• "Good" ratings for front, side and rear impact and rollover protection
  • Electronic stability control now standard
  • Rating applies only to new Versa sedan

Nissan priced the redesigned 2012 Versa sedan $1,000 higher than the 2011 model, but added more standard equipment, including stability control, a safety feature that is now required by federal regulations. Still, the Versa sedan remains the lowest priced new car in America, with a starting MSRP of just $10,990. Fortunately for economically minded car shoppers, the 2012 Versa's affordable price doesn't mean buyers have to sacrifice on safety. The Versa recently earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the organization's highest level of safety performance.

The IIHS designates vehicles a Top Safety Pick for earning the top rating of "good" in each category tested. These include front, side and rear impact as well as rollover protection. Further, only vehicles with standard electronic stability control can receive the Top Safety Pick designation.

Because electronic stability control became mandated for all 2012 vehicles, the number of cars and light trucks earning the IIHS's highest rating has increased significantly. Stability control helps to prevent accidents by individually braking any wheel that loses traction, helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle's speed and direction.

Stability control alone did not earn the Versa its top rating, though. The 2011 model scored only "acceptable" ratings for side impact and rollover protection. The redesign of the compact sedan has apparently resulted in greater protection for occupants. The new model uses six airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist, a technology that can automatically apply maximum braking in an emergency stop.

The Versa hatchback has not yet been redesigned and therefore is not included in the Top Safety Pick designation. A redesigned Versa hatchback is expected later this year, at which time the IIHS will conduct a separate safety test.

Although the 2012 Versa sedan costs more, the redesigned model includes standard air conditioning and AM/FM/CD audio, both of which were options in the old version. Fuel economy in the new car is better, too.

While the Versa may be inexpensive to own and operate, the low price does not come at the expense of safety. After all, many budget shoppers can live without the latest comfort and convenience features, but safety is a priority regardless of price.

What it means to you: The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan's IIHS Top Safety Pick means the least expensive car in America is also very safe.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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