2012 Nissan Sentra Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jul 23, 2011

Like this Review

2012 Nissan Sentra Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Sentra is the best car for you if none of the newer, more attractive cars from the compact-car class of 2012 fit your pocketbook or personality.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra widens availability of its bargain-priced navigation system but otherwise stands pat after expanding important safety features to all models in its 2011 lineup. That was laudable, but the 2012 Sentra comes across as aged and undistinguished in a field awash with redesigned rivals. Competition includes the all-new 2012 Honda Civic and 2012 Ford Focus the recently redesigned Hyundai Elantra, and popular new Chevrolet Cruze.

Should you buy a 2012 Nissan Sentra or wait for the 2013 Nissan Sentra? Wait for the all-new 2013 Sentra if you want to audition Nissan’s best shot at making this compact relevant again. It’ll need to sharpen the styling, upgrade infotainment features, and boost fuel economy within reach of the 40-mpg models available from the competition. Buy a 2012 Sentra if you need a small car now and don’t care about cutting-edge design. Plus, great deals will be available as Nissan and its retailers clear 2012-model inventories in preparation for arrival of the redesigned 2013 Sentra.

2012 Nissan Sentra Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Nissan Sentra comes in a single sedan body style that’s a visual repeat of the 2011 Sentra. In a category rapidly filling with daring aero-themed designs, the 2012 Sentra soldiers on with rather upright proportions and some unfortunate styling details.

Its shape does give occupants plenty of headroom, though. And its long wheelbase provides good legroom. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and the 2012 Sentra’s 105.7-inch span is still longer than that of many newer compact sedans. The no-nonsense dashboard is another plus. But the 2012 Sentra’s cabin materials are merely serviceable – another shortfall in an area rivals use as a selling point. Many competitors also have multiple body styles.

The 2012 Sentra is available in a commendably wide array of trim levels. The lineup again includes six models, starting with the entry-level 2.0 version and climbing to the 2.0 S and 2.0 SL models. The sporty-looking 2012 Sentra 2.0 SR model returns along with the sporty-performing SE-R and SE-R Spec V.

The 2012 Sentra SE-R duo have a trunklid spoiler and the 2.0 SR, SE-R, and SE-R Spec V have driving lights and lower-body skirting. The 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V models remain further distinguished by more aggressive front and rear fascias and unique 17-inch alloy wheels.

The 2012 Sentra 2.0 model retains 15-inch wheels. The other 2.0 models continue with 16s. Alloy wheels continue to be optional on the 2.0 SR and standard on the 2.0 SL. The two SE-R models stay with 17-inch alloys.

Mechanical: The 2012 Nissan Sentra not only looks dated next to newer compact competition, it feels a bit shopworn, too. Blame Sentra’s prosaic suspension design, which uses a torsion-beam rear setup in a class rapidly advancing to the better ride and handling qualities of a fully independent suspension. Indeed, even Sentra’s performance-tuned SE-R models don’t steer or corner with the precision of top rivals such as the Honda Civic Si, MazdaSpeed 3, or Volkswagen GTI. The other Sentras are softly sprung to furnish a comfortable ride but they can feel sloppy in turns.

There are no changes under the hood, so the 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL models repeat with a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V models continue with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and remain at 175 horsepower in the SE-R and 200 in the SE-R Spec V.

For 2012, the entry-level 2.0 Sentra again offers a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs are essentially automatic transmissions that substitute a belt-and-pulley system for individual gears. The result is a rheostat-like delivery of power meant to more efficiently match engine output, fuel consumption, and acceleration. The CVT continues as the only transmission in the 2012 Sentra 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, and 2.0 SL models and in the 2012 Sentra SE-R. The 2012 SE-R Spec V comes with a six-speed manual transmission.

Acceleration is lively with the Sentra SE-R and in particular with the SE-R Spec V. Sentras with the 2.0-liter engine furnish adequate get-up-and-go around town and feel quite lively in highway-speed passing and merging. That’s thanks in large part to the CTV, which works smoothly but compels you to become accustomed to the way it allows engine rpm to buzzingly race ahead of actual acceleration.

Sentra models with the 2.0-liter engine carry on with front-disc/rear-drum brakes. Aimed at performance-minded drivers, the 2012 Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V once more have four-wheel disc brakes, plus a sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch wheels and tires versus the other Sentras’ standard 15s or 16s.

Features: The 2012 Nissan Sentra feels most contemporary when it comes to features. It’s available with all the latest infotainment items, such as a navigation system, Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, and a USB iPod interface.

