So far, the Nissan Versa’s big claim to fame has been as one of the cheapest new cars on the market. An all-new generation launched at the 2011 New York auto show might well bring the car into a wider conversation.
Marketed as a subcompact – but with the kind of passenger room and trunk space a compact would be more than pleased to have – the 2012 Nissan Versa helps to bring a greater appeal to the idea of downsizing. Looks-wise, some may find the new car somewhat stodgy compared with the old model. “While other competitors are chasing sporty looks,” said Nissan’s executive vice president, Carlos Tavares, “we went for a high-end look.”
Whether that works or not is open to conjecture, but the Versa is undeniably spacious – with more rear passenger legroom and headroom than the 2012 Honda Civic, for example (also launched in New York). Also, there’s a classy, substantial feel to how the doors close and the switchgear clicks into action.
Propulsion comes from a 109-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Like the rest of the car, it’s newly developed – with efficiency high on its list of priorities. Nissan claims an improvement of five miles per gallon over the outgoing model’s combined consumption. The new car’s figure is 33 mpg, returning 30 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.
Part of that extra thrift comes from being 150 pounds lighter overall, and using a new generation of Nissan’s well-regarded continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is smaller and lighter than the unit it supersedes.
Three trim levels will be available when the 2012 Versa sedan goes on sale later this year: S, SV and SL. And Tavares promised that it would remain one of the most affordable new cars, with a starting price of $10,990. Options include navigation, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
As close friends of the Versa are fully aware, the current model offers a five-door hatchback body style. That model will continue for a while, but Nissan has not announced any plans regarding the new generation. “We will have news to share about a replacement at a later date,” said Tim Gallagher, senior manager of communications for Nissan’s North American operations.
COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.