2012 Nissan Versa SL Sedan HD Video Review


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When buying a car, affordability and desirability are generally at opposite ends of the spectrum. That means building an inexpensive automobile that’s desirable is a black art.  Every rivet, every upholstery upgrade adds to the bottom line.  Think about how many parts you’ll find in an automobile.  Adding a penny to each one adds up to a considerable amount of cash.  Don’t forget, it doesn’t cost any less in manpower to bolt a fender onto an economy car than a luxury ride.

2012 NISSAN VERSA SL

Enter the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan.  It is very inexpensive (cheap is such a…well, cheap word).  Nissan boasts that at $10,990, it’s the least expensive new car sold in the US.  That’s still true when you add $760 for delivery.  Add on every option, including navigation, and your looking at 17 large.

A low price is good and all but the question is where does it land on that affordable/desirable spectrum?  Does that low price get you more than a sardine can?  I attended the press launch in Seattle to find out.

V Stands For…

In Versa’s case V means new (yeah I know that’s the letter N, stay with me). This car has been created from the ground up and Nissan has christened the platform “V” (for versatile).  It uses 20 percent fewer components and weighs about 150 pounds less than the outgoing “B” platform.  Eventually it will underpin up to 10 different models so it’s appropriately named.

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It’s expected that budget cars are cramped.  That is not the case with Versa, its cabin has the kind of space found in a mid-sized sedan.  That’s due in part to the new drivetrain. Nissan’s second-gen 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine gets some high-tech features including twin injectors for each cylinder (most engines get by with one).  This dual injector system provides a wider pattern and finer spray of fuel so combustion is more thorough.  Horsepower is rated at 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 RPM.

Versa’s standard gearbox on the “S” model is a five-speed manual.  There’s also Continuously Variable Transmission. Its unique design adds an auxiliary gearbox using planetary gearing, giving it a wide set of ratios- 7.3:1.  Nissan claims it’s broader than some seven-speed automatic trannies and using that planetary gearset allows for tighter packaging resulting in more space for the passengers.

It Also Stands For Value

Pricing works very simply- There are three different models, each gets a minimal of option choices to keep costs down.  The base “S” at $11,750 includes air conditioning, a basic CD/AM/FM sound system with an aux jack to plug in an MP3 player. And… of course tires (with steel wheels and covers naturally).  The CVT is optional.

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Move up to the SV and there’s chrome trim on the door handles and around the grille (which sports the new Nissan signature frame you’ll be seeing more of). There’s also body colored mirrors, the automatic CVT transmission, some great looking gauges, power windows and cruise control.  The lone $350 option package gets you map lights, vanity mirrors, Bluetooth and USB port for iPod integration.  I’d spring for it.

At the press launch in Seattle I’m living large (and yet frugally) in a top-of-the-line SL model that spirals up to the dizzying price of… $16,300. To SVs equipment, SL adds standard alloy wheels, steering wheel controls, plus iPod and Bluetooth integration.  Add $700 for XM satellite radio and navigation (a basic unit with a five-inch screen that works well).  SL also gets a better sound system, though it still won’t please audiophiles.

Comparing the outgoing Versa to the 2012 model, the price drops by about $1,500.  Against the competition, comparably equipped it’s about $3,000 dollars less.

01-2012-versa

V Is For Vrrroom?

Not really and it shouldn’t be expected.  With no chance to do an acceleration test, the seat of my Levi’s guestimates a 0-60 time of around 10 seconds. In typical fashion the continuously variable transmission has an elastic quality about it, gliding from virtual gear to gear ratio.

As mandated by Uncle Sam for 2012, there’s electronic stability control.  Anti-lock brakes have decent pedal modulation.  They are 10-inch discs up front, 8-inch drums in the rear.

The soft ride of Versa is meant to keep everyone comfortable and road noise is average at highway speeds (a compliment at this price point).  Power steering is electric.  Push it hard into a corner and Versa understeers at a moderate rate.  In short, driving dynamics are perfectly fine for everyday motoring.

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The all-important fuel economy is EPA rated at 30 miles-per-gallon city, 38 highway.  The “S” exclusive five-speed manual drops that to 27 city, 36 highway.  That’s not a typo, machines and computers are more efficient than humans.  Yes, the magic marketing number is 40 MPG number these days.  Basic high school math reveals when 15,000 miles a year and paying $4.00 a gallon for gas you’ll save only 36 bucks more each year for fuel.

Space.  The Versa Frontier.