Indeed, Nissan expands availability of the navigation system for model-year 2012 by expanding availability of the Technology Package from just the 2.0 SR model to the 2.0 S, as well. The Technology Package is reasonably priced, at $650, and the navigation system is also available as a stand-alone option on the 2.0 SL at just $400. Tempering excitement is that Sentra’s navigation system is a rather elementary unit. It includes traffic updates but lack of voice recognition and a modestly sized 5-inch screen limit its versatility compared with the admittedly costlier systems in some rivals.

A USB interface is standard on every 2012 Sentra except the base 2.0 model, which makes due with an auxiliary plug. Similarly, Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity is unavailable on the base 2.0 models and, surprisingly, on the SE-R models. This safety and convenience feature is, however, optional on 2.0 S and 2.0 SR models and standard on the 2.0 SL.

The 2.0 SL remains the only 2012 Sentra available with the leather upholstery option ($900). All but the entry-level 2.0 model continue for 2012 with cruise control and remote keyless entry as standard. Antilock brakes (ABS) for surer stops, an antiskid system for better stability in turns, and traction control for optimum grip off the line are standard on every 2012 Sentra.

2012 Nissan Sentra Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Nissan Sentra is $16,820-$21,380. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer's mandatory destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2012 Sentra is $760.)

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 costs $16,820 with manual transmission and $18,000 with the CVT. It includes among its standard features a six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, power windows, locks, and mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and an AM/FM/CD audio system.

Base price for the 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 S model is $18,750. It builds on the Sentra 2.0 equipment by adding such standard features as the CVT, remote keyless entry, cruise control, height adjustable driver’s seat, iPod interface, trip computer, outside temperature display, and 16-inch wheels.  

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR is a sporty version of the Sentra 2.0 S and also starts at $18,750. Added content includes 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, front and rear sport facias, lower body side sill extensions, fog lights and chrome exhaust tips.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SL has a base price of $20,150.  It has everything in the Sentra 2.0 S plus Nissan’s Intelligent Key keyless entry and ignition system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, and a premium audio system. A power moon roof is optionally available on the 2.0 SL as an $800 option.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R costs $20,880. It features the 177 horsepower 2.5-liter engine, a sport-tuned CVT with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and performance-themed interior upgrades.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is priced at $21,380.  It adds to the Sentra SE-R performance extras that include a 200 horsepower 2.5-liter engine with a six-speed close ratio manual transmission, sport-tuned suspension, larger front brakes, and summer performance tires.

Notable 2012 Sentra options include the $850 Convenience Package for 2.0 S and 2.0 SR models; it adds keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth leather-wrapped steering wheel, and cargo net and hooks. The $1,300 2.0 SR Special Edition Package combines the Convenience and Technology packages, and adds the moonroof and special alloy wheels.

For 2012 Sentra SE-R models, the $2,450 SE-R Upgrade Package adds navigation plus the moonroof, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, rearview monitor, keyless entry and ignition, and eight-speaker 340-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with satellite radio. The $2,600 Spec V Upgrade Package includes the SE-R Upgrade Package content (except keyless ignition), along with a Helical limited slip differential.

2012 Nissan Sentra Fuel Economy back to top

The 2012 Nissan Sentra, a compact that once counted high mileage among its assets, will seem behind the curve for model-year 2012. Thanks largely to the relative efficiencies of the CVT, all but one of the 2012 Sentra models rate 30 mpg or more on the highway. But that won’t seem so remarkable because the new crop of compacts has reset highway ratings of 40 mpg as the price of entry in the class.

With the CVT, 2.0 liter four-cylinder 2012 Sentras are unchanged at 27/34 mpg city/highway and 30 mpg combined city/highway. With the six-speed manual transmission, the 2.0-liter 2012 Sentra retains a 24/31/27 rating.

Fuel economy ratings for 2012 Sentra SE-R equipped with the CVT and 2.5-liter engine repeat at 24/30 mpg city/highway, 26 combined. The 2012 Sentra SE-R Spec V with the six-speed manual transmission repeats at 21/28/24 mpg.

2012 Nissan Sentra Release Date back to top

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 model went on sale in June 2011 and the SE-R models in August 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Sentra back to top

Sentra is a bedrock nameplate for Nissan in the U.S. It debuted for model-year 1982 and grew in size and popularity through five design generations. Today’s sixth-generation Sentra, introduced for model-year 2007 alongside the less expensive but more expressive Nissan Versa, has not been a sales blockbuster. Prices were initially steep versus rivals such as the Honda Civic. Unemotional styling held it back. And it faced fiercely effective competition from upstart Hyundai. Nissan’s small-car fans gravitated to the Versa, especially to its hip, four-door hatchback body style, and at times Sentra ranked No. 2 in small-car sales within its own brand.

