Nissan’s Versa Simple, Inexpensive

2012 Nissan Versa Review

Nissan’s 2012 Versa 1.6 SV Sedan is simple. That can cut both ways.

A simple car is good when it means inexpensive, useful, good gas mileage, good interior and trunk room.

Simple may not be quite as positive a trait when it means lackluster acceleration, hard seats and vague steering.

Versa is truly an entry-level compact sedan. The base 1.6 S model with manual transmission is among the lowest priced cars available in the U.S. market at $10,990. The tested 1.6 SV, the mid-level sedan, is priced at $14,560 and even with a few options checked in at just $15,840.

Nissan Versa snapshot

Click to enlarge.

Price makes Versa an attractive new car for young and low-income buyers who otherwise might overpay for a used car in today’s tight used car market.

Versa has several things going for it.

First, the standard Xtronic CVT, its continuously variable transmission, works well and gives the car a much smoother feel than you might expect at this price. The CVT coupled with its modest 1.6-liter I4 that creates only 109 horse power works hard to give the driver excellent gas mileage. The EPA rates this at 30 mpg city and 38 highway, about a 5 mpg improvement from the previous Versa with a four-speed automatic. I got 32.5 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving. The trip computer estimated I was getting 36.3 mph.

Power is not a plus with Versa. To adequately get away from a stoplight you’ll want to turn off the transmission’s overdrive feature with the button on the shifter. I did this frequently for the first 5-8 seconds of acceleration to boost the car’s power.

There is some small engine moan as the Versa works its way up to speed, but wind noise was minimal.

You might be surprised at the civilized ride Versa offers. There is independent strut suspension up front and semi-independent torsion bean rear suspension, and twin tube shocks all around. Versa also rides on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, several inches longer than many entry-level compact sedans. The result is a well controlled ride that is better than many in this class. You still feel the big bumps and potholes, but I was never uncomfortable.

Steering effort also is light, and the car weighs 2,424 pounds. The downside is that there is some play in the steering wheel, which gives the car a vague handling feel.

Nissan Versa exterior

You might be surprised at the civilized ride Versa offers.

Braking is fine from the less costly setup of discs in front and drums in back. Versa also comes with traction and stability control.

The bright blue test car’s interior was as bland as its exterior styling, but then you don’t expect styling panache at this price. Black cloth seats with a black dash and slight touches of plastic pewter-toned trim on the edges of the center stack and steering wheel hub were the order of the day.

Seats were hard, but mildly contoured and comfortable enough. Head and leg room are good front and rear, so you could get four average sized adults in the car and putting a child’s seat in back would be easy to access, too. Seats are manual, but there is a pump handle on the driver’s seat to raise and lower its height.

There are some nice features, including power mirrors, locks and windows, remote keyless entry, an inside trunk release and a tilt steering wheel that features radio and cruise controls on the hub. Versa also comes with a trip computer controlled by two buttons on the dash and located near the main gauges, which frame the computer’s orange digital readout.

Radio controls feature an array of fairly small buttons and one larger volume knob while the climate controls consist of three large knobs that are easy to use. The dash is uncomplicated.

Nissan Versa interior

Versa comes with a trip computer controlled by two buttons on the dash and located near the main gauges, which frame the computer's orange digital readout.

The test car added a $350 convenience package that added the steering wheel mounted audio controls a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, MP3, iPod interface, map lights and a passenger-side visor mirror.

Young families will appreciate the large 14.8-cubic-foot trunk, which will hold a lot of baby gear or boxes, if you’re moving to your own digs from school.

I’m not a huge fan of the sedan’s blah looks, so if you can afford a little more, moving up to the hatchback version provides somewhat better styling.

But the hatch is pricier. The base S model starts at $14,480 or about $3,500 more than the base sedan. There also is an SL hatch at $18,490 and an SL sedan at $15,560.

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