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Unfortunately for the Sentra, it’s been a tough existence as a compact vehicle since the folks at Nissan decided five years ago to make this longtime subcompact a little larger.

It’s not like there are major deficiencies with the Sentra. However, there aren’t enough positives that make this standout as a vehicle one just has to purchase. Other more notable competitors outclass the Sentra with more refinement, modernized features and pure driving pleasure.

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The 2012 Nissan Sentra arrives with no major changes at a time when other rivals are offering newer and more desirable models. The competition includes the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Golf, and Kia Forte.

The Sentra is a five-seat sedan that resides between the subcompact Versa and the midsize Altima in Nissan’s lineup. The Sentra comes in six trim models this year and has some admirable qualities, like gas mileage, sizable list of standard features, and a very functionable interior.

But the Sentra also has a list of inadequacies that prevents it from being rated higher. Four of its models provide a rather mundane driving experience and that isn’t helped by average handling and ride quality. Its rivals can offer more power, snappier design and better features, which combines to make them overall more satisfying.

The four mainstream Sentras all have a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower, making it an unexciting vehicle to drive that goes 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds.

However, the SE-R and SE-R Spec V models are much livelier 2.5-liter, four-cylinders with 177 horsepower, that are nearly two seconds faster (6.7) than the conventional Sentras when accelerating from 0-60 mph. But note that both these models cost $4,000 or more than the base Sentra and also aren’t nearly as good on gas.

The Sentra provides just adequate handling and the engine is a bit noisy at certain speeds. It drives fine on smooth surfaces, but can get pretty choppy on roads that are a little rougher.

What was most impressive here was the Sentra’s interior. It features roomy front seating, even for people 6-feet or a little taller, and strong driver visibility. The backseat offers comfortable seating, yet like most compacts – it’s cramped when three passengers are aboard.

The gauges and controls are easy to master and very accessible. The Sentra also has large rear cupholders and big door pockets in the rear seating. While not large, the trunk can be transformed into two compartments.

The Sentra won’t be anyone’s top choice in the compact class, but it does come at a very competitive price and the base models provide good gas mileage (27-34 mpg).

2012 Nissan Sentra

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 140 horsepower; 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 177horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 21-34 mpg
  • Price: $16,250 to $20,810
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles
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