The Versa sedan and hatchback models have been good choices for shoppers who want to spend used-car money and get a new car that also happens to have among the lowest ownership costs. And given that, it provides even more comfort and space than you might think; the Versa has been slightly bigger and roomier than other subcompact offerings like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Ford Fiesta—as well as the Chevrolet Aveo and upcoming Chevy Sonic.
Now for a second-generation, 2012 Versa due later this year, Nissan has kept the "big small car" philosophy but given the Versa improved fuel efficiency, more features, and a better-looking sedan variant. Again, it should appeal to the most frugal shoppers—albeit with fewer compromises this time.
Nissan is calling the 2012 Versa "a clean sheet ground-up design" that involves fewer compromises than other small-car models—as well as the outgoing model.
Not so bold, but less homely
Based on the Versa sedan first shown at the 2012 New York auto show, we can't say the new 2012 version will be revolutionary, but it's slightly less homely; the combination of more flowing sheetmetal and a roofline that arches back takes away much of the old slab-sided look. Also, the adoption of Nissan's 'big car' front end, from the Altima and Maxima, as well as a little more rear overhang, together help with the proportions. Hatchbacks will follow through with a roofline that's quite similar to that of the outgoing model. Inside, it also looks like the Versa won't be at the head of the class with respect to design or appointments, but the simple, uncluttered look should provided no-nonsense commuters with what they need.
The new Versa's dimensions have changed only slightly. It has the same wheelbase and width as the current Versa but is 1.2 inches lower and slightly shorter overall. Trunk space, at 14.8 cubic feet, is slightly more than that of the previous Versa thanks to the slightly longer rear overhang. And while the 90.0 cubic feet of interior volume is slightly less than the previous version, Nissan says that it offers improved rear-seat legroom.
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Nissan has done away with the 1.8-liter engine, and all Versas now come with a 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine—the size that used to be offered only on special stripped-down Base models. The engine, too, is lighter than its predecessor and gets continuously variable valve timing plus piston oiling jets and a new dual injector system. A five-speed manual can be had on the base 1.6 S, but the rest of the model line gets a next-generation version of Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
Significant mpg gains
The new Versa sedan is built on a new 'global V' platform and weighs about 150 pounds less than the current 'B' platform. With the weight savings, low-rolling-resistance tires, and other enhancements, Nissan has made tremendous gains in fuel efficiency for the new Versa: an estimated 30 mpg city, 37 highway with the CVT or 27/36 with the manual transmission.
The suspension remains largely the same, with a strut setup in front and torsion-beam rear—though with stabilizer bars in front and in back. All models get electric power steering and anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes with brake assist. In addition, the Versa gets standard electronic stability control, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and roof-mounted side-curtain bags.
Initially, the 2012 Nissan Versa will be offered in three models: Sedan 1.6 S, Sedan 1.6 SV, and Sedan 1.6SL.
Touch-screen nav comes to the Versa
Cruise control, chrome accents, power windows and mirrors, and upgraded instrumentation are included in the mid-grade SL, while the top-of-the-range SL comes with a lot of other extras like fog lamps, 15-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel audio controls, and an upgraded sound system with USB and iPod connectivity. Bluetooth hands-free, satellite radio, and a navigation system with five-inch touch-screen display will all be available.
The 2012 Nissan Versa will start at $10,990 and will be available later this year.
Watch below, as our John Voelcker gives a walkaround of the Versa at the New York auto show.