in 2012 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,075 - $16,113
Original MSRP: $16,430 - $20,990
MPG: 24 City / 31 Hwy
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2012 Nissan Sentra Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

There's nothing remarkable about the Nissan Sentra's power or handling, but test drivers don't find any significant problems either. Some reviewers complain about engine noise, particularly when the road gets rough, but they are impressed with the optional continuously variable transmission. This helps the Sentra get decent gas mileage of up to 27/34 mpg city/highway.

  • "The 2.0 models have decent around-town power; passing punch is sufficient, too." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Those who prefer crisp handling response or brisk acceleration are likely to be disappointed, although moving up to the SE-R or SE-R Spec V models would dramatically change both elements of the overall performance equation." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "What you think of driving the 2012 Nissan Sentra sedan depends a great deal on what's under the hood. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes decent power, but the CVT creates a less-than-appealing droning sound when accelerating. Handling is just passable. The ride quality is fine on smooth roads but becomes a bit rough over broken pavement." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The Sentra will get drivers to work, to the grocery store and home again without a problem, but drivers won’t be overwhelmed by the Sentra’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder base engine that makes 140 horsepower. The base Sentra comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a type of automatic transmission, is available on higher trims. Test drivers say that the manual transmission isn’t necessarily more fun to drive than the CVT.

Reviewers note that shoppers who want a more powerful car should try the SE-R or SE-R Spec V models. The SE-R has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 177 horsepower and a CVT transmission, while the SE-R Spec V has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission. You can’t get a CVT on the Spec V.

Fuel economy ratings for the Sentra vary depending on the engine and transmission selected. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder automatic nets 27/34 mpg city/highway and the manual nets 24/31 mpg. The SE-R trim averages 24/30 mpg, while the SE-R Spec V averages 21/28 mpg and requires premium fuel.

  • "Manual-transmission versions are not significantly quicker than those with the CVT. The manual suffers from imprecise shifter and clutch action. The CVT is smooth and responsive. … The SE-R Spec V is stronger in all situations, though it needs high rpm for best performance." -- Consumer Guide
  • "As you'd expect, the SE-R Spec V is another story altogether, with abundant acceleration and noticeably sharper handling. Some of the fun is lost due to the manual transmission's balky action that can't compare to the precise feel of shifters in competitors like the Honda Civic Si." -- Edmunds
  • "Although engine power is hardly overwhelming, the Sentra's CVT automatic makes the most of the 2.0-liter's output, providing snappy off-the-line launches and adequate power for merging and passing." -- Kelley Blue Book

Handling and Braking

The automotive press says the Nissan Sentra’s ride is anything but smooth. The suspension transmits too many road bumps, creating a choppy ride. The SE-R and SE-R Spec V are performance versions, but reviewers say they are nowhere near as nimble as the Volkswagen GTI or Honda Civic Si, though they are a huge improvement over the base Sentra.

  • "Sentra has a solid body structure, and 2.0 models ride comfortably, but fall short of the class leaders. All suffer from varying degrees of pounding and crashing over larger pavement imperfections. Spec V is the stiffest of the bunch." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Road imperfections are felt throughout the cabin, creating a relatively choppy ride." -- Edmunds

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