Nissan Versa Road Test
by Martha Hindes
2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks
Opposites attract, don't they? At least that's how the expression goes. Night owls and early birds. Big spenders and the skinflint thrifty. Those connections make for interesting combinations, despite the seeming contradiction. The same could be said for one of the newest entries in the automotive field, the revised 2012 Nissan Versa compact car. Its tagline? How about a thought provoking "Small on the outside, big on the inside." Yeah, it caught our attention too.
Let's back up a minute and assess what Nissan really means by its promo. Part of that relates to the overall size of this small, economy sedan for five. Somehow Nissan has squeezed out extra interior room that, it says, is greater than some midsize sedans. And that includes the amount of luggage it can haul. A nip here, a tuck there, is how it was done according to the Japanese auto maker that has tons of experience making very small cars. Everything that could be downsized inside was, from the size of the trunk lid hinges to the shape of the vehicle sidewalls. Those were some of the areas touched with scalpel precision in this ground-up redo that opened up welcomed interior space. The result, says Nissan, is a sense of comfort and easy riding that doesn't scream bargain in this bargain-priced, all-new, second generation Versa just entering its kindergarten years.
The exterior of the Versa isn't longer or wider than before, but its midsection gets a volume lift. The nose area has a slight bulge over the engine compartment that not only will help protect pedestrians if the unfortunate happens and someone is hit, but despite its size gives it a bigger car presence while driving along. And strong "shoulders" just below the windshield, a distinctive grille face and smooth body lines, lend a greater sense of authority on the road. This is a small package that doesn't depend on a larger vehicle size "footprint" to be taken seriously.
Another contradiction is pricing, just as the idea of a $10,000+ car in the U.S. seems to be a vanishing breed. As prices for cars loaded with high tech and gratifying amenities move skyward, Nissan surprises us again. We know this since the manual trans "S" model provided by Nissan to Road & Travel Magazine reviewers was about as basic as an auto can be these days.
Our test model was base priced at a scant $10,990 at a time average vehicle prices are creeping toward the $30K marker. With carpeted floor and trunk mats the only option at $170, the total (in addition to destination charges) was an attention-getting $11,920. Expect to add about a third more to move up to the more upscale SV or SL models where expected electronics and other add-ons become part of the equation.
We had a chance to decide if this redesign resulted in a memorable, entry level ride or just left a bottom feeder impression. While it lacked many of the finer things that would be on the more upscale and costlier SV or SL versions, we were pleasantly surprised. Exterior design lines meant to keep wind and other noise outside kept it muted inside. There was no sense of being crunched into something small. (Since none of us are six-foot males we can't testify to rear headroom, however.) But leg room is ample both front and rear.
We won't pretend the interior sported luxury touches. Other than air conditioning, it didn't. In fact just about every function that's become electronic in most autos were manual in this one, including roll up windows, molded in cupholders, manually adjusting side view mirrors and manual door locks that required reaching around the middle "B" pillar to unlock the rear door. But considering the lack of such amenities, everything inside was functionally done without being annoying.
Behind the wheel, we noted the input of the 1.6-liter inline 4, the engine cylinder configuration of choice for many compact and subcompact vehicles. It connects with a five speed manual or CVT (continuously variable) automatic transmission. Horsepower is 109 and expected fuel economy 30/38 (automatic) or 27/36 (manual). All versions but our base model have a standard tire pressure monitor. Ours had only the space saver spare that's in all versions.
We were delighted when our instant mileage showed a healthy 32.5 MPG despite some mostly city street driving. We knew this was not a pocket rocket, so accelerations and handling seemed very respectable. Safety features weren't shortchanged, and included a full complement of airbags including side curtains and supplemental ones for front seats. That gave us a sense of security especially welcome in a small car.
How do we rate the Versa? With a less than breathtaking quarter-mile timing of 17.6 seconds, we won't suggest giving one to Danica Patrick to rack up some blazing track time. But for those who'd rather choose new than used and consider pricing a major factor, basic can be beautiful.
Visit the Nissan website, click here.