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Nissan's subcompact Versa has always felt a little more substantial and comfortable than most other cars in its class of small, on-a-budget choices. The same rings true for the redesigned, restyled 2012 Versa, even though Nissan has importantly managed to boost gas mileage by several miles per gallon across the lineup.
Technically, it's only the sedan that's all-new this year. For 2012, the Versa Hatchback, which has been selling well and arguably still looked contemporary, continues for one more model year in its current form. That means, yes, that for a year the Versa actually offers different levels of performance, fuel efficiency and potentially, safety, depending on which body style you choose.
The all-new Versa Sedan has a curvier, lower roofline and looks quite different than the current (outgoing) version. While the size is about the same, Nissan has dressed up those new proportions with design elements from larger Nissan and Infiniti sedans, some European surfaces, and a few new design cues—including an all-new grille design that the rest of the Nissan lineup will soon get. Inside, the design is less controversial, feeling like a collection of cues and switchgear inherited from other Nissan vehicles, with the dash getting curvier at the edges, flanked by round, aimable vents.
While sedans get an all-new 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine this year, the Versa hatchbacks remain powered by a 1.8-liter, 122-hp four. Hatchbacks can be had with a six-speed manual or four-speed or CVT (continuously variable) automatic transmissions, while the new Sedan comes with either a five-speed manual or a CVT. In Versa Sedans, it's a new-generation version of the CVT with a wider span of ratios; while that helps it achieve better mileage, we've noticed that it can feel sluggish in delivering more power for hills or passing.
Otherwise, the driving experience doesn't offer much to get the pulse going. All models come with anti-lock front disc and rear drum brakes. And while the Versa’s light yet precise electric power steering system made the Versa easy to place in urban driving, the steering felt too light at highway speeds and required constant small (over)adjustments at highway speed.
With the Versa Sedan including that range of fuel-saving powertrain changes but the Hatchback relying on last year’s technology, there’s quite a difference in gas mileage between the two body styles for 2012. Fuel economy ratings for the Sedan are 27 mpg city, 36 highway with the five-speed manual or 30/38 with the CVT, but the hatch gets now-mediocre ratings ranging from 26/31 to 28/34.
The Versa Sedan’s interior is comfortable, but we wouldn't call it upscale in any way. In theory it has the cabin volume of a mid-size car, but in reality four six-foot adults are probably not going to be very comfortable on a daylong drive. Front seats in the Versa sedan are rather short, with an odd construction that contours around your back to help hold you in place, while the bottom cushions are flat and not at all snug. We love the Versa Hatchback's abundant headroom and versatile configuration, with 17.8 cubic feet of space even with the seats up; the sedan has a huge trunk, but seatbacks don't fold down on many of the models.
That said, ride quality is good among very affordable small cars, and the Versa seems to take on urban potholes or freeway choppiness quite well. And you certainly don't get much of a deal when it comes to materials and trims; the hard and hollow dash materials impress as every bit as cheap as the Versa's $11,750 base price (including destination).
The Versa Sedan still hasn't been crash-tested by either of the U.S. agencies, but the hatchback is now toward the back of the pack in a growing field of top-achievers. It gets just three- and four-star ratings from the federal government, with 'acceptable' ratings from the IIHS in side impact and roof strength and 'good' in frontal impact. Roof-mounted side airbags cover all outboard occupants, and front side-impact torso airbags and electronic stability control are standard.
Base S models come with manual wind-up windows, no power mirrors, and strictly the basics, but air conditioning is now included in all trims. Versa SV models get cruise control; power windows and locks; keyless entry; chromed door handles; plus numerous trim and visual upgrades. Top SL models get the split-folding back seat, plus alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and fog lamps. Top options, all in simplified packages, include Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio, a navigation system with XM NavTraffic, and USB/iPod controls. Fully loaded, a Versa SL costs about $18k.
- Used-car price
- Comfortable ride
- Relatively quiet interior
Next: Interior / Exterior »
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