much more premium, but can get downright expensive. The Toyota Corolla is frugal and spacious, but doesn't offer any performance option. The Hyundai Elantra is better priced and more stylish, but also lacks any engine options.

While its design is several years old, the Sentra makes sense for buyers in this segment who want something comfortable and priced well, rather than the latest piece of automotive technology. Base versions are rather well-equipped and the SE-R and Spec V models add some performance alternatives that are more aggressive than competitors' sporting models that are usually just cosmetic packages for standard versions. The Sentra is worth a test drive against fresher competition.

Which Style To Buy?

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0

Recommended for: Buyers who want a no-frills compact sedan

The Sentra 2.0 is the base model that comes with just about all of the essentials expected in a compact sedan these days. The engine is a 2.0-liter 140 horsepower four-cylinder. A six-speed manual is standard, but the Xtronic CVT transmission is an option. The 2.0 is the only way to get a manual transmission with the base engine. Also included is air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilting steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, four-speaker audio system with AUX input, front, side and curtain airbags and an engine immobilizer theft-deterrent device.

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 S

Recommended for: Shoppers who want a few more features while still keeping a low price

The S adds some more desirable features to the 2.0's equipment list. S models come standard with the Xtronic CVT transmission. Sixteen-inch wheels with wheel covers are also standard, as are power outside mirrors, trip computer, outside temperature display, remote keyless entry, cruise control, height-adjustable driver's seat, six-speaker audio system with iPod integration and an alarm. The Convenience Package adds keyless entry and start, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A Technology Package adds a touchscreen navigation system with a 5-inch display, SiriusXM radio with traffic and weather and a USB connection.

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SL

Recommended for: Shoppers looking for a Sentra with luxury features

The SL is aimed at buyers who want features that resemble those of a premium car but incorporates the fuel economy advantage of a compact. The most luxurious Sentra gets more chrome trim outside and different 16-inch alloy wheels. Keyless entry and start is standard, as is Bluetooth and a remote trunk release. Wood interior accents are also standard on models equipped with the beige interior – charcoal-colored interiors get silver painted trim. The six-speaker audio system gets a color 4.3-inch display and full iPod integration with a USB port. SiriusXM satellite radio is also standard. The Leather Package includes leather upholstery and heated front seats. The Navigation Package brings the 5-inch touchscreen navigation system. A Special Value Package combines the Navigation Package with a backup camera, power moonroof and lighted vanity mirrors. The Audio Package includes a Rockford Fosgate premium sound system with 8 speakers.

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR

Recommended for: Buyers who want sportier styling

The SR gives the appearance of a performance Sentra with the efficiency of one of the lower trims. SRs are instantly recognizable with a special sport grille and rear bumper treatment. A ground effects kit is standard, as are 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and a chrome exhaust tip. The Convenience Package adds keyless entry and start, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Technology Package adds the 5-inch touchscreen navigation system, SiriusXM satellite radio and USB port. The Moonroof Package adds a power moonroof and dual illuminated vanity mirrors. And the Special Edition Package includes all of the packages and different 16-inch alloy wheels for a savings of hundreds of dollars.

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R

Recommended for: Buyers looking for a performance compact sedan

The SE-R continues in the tradition of fast Sentras that boast large engines for their size. The performance model gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 177 horsepower, complete with a high-flow intake system, larger disc brakes and a sport-tuned Xtronic CVT transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, special grille and bumpers, as well as darkened light lenses and a body kit. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard. Inside, there's more instrumentation with a twin-pod of oil pressure and G-sensor meters, as well as heavily bolstered front sport seats. Aluminum pedals are also standard. The SE-R upgrade package includes the 5-inch touchscreen navigation system with SiriusXM traffic and weather, backup camera, keyless entry and start, power moonroof, lighted vanity mirrors and the Rockford Fosgate premium 8-speaker audio system.

2012 Nissan Sentra
Starting price

2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

Recommended for: Drivers who want the fastest Sentra available

The Spec V adds even more performance to the SE-R and appeals to compact sedan buyers who want a practical, fast car. The Spec V improves on the SE-R with a stronger 2.5-liter engine that makes a full 200 horsepower. It's mated exclusively to a heavy-duty six-speed manual transmission. It's also equipped with beefier brakes front and rear, more aggressive suspension setup with lower ride height and thicker front stabilizer bar. A trunk-mounted V-brace replaces the split-folding rear seat. The Spec V also rides on summer tires rather than the all-seasons of other Sentras. Inside, there's a leather-wrapped shift knob and silver stitching on the steering wheel. The SE-R Spec V Upgrade Package includes a 5-inch touchscreen navigation system with SiriusXM satellite traffic and weather, backup camera, limited-slip differential, power moonroof, lighted vanity mirrors and Rockford Fosgate premium 8-speaker audio system.

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