Things won’t get easier for the seventh-generation Sentra, set to launch in the second half of 2012 as a 2013 model. Besides the aforementioned armada of redesigned compacts from rival carmakers, Nissan buyers shopping for something about the size and price of a Sentra, but in the higher-riding crossover format, are likely to be tempted by the 2012 Nissan Juke. And those looking to go pure green surely would consider the all-electric 2012 Nissan Leaf compact sedan.

Nissan might attempt to recoup Sentra’s momentum by letting its designers loose to create an haute couture shape, the polar opposite of today’s frumpy design. One glance at the op-art Juke shows how far Nissan’s willing to let its stylists go.

Or the automaker could survey the small-car landscape – with particular focus on the Chevrolet Cruze -- and conclude there’s a place for a tastefully conservative sedan that speaks directly to the many older buyers who make up Sentra’s fan base. A slight shift upscale into so-called “premium compact” territory isn’t out of the question, either. American car buyers are downsizing but a good portion isn’t willing to sacrifice upmarket features in the process. So with Versa and possibly even a smaller new car sliding in at lower price points, the next Sentra could be repositioned with top-quality interior materials and other premium features as its calling card.

In any event, expect the 2013 Sentra to remain a front-wheel-drive compact that’s not likely to get notably larger or smaller than today’s model. Like the current edition, the 2013 Sentra will likely share its platform with the Nissan Versa, the sedan version of which has been redesigned for 2012. It’ll again be powered by four-cylinder engines, which are certain to be more fuel-efficient and could even come in turbocharged form if SE-R-grade models return. While some rivals are embracing new-age transmissions such as clutchless manuals to take the place of conventional automatics, expect Sentra to continue relying on a CVT.

2012 Nissan Sentra Competition back to top

Honda Civic: All new for model-year 2012, Civic is Honda’s signature model and America’s top-selling compact car. Same-old- same-old styling and little advancement in performance, however, means the redesigned 2012 Civic may no longer be the class pacesetter. The 2012 Civic lineup continues with a four-door sedan and two-door coupe, both with an evolutionary design that looks only a sliver racier than the outgoing models, though they’re arguably the roomiest cars in the competitive set. Two four-cylinder engines return for 2012, a 200-horsepower 2.4-liter in the sporty Si editions and a 140-horsepower 1.8 in all other models. Also returning is a gasoline-electric hybrid producing 110 net horsepower. Fuel-economy ratings have increased for all 2012 Civics. The 1.8-liter volume models with automatic transmission are EPA rated at 28/39 mpg city/highway 32 mpg combined city/highway rating. The 2012 Civic Hybrid is rated at 44 mpg for city, highway and combined.

Ford Focus: Fresh to Ford’s U.S. lineup for model-year 2012, the newest Focus leverages the best of Ford’s global engineering talent and European design expertise to create a compact with advance styling, engineering, fuel economy and performance. Offered as a four-door sedan starting at $16.995 and four-door hatchback priced from $18,790, these front-drive five-seaters are as stimulating to drive as they are to look at. Among their draws: European-tuned front and rear independent suspensions and cutting-edge infotainment technology. The base engine is a direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 160 horsepower mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is 26/36/30 mpg with manual transmission, 28/38/31 with automatic. An extra-cost Super Fuel Efficient option with the automatic gets 28/40/33. On the horizon for calendar 2011 or early 2012, likely as 2012 or 2013 models: the Focus Electric, a plug-in pure-electric car Ford says will go 100 miles per charge, and the Focus ST, a hot-rod version with an EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder of some 240 horsepower.   

Hyundai Elantra: The 2012 Elantra sedan continues to threaten rivals with a combination of head-turning looks, low prices, excellent fuel economy, and a standard feature list that includes heated power mirrors and USB iPod interface on every model. It also raises eyebrows with available heated rear seats. The engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 148-horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque connected to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel-economy ratings are 29/40 mpg city/highway and 33 mpg combined city/highway, regardless of transmission. Elantra’s ride and handling doesn’t have the polish of the Civic or Focus, and rear seat room doesn’t quite match the Honda’s. But with a base-price range of $15,955-$21,205, the 2012 Elantra is another must-consider in the compact category.

UPDATED BY LARRY E. HALL