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Nissan Versa, 2012: Budget concious buyers don't have to settle for less

The redesigned 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is small on the outside, big on the inside. Basically, the new Versa sedan is a no-frills, all-business mode of transportation priced between $10,990 for the S model and $15,560 for the SL model.

Utilizing a "clean sheet" ground-up design, Nissan approached the Versa redesign with maximizing usable volume space and increasing fuel efficiency. The goal was to create a totally new global platform and drivetrain, reducing the size of engine and transmission, reducing the number of component parts and reducing platform weight.

I drove the middle-child of the model range which was the 1.6 SV model configured with a CVT and the optional Convenience Package.  After adding floor mats and destination charges, MSRP was $15,840. The exterior redesign is still dull as dishwater, but the interior is functional and roomy enough to seat five comfortably.

2012 Nissan Versa

Fuel efficiency gains come from a new dual-injector system and Nissan's Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). Further efficiency comes from the 2012 Versa Sedan’s all-new front-wheel drive global “V” platform, designated “V” for Versatile, which utilizes nearly 20 percent fewer platform components and weighs around 150 pounds less than the previous “B” platform.

The new 1.6-liter engine is rated at 109 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 107 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,400 rpm. Power output may seem low, but the Versa's low weight makes for a good power-to-weight ratio and more miles between visits to the gas pump.

Fuel economy for the 2012 Versa Sedan is EPA estimated at 30 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg overall with the CVT transmission (27/36/30 mpg with the 5-speed manual transmission). The 2012 Versa sedan may have less power than a Prius, but it does a much better job accelerating onto the freeway and pulling passing maneuvers around slower traffic because of its 2,424 pound curb weight. Remarkably, that's 600 pounds less than Toyota's venerable hybrid.

2012 Nissan Versa interior

Nissan engineers have been working diligently to improve the CVT's performance. Even though the little 1.6-liter engine worked hard to get up and over the Sierra mountains, there was no harsh gear changes or loud drone from the CVT. The drivetrain was smooth and the road noise that permeated the cabin masked the noise from the CVT.

Inside the cabin, passengers are supported by cloth covered seats with no seat warmers. The seats have a good amount of support and bearable over long road trips. Lumbar back support is not forgotten and I arrived reasonably fresh after a 5 hour drive and more than 250 miles on the road. Cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and an iPod interface with the car's stereo system are crucial features for me when on the road. Buyers must opt for the convenience package if they desire Bluetooth hands-free connectivity with their phone and iPod functionality with the factory stereo system.

The new Versa Sedan’s interior volume of 90.0 cubic feet and trunk volume of 14.8 cubic feet (104.8 cubic feet total) are configured for real-world use. Versa Sedan has, for example, more rear legroom than some mid-size sedans – even luxury cars such as the Lexus LS460, BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And the trunk design focuses on usable space, taking into consideration everything from the size of the hinges to the shape of the sidewalls. A 60/40-split fold-down rear seat is offered on SL models for even greater versatility.

Nissan Versa stereo has an iPod interface

 EPA estimates sometimes miss the mark in real-world driving. After using Nissan's vanilla flavored sedan for long and short-haul trips, the 2012 Versa is a bona-fide fuel sipper. 40 mpg was observed over the course of my long road trip up and over the Sierra mountains and back. Even running my daily errands around town the Versa does well at 32 mpg.

With its low entry price and great fuel economy numbers, the Nissan Versa is an excellent candidate for buyers with tight budgets. Students, drivers with long commutes to work and the budget-conscious everywhere will appreciate the Versa's economics, comfortable ride and low cost of ownership.

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