The spacious interior of Versa uses a lot of hard plastic but fortunately it looks fairly good.  The SL I’m driving has cloth inserts on the door panels and the upgraded gauges look bright and crisp.  Knobs for the AC and heater have a rubbery feel but hey, buy a Lexus if you want silky smooth.  On the other hand, the substantial door release handles feel as good as any car out there.  The glovebox is large too.

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Buyers shouldn’t expect luxurious carpet or headliner material at this price.  The steering wheel isn’t covered in leather, nor does it adjust for reach but at this point I’m getting a little weary of pointing out the “at this price” fact.

Call this the new space shuttle.  Versa is all about room and the Nissan folks have provided lots of it.  Compared to Fiesta and Accent sedans, Versa is like an aircraft carrier and that’s most obvious in the back seat.  Nissan claims there’s more legroom than a BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, even a Lexus LS 460.  Three friends will be fine in back.  They don’t get an armrest, power port, door storage but they do get one map pocket.

Versa has a trunk release on the inside but not on the remote fob.  Coming at the boot from the grocery store, the key needs to be used.  Its enormous space has minimal undulations making it very useful.  There’s even a spare, not all cars have those these days.  Even hatchbacks in this price range hold only four, maybe five packs.  Versa gobbles up 7.  And if you need more room the SL model can give it to you with split fold down seats.

2012 NISSAN VERSA SL

Who’s Going To Buy?

Versa is the first Nissan to get their new sedan grille design.  Overall the styling is pleasant enough, though my eye finds the huge trunk extends out too far for a balanced look.

Who’s going to buy Versa?  It’s a good first car for someone coming out of college.  Nissan is also targeting retirees who no longer need that huge SUV.  It’s toughest competition is the used car market, but there are plenty of buyers that are wary of that market and want a factory a warranty and the security of knowing what their car has been through.

Nissan says a hatchback version of this new Versa will coming soon (the outgoing model soldiers on in that position for a while).  And for those who think this car will steal sales from Sentra, well, that could be true but at least Nissan’s keeping it in the family (plus there was a non-commital nudge and a wink from the PR folk that a new Sentra could on the horizon).

For those wanting basic transportation and room for five the 2012 Versa sedan is largely (pun intended) in a class of it’s own.

17 Comments

  1. litesong says:

    Possibly, the EPA test didn’t get the ultimate highway MPG for the 2012 Versa CVT sedan. Due to the advertised wide gear ratio of the new CVT, the highway CVT rpm is said to be below 2000 rpm & opportunity in the EPA test might have minimally used the ‘long legs’ of the Versa CVT. Tho the EPA highway MPG seems low, people report that 2012 Versa sedan can get 40MPG & considerably more. Since I’m a featherfooter, I expect I would obtain 40+MPG often on my highway travels, even while running through mountain pass regions. Yes, if I succumb to the Versa’s low price, even with a CVT, I may be touring around the western desert & mountain landscapes at Versa 40 (45?) MPG. Three times while featherfooting through our Cascade mountains with a 2008 Hyundai Accent (EPA highway rated 32MPG), I got 42 to 45+MPG.

    • TV says:

      With a 2012 Accent I was able to easily get 42 MPG. Many smaller cars will do that these days, even the Elantra can get 40 on the highway. I find the EPA estimates to be pretty close when it comes to highway mileage these days but see them as optimistic with city numbers. I rarely achieve their numbers in stop and go driving, even with a light foot (or at least light for me).

  2. kenwenzel says:

    Since a lot of people have these kinds of cars as their only driver, I find it odd that the Versa is being brought out first as a 4 door sedan, especially since the hatchback is outselling the 4 door. Isn’t it nice when a small care is Versa-tile? I think they are blowing a lot of sales bringing out the 4 door first. Car companies say hatchbacks don’t sell in the USA. This car sells better as a hatch, and they bring out the sedan. I don’t see the logic.

  3. 68mlo says:

    At this car’s price point, there are few that are as well-equipped and roomy when compared to the Versa. However, few of this car’s rivals are as sinfully ugly. Just my 2 cents. ;)

    • apollo says:

      as sir mix a lot says, i like big buts and i can not lie…

      • FinalBlue says:

        Could you be a touch more specific about what you don’t like about the car’s looks? While I wouldn’t call this Versa sexy (“smooth” and “vanilla” would be more accurate descriptors), it’s certainly not hideous.

