Auto Review: Nissan’s loaded compact

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jun. 28, 2012
- Contributed Photo

It’s a trend that has been of great benefit to consumers, and a boon to sales for all the manufacturers: making the so-called economy car class much more “upscale” in terms of equipment than anybody might have expected a few years ago. In addition to including the latest in safety technology (now made mandatory in many cases), the level of comfort and convenience items has increased dramatically, and now even performance is being enhanced on a number of entry-level cars.

The Nissan Sentra is right in the middle of this excellent trend, and the 2012 model year offers no fewer than six different models to suit a broad variety of tastes and needs. These include Sentra 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR, 2.0 SL and the performance-oriented Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V. We got to spend some quality time with a 2.0 SR, which turned out to be a very nicely equipped and versatile performer.

The front-drive SR is powered by a plucky 2-liter Inline Four with 140 horsepower, and the lone gearbox is Nissan’s Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Fluid-filled engine mounts help smooth vibration, and add to the drivetrain’s overall refinement. Nissan has been a big adherent to the CVT, while other manufacturers have tried and abandoned it, and their devotion to this design has led to considerable advancements in overall performance, fuel economy and polish. As a result, the transmission is much quieter than the past Nissan CVTs and delivers exemplary fuel economy. In keeping with a solid drivetrain, the Sentra’s handling is as crisp as you would expect with a tight 105-inch wheelbase and the car’s overall compact dimensions. Sixteen-inch aluminum alloy wheels keep the sedan light on its feet, and the brakes hauled us down from 60 mph in an average of 120 feet (a solid performance).

The interior of the Sentra 2.0 SR is a great mix of luxury and sportiness, with stout, comfortable seating material and a good mix of quality plastics and fabrics that are becoming more and more common in this class (and far than compacts of the past). Controls are logically placed and fairly conventional, thankfully resisting too much of the touch-screen madness that’s infiltrating much of the competition. A substantial number of controls are found on the steering wheel, adding convenience, and overall the Sentra becomes very familiar very quickly.

Front seat room is good, although these perches could use more lateral support, and the rear seats aren’t the roomiest in the compact class, but are reasonably accommodating, and the seatbacks fold forward in 60/40 increments to expand trunk room. All in all, the Sentra does a lot with a little and gives a healthy injection of quality into a very economical, enjoyable car.

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR is EPA rated 27 MPG city/34 highway, and we averaged 28.4 MPG during a week of mixed driving with the vehicle. The base price is $17,990 and with options including a Special Edition Package (and including promotional discounts) our sticker came to $20,320.

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