Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new sedan version easy on the wallet.
The 2012 Nissan Versa lineup features a completely re-engineered version of the Versa sedan. The 2012 Versa is available in sedan and hatchback variants, but while the Versa sedan is all-new, the 2012 Versa hatchback carries over on the previous-generation platform. A new hatchback will be introduced as a 2013 model.
Both Versa body styles offer spacious interiors with decent head- and legroom, making them a good choice for larger drivers. Back-seat passengers will find rear-seat leg room as good as that in larger cars and SUVs, making Versa a usable four-passenger car. The cabin is comfortable and offers a good number of conveniences. In short, the Nissan Versa is a roomy, practical small car.
The 2012 Versa sedan is all-new and therefore a better choice than the hatchback. The new sedan gets better fuel economy than 2012 Versa hatchback.
The 2012 Versa four-door sedan rides on a new platform, dubbed V for versatile, which makes the 2012 Versa sedan 150 pounds lighter than the first-generation sedan (2008-2011 models). This second-generation Versa sedan uses a slightly smaller engine than before, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder good for a modest but effective 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on the 2012 Versa sedan, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is included on higher trim levels. The 2012 Versa sedan also gets revised steering and suspension, which makes for more responsive handling.
Fuel economy is the name of the game for the new 2012 Versa sedan. Thanks to weight savings and new engine technology including dual fuel injection, the all-new 2012 Versa sedan achieves an EPA-estimated 27/36 mpg City/Highway and 30 mpg Combined with the manual, or an admirable 30/38/33 miles per gallon with the CVT.
The 2012 Versa hatchback, unlike the sedan, carries over unchanged from 2011. The hatchback is essentially the same body style as the first-generation version that launched as a 2008 model. It rides on the previous-generation platform. The hatchback uses a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. On the base Versa S hatch, a 6-speed manual transmission comes standard, with an optional 4-speed automatic. The hatchback's extra power and weight dings fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 26/31/28 mpg City/Highway/Combined with the manual and 24/32/27 mpg with the automatic. The upper-level Versa SL hatchback comes standard with a CVT, which brings fuel economy up to 28/34/30.
The 2012 Versa sedan beats the fuel economy of the 2012 hatchback by a wide margin, making the new sedan more economical in the long run than the hatch. An all-new 2013 Versa hatchback will introduced in late 2012 or early 2013 as a 2013 model, so look for that.
The Versa subcompact competes with the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, and Hyundai Accent. Those looking primarily for space might like the Versa's larger dimensions, which are larger than those of the Fit or Yaris. Versa also offers a low price of entry. All in all, the Nissan Versa is good basic transportation with good fuel economy at an affordable price.
The 2012 Nissan Versa is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback.
The 2012 Versa sedan comes in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. Versa S comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission ($10,990) or an optional CVT ($13,120). Features include air conditioning, manually adjustable driver's seat, a trip computer and a two-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. Versa S models ride on 15-inch steel wheels. A Cruise Control package ($350) is available on models with the CVT and includes cruise control, two additional audio speakers and trunk lighting.
Versa SV sedan ($14,980) comes standard with the CVT and the Cruise Control package plus keyless entry, full power accessories, upgraded cloth upholstery and upgraded gauges. The SV Convenience package ($350) adds Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity and an iPod/USB port.
Versa SL sedan ($15,990) gets everything that comes with the SV Convenience package plus a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, fog lights and 15-inch alloy wheels. The SL Tech package ($700) adds navigation with touchscreen interface and satellite radio capability.
The Versa hatchback is available in two trim levels. Versa S comes standard with a 6-speed manual ($14,670) or an optional 4-speed automatic ($15,870). Features include air conditioning, full power accessories, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a four-speaker audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack, plus 15-inch steel wheels. The Plus package ($500) adds keyless entry and cruise control. A Special Edition package ($700) is also available on hatchbacks equipped with the automatic transmission and includes the features found on the Plus package plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an upgraded audio system, steering-wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth handsfree phone capability and unique 15-inch alloy wheels, the latter of which are also available a la carte ($470). Versa SL hatchback ($18,590) comes standard with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and includes all the S model's optional equipment plus keyless ignition/entry, better cloth upholstery, front and rear center armrests, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a six-speaker audio system. Navigation with a touchscreen interface ($700) is also available.
Safety features on all Versa models include front airbags, supplemental front seat-mounted front side airbags, roof-mounted side curtain airbags, antilock brakes (ABS), traction control, stability control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and brake assist.
The Nissan Versa looks bigger than a subcompact car. The new sedan is slightly more than six inches longer than the old hatchback. The old hatch is nearly an inch taller than the new sedan. The Versa is slightly larger than many of the subcompacts, such as the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic, but it's smaller than the compact-class cars such as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.
The all-new 2012 Versa sedan is a friendly, approachable little car, without the aggressive, angry lines that many car companies are hooked on these days. The sedan's styling is clean, fluid and well proportioned. It's short on style and personality, however.
In front, the Versa sedan uses Nissan's new signature sedan grille design and jewel-like headlights. Other exterior features include an available chrome-accented grille, chrome door handles and fog lights.
The sedan employs clever design tactics that are not only aesthetic, but also practical. For example, the indented line in the middle of the roofline helps to reduce roof panel vibrations. In back, the shape of the trunk lid offers improved aerodynamics over the previous model, which decreases drag and helps to improve performance and fuel economy.
