2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR review: Driving invisible

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR

The basic styling of the 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR–despite special “sport” trim–has been around since 2007.

The Romulans had cloaking devices. A real scientist has demonstrated how to make light bend around an object to make it invisible. And there have been times at restaurants when, judging by the service received, we’re wearing a cloak of invisibility. And then we drove the 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR.

It’s not that the Nissan Sentra is can’t be seen, it’s just that in today’s automotive universe, it simply goes unnoticed. Purchasing a Nissan Sentra is, perhaps, the best way to buy a new car without your neighbors noticing. Or the best way to lose your car in the parking lot without it having been moved.

Of course, being the most transparet6 form of transportation since Wonder Woman’s jet doesn’t mean 2012 Nissan Sentra SL is a bad car. To the contrary, there are many things to like about the Nissan Sentra. It’s just that being a fashionista isn’t one of them.

It is in most ways the archetypical Japanese compact sedan, roomy inside compared to its trim exterior dimensions. The interior plastics have a quality feel if not sift touch, and the door panels have fabric inserts that one hopes will be durable over the long run.

The seats are notch above many competitors, comfortable and supportive with enough side bolstering on the front buckets to qualify almost as sport seats.

Nissan claims that the Sentra is capable of accommodating five adults in comfort.  Perhaps, but only if the three in the back have any hope of winning the Kentucky Derby (as the jockey, not the horse). Two fit easily, however, with even a plus-six footer fitting inside with only a minor amount of cooperation from the front seat passenger.

The rear seatback folds to make a large pass-through from the trunk, but unlike most rivals that only allow the seatback to tip forward, the Sentra first tips the bottom cushion forward to allow the rear seatback to fold flat for a lot more utility.

2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR

The 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SR engine is rated at 140 horsepower (except under California emissions rules).

The 2012 Nissan Sentra is available with three different engines, a 2.0-liter four rated at 140 horsepower (135-hp with California emissions), a 2.5-liter four making 177 horsepower or a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter four. Our test vehicle was sporty-looking Sentra 2.0 SR. The rest of the range includes the base Sentra 2.0, up through the less Spartan 2.0 S and the top-trim Sentra 2.0 SR.

The Nissan “MR20DE” 2.0-liter engine in our test 2012 Nissan Sentra SR was a gem, smooth and even-tempered in everyday driving and quiet enough at idle that sooner or later one is likely to try to start it when it’s already running. On the other hand, gems aren’t very big and 140 horsepower can only do so much. Assuming Nissan is correct about putting five adults in the Sentra, the added load and the 2.0-liter’s efforts to overcome it will elicit a comment about heavy-breathing chipmunks from at least one of those adults and agreement from the rest.

Add in an uphill and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a sensation like a powerboat or, more generously, a propeller aircraft, as a full throttle the engine speeds up to the top of its rev range     and stays there until the driver lifts off the gas. Traditionalists will decry the sounds and the feel. Realists will point out that the CVT allows the engine to stay at its power peak for maximum acceleration.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.