2012 Nissan Sentra

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Key Specs
Our Take
Road Test
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Safety & Recalls
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Key Specs

of the 2012 Nissan Sentra. Base trim shown.

  • Body Type:
  • Combined MPG:
    24-30 Combined MPG
  • Engine:
    140-hp, 2.0-liter I-4 (regular gas)
  • Drivetrain:
    Front-wheel Drive
  • Transmission:
    6-speed manual w/OD
  • View more specs

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Responsive drivetrain
  • Soft, if clumsy, ride
  • Large storage areas
  • Quiet cabin
  • Inexpensive navigation option

The Bad

  • Handling
  • No telescoping steering wheel
  • Limited adjustment range for driver's seat
  • Thick window pillars limit visibility
  • Underwhelming SE-R version

Notable Features of the 2012 Nissan Sentra

  • 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Six-speed manual or CVT
  • 2.5-liter SE-R versions
  • Redesign due for 2013

2012 Nissan Sentra Road Test

Kelsey Mays

The 2012 Nissan Sentra doesn't have many frills, but it holds up. And since the current generation is in its final year, the prospect of a good deal makes it worth a look.

Somewhere amid the slew of stylish compacts with smartphone applications and 40-mpg highway ratings is the Sentra, a car that hasn't been redesigned since late 2006. It cannot stream your apps. Its EPA highway rating tops out at a lackluster 34 mpg. It lacks the crash-test accolades many competitors have earned. It drives, however, like a trusty steed.

The Nissan Sentra comes in base, S, SR and SL models with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The Sentra SE-R, meanwhile, gets a 2.5-liter I-4, while a high-output SE-R Spec V makes 200 horsepower. Compare them here, or compare the 2012 and 2011 Sentra here. We tested a 2.0 S.

Sufficient Power, Soft Ride
Most trims have a continuously variable automatic transmission, which gives the 140-hp four-cylinder immediate passing response and capable off-the-line power. Two editors noticed some drivetrain clunking at low speeds, but otherwise this transmission is the way CVTs should be. Too many of them incur noisy drones and lazy revs. Alas, even though efficiency is the objective behind CVTs, the Sentra's aged unit delivers underwhelming EPA ratings: At 27/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic, it trails the Hyundai Elantra (29/40 mpg) and mainline versions of the Honda Civic (28/39), Ford Focus (28/38) and Chevrolet Cruze (26/38), even though all of these m...

The 2012 Nissan Sentra doesn't have many frills, but it holds up. And since the current generation is in its final year, the prospect of a good deal makes it worth a look.

Somewhere amid the slew of stylish compacts with smartphone applications and 40-mpg highway ratings is the Sentra, a car that hasn't been redesigned since late 2006. It cannot stream your apps. Its EPA highway rating tops out at a lackluster 34 mpg. It lacks the crash-test accolades many competitors have earned. It drives, however, like a trusty steed.

The Nissan Sentra comes in base, S, SR and SL models with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The Sentra SE-R, meanwhile, gets a 2.5-liter I-4, while a high-output SE-R Spec V makes 200 horsepower. Compare them here, or compare the 2012 and 2011 Sentra here. We tested a 2.0 S.

Sufficient Power, Soft Ride
Most trims have a continuously variable automatic transmission, which gives the 140-hp four-cylinder immediate passing response and capable off-the-line power. Two editors noticed some drivetrain clunking at low speeds, but otherwise this transmission is the way CVTs should be. Too many of them incur noisy drones and lazy revs. Alas, even though efficiency is the objective behind CVTs, the Sentra's aged unit delivers underwhelming EPA ratings: At 27/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic, it trails the Hyundai Elantra (29/40 mpg) and mainline versions of the Honda Civic (28/39), Ford Focus (28/38) and Chevrolet Cruze (26/38), even though all of these models have step-gear transmissions.

The Nissan Sentra rides a lot like the Toyota Corolla: soft but often clumsy. The suspension masks potholes as well as the best competitors — think Cruze or Elantra — and low highway wind noise plays into the overall serenity, but sharp bumps kick up plenty of noise. I noticed some high-pitched tire wail at interstate speeds from our test car's 16-inch Bridgestone Turanza all-season tires, and when one editor loaded the car with a few hundred pounds of cargo, it rode poorly over all sorts of pavement.

Spirited driving befuddles the car, too. The Sentra steers precisely enough, but the Bridgestones grip like shopping-cart wheels. Throw the car into a corner and the nose breaks wide at every chance; tightening highway cloverleafs sent our tester flailing toward the sidelines until the standard electronic stability system reeled it in. Poor balance and even worse grip means you should keep it in a straight line.