        Not to call you out, but it’s baffling how some people will just bluntly state whether they think a car is ugly or well-designed without giving their opinions any sort of evidence or qualifiers. Posts like “OMG SO UGLYYY” and “This car is so magnificent and beautiful that it, when released, will descend from the heavens and deliver us all to a land of sunshine and money-growing trees” are gob-smackingly crude and aren’t conducive to proper discussion.

    • FinalBlue says:

      Could you be a touch more specific about what you dislike about the car?

      Not to call you out, but it’s baffling how some people will bluntly state whether they think a car is ugly or well-designed without giving their opinion any sort of evidence or qualifiers. Comments like “OMG SO UGLYYY” and “This car is so magnificently designed that, when released, it will descend from the heavens and lead us all to a land of sunshine and trees that grow money” are gob-smackingly crude and aren’t conducive to proper discussion.

      • 68mlo says:

        Well, to be more specific…
        1. I don’t like the “creases” at each end, especially since they don’t “join”; there’s no continuity to the lines.

        2. I don’t like the shape of the taillights, which are evidently dictated by the crease below them and the character line above them.

        3. I don’t like how positively *HUGE* the rear end is, even if it does mean a big boot for cargo. It’s ungainly, to be polite.

        4. I don’t like the shape of the rear door glass at all. Very awkwardly done.

        5. Like a lot of modern small cars, the headlights are comically oversized.

        6. Also like a lot of modern small cars, there’s so much sheetmetal above the wheels that even 18″ look dwarfed by the car. Versa’s wheels look like temporary spares because of its super-tall sheetmetal height.

        Ugh. Let’s just suffice it to say that I find it ugly. It’s much less for me to type. ;)

      • FinalBlue says:

        Now THAT’S a constructive comment. Seriously, way to go, man.

        Yeah, a lot of what you pointed out makes sense. I don’t really like how the character lines don’t connect to each other either. Doing so would’ve made the side profile look much more cohesive. However, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with Versa’s “function over form” design. Heck, just look at current Versa sales: Despite its really old design, it still sells far better than most of its rivals. There is definitely a market for no-nonsense, practical cars, despite what some commenters on other car sites would have you believe.

        You know, though, the next-gen Versa hatchback looks significantly different from the sedan, and it seems to address some of the design elements you identified. Have you seen it yet?

        There’s something I still don’t understand, though. You said that few other subcompacts are as “sinfully ugly” as the Versa, yet some, if not most of the design “flaws” you pointed out are, as you said, seen in other subcompacts (#’s 5 and 6. #2 is also a commonplace design element in subcompacts). Also, when it comes to subcompact sedans, creating an attractive window silhouette is pretty much impossible (this may fall into personal taste, but I think that the Versa’s window line looks much less frumpy than those seen in its rivals).

        • apollo says:

          nice thread! i like reading the posts from you guys! really so much better than the usual “this car sucks” crap and honda sucks and toyota is boring crap. i don’t see posts very often like this and final blue should keep posting. you rock man! i am sooooo tired of people just flaming each other on the internet. i am with ken though, i do not find versa very styling, just kind of average with a big behind. more versatile than iq though.

        • 68mlo says:

          Styling is a purely subjective things and it only takes one or two missteps in the design to make people either like or dislike the vehicle’s image. I’m used to the oversized design elements on most compacts. It’s just that I think some cars wear them better than others…and Versa isn’t one of them.

          I’ve seen the Versa hatchback somewhere, but now I can’t remember where I saw it. I’ll have to look that one up…as I don’t recall enough of the design to make an informed statement about it.

        • Toaster says:

          As a Nissan owner, I admit I am somewhat biased. Many people think that a lot of their cars are not very attractive, but I disagree. IMO the 370z is a gorgeous car, in fact I’d take it in a heartbeat over a new Camaro (which I also love) and the current Mustang, which are its closest rivals. I like the GT-R. It looks industrial and mean, it’s look was inspired by anime robots, and I personally think it’s a great look for a car that is that potent. I think the Altima sedan and coupe are far more stylish than the rivals from Honda and Toyota, not to mention Ford and Chevy. The Altima sedan looks like a poor-man’s G35/37. The Maxima is one of the most stylish full-sized cars out there.

          I drive a 2008 Sentra SE-R and I love the looks of that car. I admit, the regular Sentra may not be a total looker, but it’s distinctive. The 350z style headlamps give the front end a family recognition and the profile of the car looks like the older gen Altima/Maxima. The SE-R modifications fix a lot of the problems that the basic Sentra has, lowering the ride height and closing the tire gap with larger rims and adding a tasteful ground effects package. The roofline is a bit high, but other than that the SE-R (in my admittedly biased opinion) looks great.

