2012 Nissan Versa: Sticker Shock
Base MSRP: $10,990
The 2012 Nissan Versa is a compact sparkplug of a sedan that has been completely revamped. Nissan says its all-new model has the lowest MSRP of any of its competitors, yet it a “real” car. That’s because for $10,999 you can drive away in an upgraded model that comes with standard air conditioning, a radio and a long list of standard features, plus get up to 38 mpg. on the highway (30 city/33 mpg combined), with best-in-class rear legroom and trunk space. Fully-equipped uplevel models will top out at $16,200. Nissan will continue to sell its current version of the Versa hatchback, and will upgrade this popular version in the future.
Built on a new platform, the 2012 Versa gets a new engine, an updated CVT transmission, and is available with a number of upgrades to comfort, convenience and technology features that boost its cache and competitive price point in this entry-level market segment, as well.
Nissan’s engineers have found a number of clever ways to shed weight, add room and improve fuel economy on the second-generation Versa. The new Versa will attract buyers looking for an affordable, compact vehicle with roominess for friends and family, as well as good carrying cargo capacity. Versa was made for people who are “always busy, even when they are relaxing,” which includes young urban professionals, single moms, road warrior dads and even older buyers, says Nissan. It goes on sale in August.
2012 Nissan Versa: Contemporary Looks
Designed with a shortened front overhang and a new “signature” sedan grille, the 2012 Nissan Versa is one-half inch smaller in length, with a roofline that is one and a half inches shorter and, yet, it has a bigger interior. In fact, the 2012 model owns bragging rights as the biggest sedan in its class, which includes competitors such as the Hyundai Accent, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Suzuki SX4.
Outside, Versa has the look of a youthful gymnastics champ: compact-but-brawny through the shoulders and rear. Big headlamps and taillamps give the impression of girth. The roofline is indented, giving both a swoosh of style and the added benefit of reduced noise inside the cabin, due to clever physics that dampen vibrations. While the previous generation Versa was narrower, designers kept the same wheelbase and crafted the compact with more aerodynamic styling, giving it a 0.31 coefficient of drag that softens its looks and is easier at the gas pump.
This little grocery-getter has a few surprises in the cabin, including more rear legroom than some luxury mid-sized sedans such as the Lexus LS460, BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, says Nissan. It has 90 cu. ft. of cabin room and 14.8 cu. ft. of stowage in the trunk, which is accessible through a 60/40 split-and-fold rear seat on up-market SL models. Other nice features are largely optional, but include a 5-inch touchscreen navigation, Bluetooth, MP3/iPod interface and steering wheel-mounted cruise control.
Versas come with a choice of Sandstone or Charcoal interior.
2012 Nissan Versa: Power Play
The front-drive 2012 Nissan Versa is powered by a 1.6-liter inline 4-cyliner motor making 109 horsepower and 107 lb.-ft. of torque. The new engine has dual fuel injectors that bring 57 percent more coverage in the cylinder, which improves fuel economy. The base model has a 5-speed manual transmission (27/36/30 mpg.); a continuously variable automatic transmission is available and comes standard on uplevel versions. Nissan says its CVT’s transmission ratio is broader than most conventional CVTs and is typical of a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The updated CVT has an improved final drive, an added sub-planetary gear and a torque converter lockup. What this means is that it is incredibly smooth-moving, with no shift shock.
Front disc and rear drums are supported by four-wheel ABD and brake assist. The compact’s suspension includes independent front struts and a rear torsion bar. Safety is boosted by supplemental front seat-mounted side airbags and roof-mounted side curtains; rear door child locks and LATCH child seat tethers are standard equipment.
2012 Nissan Versa: What We Drove
We drove pre-production models of the 2012 Nissan Versa, with the CVT, enjoying its pleasing on-tap torque that enables it to zip in and out of traffic at almost all speeds. We did find a slight response lag, when traveling up hills in the 40 mph. range but, in general found its smaller engine (a 1.6 versus the previous generation’s 1.8-liter) has ample power, plus enhances fuel economy. We also found Versa’s stopping power was more than sufficient, although the brakes are a bit grabby at the top of the pedal, but bring the Versa to a halt in a stable fashion.
Our drive in the uplevel SL took us over a course of close to 100 miles in an about Seattle. While the Versa’s overall look is mainstream, and I felt like we were swimming in a sea of sameness when motoring along Seattle’s bustling freeways. However, Versa’s more slippery side profile cuts an attractive figure and looks contemporary and, even, Audi-like at a quick glance.
Versa’s interior appointments are set in a clean and companionable cockpit, with six cup holders, a large glove box, a covey of small stowage areas in doors, although there is no center console. We took note of the thoughtful ‘mute’ button, positioned directly above the audio control knob. Our seats and front headrests were comfortable for the car’s price-point, but we missed power seats controls. We were happy to have power windows, as S versions require manual roll-up.
Versa’s steering is good and overall handling is very capable. Both short and tall drivers can maneuver well with a seat that has ample travel for both and a steering wheel that is height-adjustable. Two complaints included the intrusion of road noise on city streets and harsh engine noise under hard throttle.
2012 Nissan Versa: Models and Packages
The 2012 Nissan Versa is available in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. S models can be ordered with either a manual or automatic; SV and SL versions come standard with the auto. A 12-volt power outlet and cup and bottle holders are integrated on all models, as is a 2-speaker stereo system. Exterior features include 15-inch steel wheels and halogen lights.
SV and SL models add power windows and locks, as well as a 4-speaker audio system, which bundles an iPod jack on SL versions, and remote keyless entry. There’s an upholstery upgrade to woven fabric on these models, too. SL also has speed-sensitive volume control and 60/40 split folding rear seat. Navigation and XM radio are optional on top level versions.
2012 Nissan Versa: In Case You’re Interested
The 2012 Nissan Versa is one of the first core vehicles that Nissan is revamping in its worldwide portfolio; the manufacturer will continue an aggressive product launch over the next year and a half.
Nissan has priced the base version of the Versa at what is known as the ‘crossover’ point in the car market; many consumers today will buy a new model for $10,000 to $11,000, rather than buy a used model. Many of these buyers say they don’t want to give up anything, and want to have everything they can have at this price point.
The Versa is built in Mexico and will be sold in 140 countries. Nissan says the entry-level segment is expected to grow from 9 entries to 15 models in the U.S. over the next five years as a result of fuel prices and CAFE/FE requirements.
Nissan claims 30 percent segment share in the segment in which the Versa competes.
Since its launch in 2006, Nissan has sold 350,000 Versas in the U.S. The new sedan goes on sale in early August, whereas the hatchback model will carryover for 2012 and be updated in the future. For more information on the 2012 Nissan Versa, go to the NissanUSA.com homepage at launch.
*Nissan has determined that the American car crisis is over. This Japanese carmaker owned by Renault has been gaining U.S. market share and company spokespeople say is operating in a kind of “stealth” mode, meaning there has been little fanfare about its gains in the American market. Nissan also reports that its company operations in Japan are back on track following a 30-day disruption after the earthquake.
**Nissan says that the difference between a 38 mpg auto and a 40-mpg vehicle accounts to only $36 a year in fuel savings, when driven 15,000 annually.
Nissan provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross