New-car test: 2012 Nissan Versa – virtues and a couple of vices for a song


2012 Nissan Versa sedan

Nissan’s small sedan gets a style and size makeover

The once subcompact Nissan Versa sedan has been re-engineered on a larger platform and  restyled with enough interior capacity to push it into the compact class – but with subcompact pricing.

With starting prices ranging from $11,750 to around $18,000, Versa now has more appeal, ranging from misers to young families. It has incredible back seat room and a trunk for elephants.

Versa is still sold in hatchback body style, too, but it is unchanged for 2012.  The sedan has the same width as before but is a half inch longer and not as tall on the same wheelbase of 102.4 inches. The exterior styling may not be head-turning, but it is much more proportionately sound than the old model. And the interior is neat and tidy with some creative swirls, sweeps and arcs to break up the vanilla.

Pricing ranges from $11,750 to around $18,000, including the $760 freight charge.

The base model comes with a five-speed manual and air conditioning, two-speaker audio system, stability and traction controls and six air bags. For a baseline comparison, the base Honda Civic does not have AC or a radio.

The S model can be optioned with a continuously variable automatic transmission, $1,770, and such niceties as cruise control, two rear speakers, a trunk light and some silver trim accents, which aren’t allowed on the penny-pinching base car.

Moving up to the SV with CVT, $15,320, will add more conveniences, such as cruise control, power windows and locks, remote locking, upgraded seat cloth, some chrome and silver trim accents.

The top-line SL, today’s tester, starts at $16,320 and was $17,190 as tested.

All models are powered by a 109-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual or second-generation CVT, which Nissan says has gearing typical of a seven-speed transmission.

Fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 36 highway on regular unleaded, or 30/38 mpg with the CVT. That compares to the Civic at 28/39 and the Hyundai Accent at 30/40.

Performance is decent but with some engine noise on uphill grades as the transmission adapts to the load. I made a three-hour round-trip run to LAX and could have driven longer. Ride quality is good for this class, but there is some wind push from big trucks on the highway and road noise on concrete surfaces. The high seat point helps visibility and easy entry.

Interior spaciousness is deceiving from the outside. There is front seat room for a 6-foot-5 male with a 6-foot male sitting comfortably in the back seat. There is no rear center headrest, but the SL model does have a split-folding back seat to boost the 14.8-cubic-foot trunk.

One of the Versa virtues of soft armrests is gone (not hard now, but not as cushy as they once were). And for long-distance commuters, an option for a front center armrest/storage box would be welcome (Hyundai does this for Accent). And don’t expect a vanity mirror on driver’s side, only the passenger side.

There is much attention paid to a 40 mpg highway rating in the latest crop of small cars. But Versa is credible for its 30 mpg city and multi-function capacity.


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