Our car's brake pedal had an inch of lackluster response, but SE-R models replace the Sentra's rear drums with four-wheel discs, which might improve matters. The Spec V has larger front discs and high-performance summer tires, with an optional limited-slip differential. Such hardware should make for more fun, performance-oriented car, but the last SE-R we drove underwhelmed: Its 200 hp came on late, and the summer tires still felt short on grip.

The Inside
The cabin's conservative design is forgettable, and there were a few misaligned panels and a sloppy gearshift, but materials quality is decent overall. Grab the sun visors or perch your elbow along the windowsill, and the materials actually feel a class above. The well-machined climate controls put the Corolla's sloppy knobs to shame, and the chrome door handles outshine the painted plastic pieces in a number of competing models. In an era where cars from the Civic to the Volkswagen Jetta have dropped the quality ball, it's nice to see Nissan hold its grip.

Thick A- and C-pillars rob some visibility, and long-legged adults will wish the driver's seat adjusted farther rearward. I had it all the way back for my 5-foot-11 frame. The steering wheel needs a telescoping adjustment, too; it only tilts. Backseat legroom is good, but adults may find headroom tight. The trunk sports a competitive 13.1 cubic feet, with an opening that could fit a bike if you fold down the 60/40-split seats. Unfortunately, folding the seat flat is a huff-and-puff, four-step process – or five, if the front seats are too far back. Congress could pass legislation faster.

Reliability, Safety & Features
Reliability has been above average, but crash-test scores underwhelm. In tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Sentra earned the top score, Good, in frontal crashes but Acceptable in side, rear and roof-strength tests, barring it from earning a Top Safety Pick. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Sentra four out of five stars overall, with top scores for NHTSA's new side-pole test but just two stars for backseat side-impact protection.

None of the scores are deal-breakers, but the segment at large does better. A slew of Nissan Sentra competitors – the Cruze, Focus, Civic, Elantra, Mazda3, Corolla, Jetta, Mitsubishi Lancer and Subaru Impreza – are Top Safety Picks, and the Civic sedan, Elantra and Cruze have five-star NHTSA ratings. The Sentra has standard head-protecting side airbags, active front head restraints, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list of features, or here to see our evaluation of child-seat provisions.

The Nissan Sentra's standard features include power windows and locks, air conditioning and a CD stereo with an auxiliary MP3 input. Options include keyless access, heated leather seats, an iPod-friendly stereo, Rockford Fosgate audio and a navigation system. A few features offered elsewhere – automatic climate control, Bluetooth audio streaming – are unavailable. The base Sentra (including destination) starts around $17,000; a loaded SE-R Spec V tops $24,000.

Sentra in the Market
A redesigned Nissan Sentra arrives this fall. As it fades into the asphalt sunset, the current generation of Nissan's compact car remains competent in the basics but less than competitive in gas mileage and safety. It rated midpack for affordability among compact cars in a price comparison last year, and if a dealer won't budge from that, there are better choices. Dealer and manufacturer incentives could make the math more favorable, however, especially as the car nears its final months. If the price is right, the Sentra could be worth a look; you could do a lot worse.

Send Kelsey an email  

 


2012 Sentra Video

The Nissan Sentra is getting a little long in the tooth, according to Cars.com Industry Analyst Kelsey Mays.

Latest 2012 Sentra Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.3)
Performance
(4.1)
Interior Design
(4.3)
Comfort
(4.5)
Reliability
(4.5)
Value For The Money
(4.5)

What Drivers Are Saying

(5.0)

Best Car I Ever Bought!

by LaurieD from Syracuse,NY on October 20, 2018

I leased my 2912 Nissan for. Years then bought the car. If you Live in the snow zone know this car is extremely good on snow and ice. Mine gas skid control so whenever I stopped quickly my car ... Read full review

(5.0)

I loved this car very reliable!

by Alliylucky7 from sunland, ca on August 10, 2018

This car was my favorite car I owned it was a special edition with touch screen navigation, moon roof , Bluetooth, USB , back up camera, and it was fast like a sports car. very comfortable to drive. Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2012 Nissan Sentra currently has 0 recalls

Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

The 2012 Nissan Sentra has not been tested.

Manufacturer Warranties

Backed by Nissan
New Car Program Benefits
  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    36 months / 36,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    60 months / 60,000 miles

Certified Pre-Owned Program Benefits
  • Maximum Age/Mileage

    6 years/less than 80,000 miles

  • Basic Warranty Terms

    84 months/100,000 miles from original new-car in-service date

  • Powertrain warranty

    84 months/100,000 miles (includes LEAF electric vehicle system and powertrain)

  • Dealer Certification Required

    167-point inspection

  • Roadside Assistance

    Yes

  • View All Program Details

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The Sentra received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker