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2012 Nissan Sentra

bob english The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
8
Overall
The Sentra 2.0 is, well, just about totally acceptable as family transportation, with good reliability reports as well. You'll like this car if: you are shopping with value in mind.
Looks Rating
8
Looks
Not bad to look at, particularly the front end, but maybe just a little bulky from the windscreen pillars back.
Interior Rating
7.5
Interior
This is an interior that drew its inspiration from - wait - it couldn't in any way be described as inspired.
Ride Rating
8
Ride
This is a purely family sedan-spec compact car and the ride and handling reflect this, firm enough for reasonable control (the optional tires help) and not likely to spill your coffee over bumps, which it deals with surprisingly well.
Safety Rating
8.5
Safety
In compact car terms the Sentra, now with traction and stability control standard, plus all the other usual features, is likely as safe as anything in the class.
Green Rating
8
Green
The fuel economy numbers mean that it isn't burning much of the stuff that causes greenhouse gases.

With a redesigned 2013 Sentra likely arriving in Nissan showrooms this year, why should you consider buying one of the 2012 versions?

Well, despite being introduced for 2007 – which makes it pretty dated and having a rather stark and minivan-ish interior only a Nissan bean counter could love – it's still a decent little sedan in most ways. And one of the more important ones is price.

The test Sentra 2.0, which was driven in the latter part of 2011, came with a price sheet indicating a $15,478 starting point, to which was added a $2,000 value option package, a $1,300 continuously variable automatic transmission and an entirely frivolous and I-don't-see-the-point $300 for triple-coat paint. Add $1,467 in freight and PDI charges and you end up with a pre-tax price of $20,545.

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However, if you go to Nissan's website and dial in an Ontario postal code, you'll find the same $15,478 base price, $2,000 for options and $1,300 for auto transmission – forget the $300 paint job – and the same $1,467 freight and PDI, plus a $134.20 in unspecified fees but end up with a pre-tax price of $17,879. How'd that happen? Well Nissan would very much like you to buy one of its soon-to-be-superseded 2012 Sentras and has kicked in a $2,500 factory rebate.

So now we're talking an all-taxes-in price of just a few bucks over $20,000, which might be compelling enough to make you forgo the yet-to-be-revealed enticements of the new one.

The upcoming Sentra – about which Nissan remains secretive – will likely share a new design language with the also-new Altima and rumour has it will be a bit bigger than the current one. But the 2012, after a styling and feature refresh for 2010, remains a good-looking compact sedan that can fit four comfortably in its roomy cabin and carry 371 litres of cargo under its abbreviated and be-spoilered deck lid.

But I had the odd sensation I'd stepped into a minivan after parking myself in the Sentra's reasonably comfortable driver's seat. The dash layout is a stark plastic landscape broken by a binnacle hump that contains a simple instrument array. The centre stack is topped by a large square bin and, below that, a generic black radio faceplate – and there's an odd protruding extrusion that contains the three round climate control knobs and the shifter.

The dash design team was hopefully replaced or at least reprogrammed before working on the new Sentra. The person who created the little latch for the stack-top bin door definitely needs some remedial study in ergonomics.

The equipment level is okay too, at least once you add the $2,000 option package. The base car comes with 15-inch steel wheels, a rear bench with fixed back, tilt wheel, a basic four-speaker audio system, power locks and traction and stability control plus a full complement of airbags.

The option package adds 16-inch alloy wheels shod with P205/55R16 tires, 60/40-split rear seatback for added cargo versatility, heated power outside mirrors and power windows, air conditioning, keyless remote entry, a rear armrest with cup holders and some exterior trim bits. Or, all that's needed to take it from spartan to something you won't mind climbing into every morning – although the lack of a driver's side vanity mirror is a bit of cheapness that should be noted – for the drive to work.

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And that drive, at least from a vehicle dynamics viewpoint, won't be a chore as the Sentra has plenty of performance, allied to good fuel economy and decent handling.

The power source is a 2.0-litre, 16-valve, twin-cam four rated at 140 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual, or in the test car's case, via a continuously variable transmission. This functions much better than these things used to and, in reality, people who drive it daily will probably forget all about it as soon as they shift into "D". It doesn't offer the option of shifting through virtual ratios, incidentally.

As power and torque numbers would suggest, there's no shortage of performance. It jumps off the line and up to the limit with enthusiasm, is quick to respond around town and, as these transmissions are supposed to, it instantly makes the most of the power available for passing. Fuel economy is rated at an efficient around-town rating of 7.6 litres/100 km and 5.7 litres/100 km on the highway.

The Sentra's suspension is conventional small car with MacPherson struts under the front corners and a torsion beam axle holding up the rear end. Steering weight and feel are okay but overall its responses don't encourage you to play rally driver on a back road.

If you might want to do that, you can opt for the Sentra SE-R with 177 hp and sports suspension and tires, or step all the way up to the Spec V with 200 hp and even more suspension, tires and brakes. Nissan will sell you Sentras with more luxury features, too.

But as basic transportation the Sentra 2.0 does a fine job.

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Tech specs

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0

Type: Compact sedan

Base Price: $15,478; as tested, $20,545

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/147 lb-ft

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Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city/5.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Forte, Mitsubishi Lancer, Hyundai Elantra

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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