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2012 Nissan SentraPopular Nissan Sentra compact sedan focuses on competence and choices
Like other automakers, Nissan generally redesigns its ongoing models every five or six years. Judged by that goal, the subcompact Sentra-which has been a prominent member of Nissan's lineup for the past three decades-is clearly due for a reworking soon. Last redesigned for the 2007 model year, as the model's sixth generation, the economical 2012 Nissan Sentra compact sedan carries on for another year with little change.
For 2012, a new Technology Package is available for the Sentra 2.0S model. Three option groups had been introduced late in the 2011 model year for the Sentra 2.0 SR: Moonroof, Technology, and Special Edition. Each of those continues into the 2012 season.
Trims and Mileage
In both size and price, Sentra is positioned a step above Nissan's subcompact Versa, which debuted for 2007. Once again, the Nissan Sentra comes in six regular models: 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL; plus two performance-oriented editions (the SE-R and SE-R Spec V). All 2.0 models contain a standard 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, driving either a six-speed manual gearbox or Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
With manual shift, Sentra 2.0 models get a fuel-economy estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 24 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway. CVT-equipped Sentras are thriftier, with an estimate of 27-mpg city/34-mpg highway.
Engines and Performance
Both SE-R Sentras get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but the regular SE-R's engine makes 177 horsepower and comes only with the CVT. The 2012 Nissan SE-R Spec V engine is rated at 200 horsepower, offered only with six-speed manual shift. SE-R and SE-R Spec V models include unique sporty exterior and interior elements, as well as exclusive wheels and tires.
Sport tuning for the Nissan SE-R Spec V suspension includes higher-rate springs, shock absorbers, and dampers. Sport-type front bucket seats with silver stitching and an embroidered SE-R logo go into both SE-R models, which also get unique seat fabrics and two auxiliary gauges: a G-meter and oil pressure indicator. Aluminum pedal pads also are installed on Nissan Sentra SE-R models, and a 340-watt Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system is available. Special SE-R equipment includes sport-appearance headlights and taillights, fog lamps, a sport grille, unique front and rear fascias, side sill spoilers, and exhaust finishers.
Safety and Interior
Six airbags are standard, including seat-mounted and curtain-type units. Standard equipment on the entry-level Nissan Sentra 2.0 model includes 15-inch tires, a cloth interior, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, and four-speaker CD audio system. The 2.0 S adds 16-inch tires, six-speaker stereo with MP3 capability, an iPod interface, cruise control, and remote keyless entry.
Sporty styling cues adapted from SE-R models mark the 2.0 SR, which has foglamps, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Topping the regular lineup, the 2.0 S gets eight-spoke alloy wheels, an Intelligent Key, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Nissan's optional navigation system is SD card-based, with XM NavTraffic Real-Time Traffic Information available.
Competition and Driving Impressions
Sixth-generation Sentras have been built on Nissan-Renault's Global C platform, and assembled at Aguascalientes, Mexico alongside the similar Mexican-market Tsuru. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, and Mazda3. The Nissan Sentra gets a four-star (overall) crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but three-star ratings in both frontal and side impacts.
Sentras with the 2.0-liter engine may be unexceptional in appearance, but not so in road behavior. Owners can expect sufficiently spirited small-car performance, with a well-refined continuously variable transmission. Sure, a CVT-equipped Sentra emits a bit of engine blare when accelerating, but it's nothing like early CVT units and isn't likely to bother most occupants.
Naturally, any of the basic Sentras won't quite do for compact-car performance fans. Some might even brand it sluggish, but acceleration isn't meant to be the regular Sentra's strong point. Those enthusiasts have a pair of SE-R editions to pick from, each eager to deliver more exhilarating response to the gas pedal as well as tauter handling.
Comfort, Handling, and Pricing
Especially easy to drive, the generally quiet-running Nissan Sentra delivers an enjoyable ride through most surfaces, coupled with appealing steering feel. Easy, effective handling ranks a cut above the typical compact. Even when rolling through rougher pavement stretches, the Sentra's ride is easily tolerable.
Within the attractive interior, the Nissan Sentra driver faces particularly excellent, fully calibrated white-on-black gauges, with a little red illuminated dot at the end of each pointer. Controls are among the best marked and most logical in this class. Short front seat bottoms don't impair comfort too much. Rear seats are a bit firmer, but promise sufficient space, and the center spot is considerably more tolerable than most cars these days.
Pricing for the 2012 Nissan Sentra starts at $17,030 (including the $780 destination charge) for an entry-level 2.0 sedan with manual shift. Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) adds $1,180 to the tariff. Stepping up to an S edition with CVT boosts the sticker price to $18,960, while the SL goes for $20,360. Topping the Sentra line, an SE-R Spec V with the manual gearbox has a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $21,590. www.nissanusa.com