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2012 Nissan Versa Preview
Who's looking for big space for a small price?

By Malcolm Gunn

2012 Nissan VersaThe versatile Versa has hit its stride as the kind of car that even big and tall folks can ride in without having to be bent, folded or pretzeled.

It's an approach that in the past five years has garnered a devoted following for Nissan's little runabout and should continue when the next-generation model makes its debut this summer.

Small cars are currently the hot ticket to ride, due mainly to ever-pricier trips to the fuel pump. But just because the package is small doesn't mean your entourage/car-pool compatriots has to endure tortuously cramped quarters. Small-car buyers these days have big expectations and automakers such as Nissan aim to deliver.

The all-new Versa sedan (a hatchback edition will likely arrive by the end of the year) maintains similar proportions to the 2011 model. That translates into nearly the same amount of passenger space including, Nissan claims, more rear legroom than a BMW 5-series or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan. In addition there's now slightly increased trunk space, giving the Versa the edge over the next-size-up Sentra in the stowage department.

2012 Nissan VersaObviously maintaining the Versa's small-car/big-room approach is important, only now there's plenty of style added to the mix. Although less practical than the hatchback, the outgoing sedan was not particularly attractive. The new version's more integrated shape cures that ill and the fresh sheetmetal is more in step with the generally rounded appearance of the rest of Nissan's sedans.

The new Versa's all-new platform weighs about 70 kilograms less than the previous architecture. That should drop the overall weight below the 1,140-kilogram threshold, although the automaker hasn't yet divulged the final number.

What has been established is that the Versa will bring fuel economy to the forefront with a brand new 109-horsepower 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. The powerplant replaces both the previous 107-horsepower 1.6, as well as the 122-horsepower 1.8-litre I4.

A five-speed manual gearbox carries over as before, while a continuously variable transmission (CVT) replaces the antiquated four-speed automatic that was offered on the previous 1.6- and 1.8-litre Versa. A CVT was optional on the 1.8, but the latest version reportedly generates less friction and weighs a bit less. The CVT is unique in that it includes an auxiliary set of gears that, Nissan states, will enhance its efficiency.

2012 Nissan VersaThe technology must be doing something right since Nissan reports that fuel economy with CVT is 6.7 l/100 km in the city and 5.3 on the highway. And while the highway value is a bit shy of the number earned by competing small cars, it represents the best figure from any Versa to date, by a long shot.
Nissan also likes to brag about the Versa S base price that will likely be about $14,000 (including destination charges). That would make it one of the least expensive cars on the road. Even the tiny Smart fortwo model lists at more than $500 above the Versa.

The S offers just the basics, other than an adjustable steering wheel, however you'll have to use window cranks - remember those? - for raising and lowering the side glass and to unlock the front doors you're stuck with a key.
The next-up SV adds air conditioning, cruise control, power-adjustable side mirrors, up-level instrumentation and seat covers.

The top-level SL includes the CVT plus alloy wheels, upgraded audio system and Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. Satellite radio and a navigation system are extra-cost SL options.

Certainly other small cars can boast more cost-is-no-object features and add-ons. But where price is the whole point, the Versa is one of the more sensible and practical automobiles you can buy, along with being the most accommodating for both a wide and tall variety of passengers.

What you should know: 2012 Nissan Versa

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan

Engine (hp): 1.6-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder (109)

Transmissions: Five-speed manual; continuously variable (opt.)

Market position: Sales of small, fuel-efficient vehicles are quickly gaining strength, as they seem to do whenever there's a spike in fuel prices. The second-generation Versa provides Nissan with a solid perch in this category.

Points: Significantly improved design should help sales; New four-cylinder engine is thrifty, but not especially potent and lags behind competition in overall fuel economy; Extra-low-priced base model should satisfy penny pinchers; More versatile Versa hatchback should arrive later in year; Surprisingly sparse option list, but then this is an economy car.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 6.7/5.3 (CVT)

Base price (incl. destination): $14,000 (est.)

By comparison

Chevrolet Sonic
Base price: $15,000, est.
Upcoming Aveo replacement offers lots of power plus good fuel economy.

Ford Fiesta
Base price: $14,000
Good-looking sedan and hatch models feature Euro-style handling.

Hyundai Accent
Base price: $15,500, est.
2012 sedan and hatch feature 138-hp I4 plus impressive fuel economy.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted June 14, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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