Nissan Versa, 2012 car review

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The reasonably priced second-generation 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan offers good value. While lively, it’s no thrill. It just provides solid basic, comfortable transportation.

Nissan is mainly aiming the new Versa Sedan at single 25-29 year-old college graduates with no children. However, Nissan said at a preview of the car in Seattle the new car also should appeal to older buyers on budgets who want a roomy, economical compact car.

The front-drive Versa looks more aerodynamic than distinctive. But it has clever, more-efficient packaging.

Automakers strive to make new editions lighter. But the new Versa sedan is fully 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor — thanks to a new “V” (Versatile) platform. It uses nearly 20 percent fewer platform components.

Note that the Versa Sedan is not to be confused with the carryover Versa Hatchback model. Nissan wouldn’t discuss the Hatchback, which wasn’t at the preview.

The Versa Sedan retains its 102.4-inch wheelbase and 66.7-inch width for a spacious interior for five tall adults. But it’s 1.2 inches lower and about an inch shorter in overall length.

The biggest dimensional gain is provided by a more compact engine/transmission design that allows for a 2.7-inch rear overhang increase that helps allow an impressively large trunk with a wide opening. A protective trunk lower plastic lip helps prevent cargo damage.

While small, the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is advanced. It has continuously variable timing on both engine intake and exhaust ports and two fuel injectors per cylinder, instead of the usual one. It allows better combustion.

Acceleration in town with the top-line 1.6 SL CVT automatic transmission model I tested was good, but 65-75 mph passing on Seattle freeways was average. There is noticeable engine noise during hard acceleration and some road noise at highway speeds.

The new-generation CVT works efficiently, but no manual-transmission model was on hand at the preview. Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said there’s little demand for a manual in the Versa Sedan, but it would make the car a little more fun to drive.

The CVT works smoothly. Handling is good, thanks partly to quick steering that firms up at highway speeds, but I found it provides an average turning circle while making a U-turn on a street.

The suspension is firm, but supple enough for most roads. And anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution stop the car quickly and have good pedal feel. Standard vehicle dynamic and traction control help keep the Versa Sedan on the road during trying driving conditions.

Estimated fuel economy with the CVT is 30 mpg in the city and 38 on highways. That’s good, but not outstanding for a compact sedan. Figures with the manual, offered only on the base 1.6 S model, are 27 and 36. Only regular-grade fuel is needed.

The Versa Sedan comes as the 1.6 S, 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL All have plenty of air bags and “zone” body construction with front and rear crumple zones.

List prices start at $10,990 for the 1.6 S with the manual transmission. It has manual roll-up windows, but dual flat black outside mirrors that fold against the side windows to prevent close-quarter damage. There are no power windows or power door locks with keyless remote entry — and no fold-down rear seatbacks to increase trunk room.

But the 1.6 S does have air conditioning and an AM/FM/CD sound system with two speakers. You can get the 1.6 S with the CVT automatic for $12,760. A Cruise Control option package is $350.

Next up is the $14,560 1.6 SV CVT. It has power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, cruise control, remote trunk release, body color door handles, chrome grille surround and an upgraded interior. A $350 Convenience Package adds such items as a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering wheel audio controls and iPod control.

On top is the $15,560 1.6 SL CVT. It adds alloy wheels, fog lights and  60/40 split rear seatbacks that should be on all Versa Sedans. The seatbacks sit flat when flipped forward and work with a good sized pass-through from the trunk to the rear-seat area. There also are Bluetooth and more of an upscale interior.

A $700 Tech Package option contains a navigation system with a 5-inch color touch-screen display, along with XM satellite radio. Four speakers are available on 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL.

My test 1.6 SL’s  front seats were very supportive, and the 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL’s backlilt gauges are easily read in bright sunlight. The car’s adjustable steering wheel was handy. Major controls were easy to use and dual front cupholders were conveniently located. However, dual rear cupholders were awkwardly placed at the far end of the front console.

The Versa Sedan has hard plastic on the dashboard, but front doors have useful map pockets with bottle holders, and the glove compartment is large.

Nissan’s timing is good with the car — it seems just right for these budget-conscious times.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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