          The Versa IMO is a decent little car. Aside from the new Elantra, you won’t find much to make a car in this class stand-out, but I think the new Versa is an improvement over the last one. It’s a basic car that does nothing wrong. It’s not a knockout in the way the new Elantra is, but few cars in this class are. I don’t think this is so much a strike against Nissan’s designs, more of a shot across the bow from Hyundai to the entire industry saying just because you want an inexpensive car that doesn’t mean it can’t be stylish.

          I think Hyundai/Kia are going to continue to set the trend in the coming years with their style/value combo and we as consumers all stand to win from their efforts.

  4. Ken says:

    Nissan, Toyota, Honda, or just Japanese manufacturers in general are losing to Koreans whens to exterior and interior designs. Let’s take this car for example, I will buy Accent at anytime on any day. Japanese cars these days are very outdated when comes to styling especially in mid to low price range.

    • FinalBlue says:

      You’re entitled to your opinion, Ken, but I think that there are many Japanese cars in the price range you described whose styling is very modern and certainly not outdated. Off the top of my head, there is: Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Honda Civic Coupe (Si), Mazda3 , Mazda5, Mazda2, Scion iQ, the Mitsubishi Lancer family (especially the Evolution), the Nissan Versa (primarily the hatch, but the sedan still looks reasonably clean and modern), and even the upcoming Scion FR-S. I challenge you to check these cars out and tell me their styling is outdated.

      It’s interesting you think that only Japanese cars are facing stiff competition from Hyundai/Kia. Why are the Detroit 2+Chrysler/Fiat, as well as VW, immune to Hyundai/Kia’s new-found quality in design?

      Also, why exactly do you prefer the Hyundai Accent to the Versa sedan? It’s true that the Accent is better in terms of interior design/quality (that’s somewhat subjective, though) and highway fuel economy, but the Versa knows exactly what it wants to be and plays to its strengths, namely interior space and a low price. Furthermore, as stated in the video, compared to a similarly equipped Accent/Fiesta, the Versa sedan is about $3000 cheaper.

      • apollo says:

        i see the Japanese with a mixed bag when it comes to styling. honda has been pretty awful lately, subaru never had it, mazda is a little overdone when it comes to the 3, juke looks like a cartoon, other nissans have flair. hyundai really got elantra right, kia is knocking them out of the park. i like what the americans are doing these days, especially gm. until i see versa in person i will just say it looks a little plain with a bit of a big butt. it sure is targeting the value buyer, nothing wrong with that. us poor people need something to drive!

  5. apollo says:

    hmmmm, i think i would rather have a better used car with a nicer interior. not bad but not that great, i think it is more for women who want to be sure they have a car that runs well and has a warrantee. for guys that want something more expensive looking, i see them going for something used like a accord 5 yeas old thats what i would do

  6. FinalBlue says:

    For some reason a fair amount of blogosphere commenters like to belittle this car because it doesn’t have the same levels of tech/features as the Fiesta and Accent do at their higher trim levels and/or because its interior doesn’t have a bounty of soft-touch materials, as if the government now mandates that all subcompacts must include them.

    I think they’re completely missing what the Versa Sedan’s mission is: It’s supposed to be strictly an inexpensive means of transportation that delivers primarily on price and interior space (I think Tom’s clever Space Shuttle moniker is pretty appropriate). The trolls I mentioned earlier can’t connect the dots that at such a low price, the Versa Sedan obviously isn’t going to have the features to be properly compared to the higher trim levels of its rivals. That’s what the hatch is going to be for (presumably. I’m 99% sure). If you’ve seen pictures or articles about the 2012 Nissan Tiida (what the Versa is called overseas), then it’s easy to see that while the Versa sedan is going to be catering to only the value-minded consumers, the Hatch will (probably, hopefully) arrive touting the tech, engines, and materials (as well as the standard Versa interior roominess) to properly duke it out with the Fiesta SES and Accent SE.

    That being said, I’m disappointed (as well as confused) that Nissan would split the arrival of their most popular vehicle (which is also the segment leader in terms of sales) into two parts, especially so that they’re releasing the more popular variant last. I also think that while the Versa sedan delivers where it’s supposed to, some features would be better left standard than not (mainly the split fold-down rear seats and the CVT).