The 2012 Versa hatchback carries over from 2011. The hatch has a broad, somewhat V-shaped grille flanked by triangular headlights. The Versa SL hatchback, with its front spoiler below the bumper, has a more sporty look. It has an exceptionally short rear overhang, which means very little of the car extends past the rear wheels. In back, the side edges of the tailgate angle sharply inward to clear the cat's-eye taillights. On the SL model, the hatch gets a roof-mounted spoiler.
While the interiors of the Versa sedan and hatchback differ in design, their basic virtues are similar.
The Versa models have remarkably roomy cabins, with a generous amount of headroom along with enough legroom for 6-footers to sit in back.
Versa's fabric-covered front seats are manually adjustable but lack lumbar support, making them comfortable enough during for moderate commutes, but support fades over long drives.
The controls are easy to use and well placed, while features like navigation, Bluetooth and an USB port are welcome touches in this price range. On our test car equipped with navigation, we particularly liked that the 5-inch touchscreen displayed the station name, artist, and song title simultaneously while we jammed to XM satellite radio, a feature that's tough to find, even on much more expensive vehicles. On the downside, when our phone was paired with Versa's Bluetooth connection, we found the incoming call ringtone unpleasant and annoying.
The interior materials are of decent quality for the class, though the new sedan is nicer than the previous-generation hatchback. Three large, conventional knobs operate the climate control system. While nothing is fancy, everything is readily visible and within reach.
The Versa offers lots of legroom and headroom and it's a real standout in terms of hip room. The width and the substantial structure of the front seats makes the Versa a good choice among subcompacts for larger drivers.
Back seat space on sedan and hatchback models is particularly impressive. Even a six-footer shouldn't feel cramped as the rear seat legroom is at or near the top of the class. The Versa Sedan gives up about half an inch of rear-seat headroom to the Hatchback, but that's not all that much.
The Versa sedan boasts an enormous trunk for a subcompact, with 14.8 cubic feet of space. The hatchback nets a generous 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in place and a maximum of 50.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. While this is quite large, it falls short of the Honda Fit and its flat load floor.
The Nissan Versa has modest power and is a solid choice for A-to-B transport. Fuel economy depends on the model and powertrain. The sedan with the Continuously Variable Transmission will give you the best bang for your buck with an EPA-estimated 30/38/33 City/Highway/Combined mpg. On the low end of the scale, the Versa hatchback with the 4-speed automatic gets 24/32/27 mpg.
Unless you like rowing through the gears on a manual, we recommend the CVT. It doesn't shift gears like an automatic transmission. Instead, a segmented belt rides up and down on cone-shaped pulleys to vary the speed ratio between the engine and the drivetrain. It's smooth and efficient, and most drivers probably won't notice it's anything other than a regular automatic. Nissan excels at CVT technology.
Because the hatchback uses the larger 1.8-liter engine, it has more oomph than the sedan, though at the expense of gas mileage. We had no problem merging into traffic on a fast free-flowing freeway. On winding roads, we found the hatchback's handling to be perfectly adequate. It's not sporty like a Mini Cooper, nor is it sloppy like budget cars of a few years ago.
With the new sedan, acceleration is perfectly adequate around town and on flat highway roads. But we quickly found the Versa sedan's limits once we hit hilly terrain at freeway speeds. In these situations, we often found ourselves driving with the pedal all the way to the floor.
Models equipped with the CVT behave slightly differently than those with manual or traditional automatic transmissions. For one, there is a sound of the engine revving before the car accelerates, which can be a bit disconcerting at first. And in regular stop-and-go traffic under slow acceleration, there is no sensation other than the car moving forward, with no sound or feel of shifting gears. The continuously variable transmission is a far cry from the clumsy gear shifting once common on small four-cylinder cars with 3- and 4-speed automatics.
Versa is one of the first cars in this price category to feature electric power steering. In the past we have been disappointed in the poor feel of electric steering, but Nissan seems to have designed this system so it feels just as good as any hydraulically powered steering. Sporty drivers might wish for more feedback from the steering and more power, but there's no reason for others to complain.
Braking on the Nissan Versa is decent. Because it uses rear drums, the brakes don't have the crisp bite found on cars that use discs all the way around. In past years ABS and brake assist were optional on the base model, but now all Versas come standard with these safety features.
The Nissan Versa delivers excellent roominess and decent performance in an affordable, fuel-efficient package. The sedan is all new for 2012 and gets significantly better fuel economy than the hatch. A new hatchback is on the way as a 2013 model; the 2012 Versa hatchback is a previous-generation version. By compact standards, Versa excels in terms of headroom and its cabin is roomy enough to seat four in relative comfort.
New Car Test Drive contributor Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles on the new Versa sedan. John Rettie reported on the hatchback.
Nissan Versa S Sedan 5-speed manual ($10,990), 4-speed automatic ($13,120); SV Sedan ($14,980); SL Sedan ($15,560); S Hatchback manual ($14,670), automatic ($15,870); SL Hatchback ($18,590).
Options As Tested
Tech Package ($700) includes navigation with touchscreen interface and USB port; carpeted floor mats ($170).
Nissan Versa SL sedan ($15,560).
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