An all-new sedan joined the 2012 Nissan Versa range this year, while the five-door hatchback remained unchanged from previous years' models.
Whichever body style you choose, the Versa has two major selling points. One is extraordinary value, as one of the cheapest cars on sale. The other is impressive interior space--usefully bigger than many of its subcompact rivals. The size and lack of expense is an appealing combination, so it's no surprise that the Versa is a consistent high-seller.
However, thanks to the new sedan and unchanged hatch, the Versa is now a different car depending on the body style you choose.
The sedan incorporates some styling touches from larger Nissan and Infiniti sedans. It's gained a few curves both inside and out, and incorporates a new grille design. The hatchback still manages to look contemporary though, and offers a dash of extra practicality.
Sedans get an all-new 1.6-liter, 109-horsepower engine, and hatchbacks continue with the old 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter four. Both are available with CVT transmissions. The 1.6 sedan also has a five-speed manual option, while the hatch can be had with a sluggish four-speed auto, or a six-speed manual.
CVT models have the best gas mileage--the 1.6 sedan is EPA-rated at 30 mpg city, 38 highway and 33 mpg combined, which is now much closer to rivals like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Fiesta SFE.
The CVT-equipped 1.8 hatchback manages 28 mpg in the city, 34 highway and 30 combined. Avoid the four-speed automatic. Not only is it less smooth than the CVT models, but its fuel economy ratings are pretty poor--only 24 mpg in the city, 32 highway and 27 combined.
Driving the Versa quickly leads to the conclusion that it’s a heavy car, without a great deal of excess power, riding on soft springs that give it a comfortable ride. Plenty of body roll is kept in check by well controlled suspension, but you’ll never mistake it for a Ford Fiesta on the road.
We suggest you avoid the aging four-speed automatic, whose ratios are wide enough to create noticeable performance gaps on shifting. The CVT gets boomy even on slight acceleration, though, so if you can live with a stick, either of the manual options may be the most pleasant to drive.
Still, just think of the interior space. Nissan says it almost equals that of midsize cars, and they're not wrong. Headroom is excellent, the sedan’s trunk is enormous, and even with the rear set up, the hatchback model offers almost 18 cubic feet of cargo space. Blindfold your passengers and they might think they're in a midsize car too, such is the level of refinement.
The price, too, can't be ignored. The cheapest models start at around $11,000, and that’s including destination charges. That base model is a traditional economy car, with wind-up windows, no radio, and no air conditioning.
Even at its most expensive, in hatchback, SL trim, you'll have to really load up with options--metallic paint, navigation systems and more--to spend more than $20,000. By comparison, a top-of-the-line Ford Fiesta costs as much as $23,000.
The Versa SL includes a power windows, locks, and mirrors, a six-disc audio system, cruise control, keyless entry, and options like 16-inch alloy wheels (the base car has steel 14-inch wheels) and much more.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Nissan Versa range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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