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First Test: 2012 Nissan Versa SL


The Nissan Versa has always been marketed as one of the cheapest new cars in America -- a budget-conscious consumer's delight. The all-new 2012 Nissan Versa is no exception. Nissan's ads proclaim it as having "the most space per dollar of any car in America," comparing its rear legroom to that of a Mercedes E-Class. In an increasingly competitive segment, is that really enough?

 The top-of-the-line 2012 Nissan Versa SL we tested starts at $16,320. For that scratch you get a pretty well-equipped car, with front foglights, alloy wheels, 60/40 rear seats, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, cruise control, power windows and locks, and Nissan's CVT. Step down to the SV at $15,320 and you lose the alloys, foglights, Bluetooth, and split rear seats. The S CVT loses the two rear speakers, and everything but the CVT. At the bottom of the barrel is the S trim, which comes with a five-speed manual and not much else at $11,750. All 2012 Versas are powered by Nissan's new HR16DE 1.6-liter I-4, producing 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque.

The Blue Onyx paint was perhaps the best part about our tester's exterior. That's not to say the Versa's ugly -- it's loads better-looking than the top-heavy model it replaces. It's just that the 2012 NISSAN VERSA sedan isn't particularly good-looking. Nissan shortened the front end by 2.7 inches and tacked it onto the rear of the car. The result? From most angles the NISSAN VERSA looks elongated and frumpy.

 Inside, it's a slightly different story. The Versa's redesigned dash and center console don't look like you shopped on a budget, and while the plastic's on the cheap side, it's acceptable for the segment. The Versa's gauges look great as well -- they're crisp, sharp, and easy to read. The front and rear seats are soft and cushy, and yes, the new NISSAN VERSA has more interior legroom than Mercedes' E-Class, but so did the last one. In fact, the old NISSAN VERSA had more leg and headroom than the 2012 model. Nevertheless, when this 6-foot-tall scribe slid the front seats back as far as possible and plopped down into the rear seats, he had plenty of room to spread out, slouch, and get comfortable. With its massive-for-the-segment trunk (14.8 cubic-feet) and large amount of interior space, the NISSAN VERSA wouldn't be a half-bad taxi.

There are some cheap spots in the cabin. The steering wheel is made of rock-hard plastic. For a part of the car that you have to touch, it would have been nice if Nissan spent a couple extra bucks to give it a softer feel.

 Like our long-term Juke, the NISSAN VERSA lacks an armrest. Making matters worse, when you miss the armrest, your hand lands on another cheap-feeling piece -- the gear lever, which is basically a bit of plastic sandwiched by more plastic that Nissan would have you believe is metal. Those "metal" bits feel hollower than a McDonald's happy meal toy. Again, it would've been nice if Nissan spent a bit more money making the parts the driver has the most interaction with feel more substantial.

As for the Versa's performance, it's not going to win any stoplight drags, and that's fine. It's not meant to. The NISSAN VERSA saunters from 0 to 60 mph in a leisurely 10.2 seconds and onto the quarter mile in 17.6 seconds at 79.2 mph, its engine groaning against the 6500 rpm redline. Braking is similarly average, hauling the 2453-pound car to a dead stop from 60 mph in 132 feet.

The 2012 NISSAN VERSA is built on Nissan's new "V" Platform, and the "V" stands for "versatile." Around town the NISSAN VERSA is rather quiet and composed; on the highway it's another story. Noise isn't really the issue -- the NISSAN VERSA just never really feels comfortable on the highway. The electric power steering feels overly boosted, and doesn't firm up enough on the highway to let the driver know what the tires are doing. The powertrain never seems to settle down, either. It's a constant battle between the engine, which is trying to respond to throttle inputs, and the CVT, which is designed to optimize fuel economy.

 Naturally, high mileage is paramount in the Versa's class, and Nissan put a lot of effort into making the engine as fuel-efficient as possible. It has a dual fuel injector setup that sprays 57-percent finer than a single fuel injector, and a Continuously Variable Timing Control (CVTC) system. With Nissan's second-generation CVT, Nissan estimates the NISSAN VERSA will net 30/38 mpg city/highway on the EPA test cycle. The five-speed manual-equipped NISSAN VERSA S should get 27/36 mpg city/highway. In our time with the NISSAN VERSA we were able to get an indicated 33 mpg in mixed city/highway driving with generous use of the throttle. All these gizmos earn the NISSAN VERSA a PureDrive badge on its trunk, an eco-labeling marketing play designed to emphasize its fuel efficiency.

 How does it stack up against the competition? The NISSAN VERSA S is cheaper than the base model of the new Hyundai Accent. But what about our $16,320 SL tester? At that price, the equation changes. A comparably equipped Hyundai Accent GLS will set you back $17,255. That's $935 more for a vehicle with significantly more horsepower (138 of them), a traditional six-speed automatic transmission, and slightly better fuel economy (30/40 mpg city/highway). Americans almost always go for the bang-for-your-buck quotient, and the Hyundai most certainly has that.

At the NISSAN VERSA SL's price point, the fashionable Fiat 500 Pop is also in play. While the NISSAN VERSA dwarfs the 500 in almost every dimension, the tiny Fiat arguably drives better, gets the same fuel economy, and most importantly, puts a smile on your face. The 500 can also be had comparably equipped with a six-speed automatic for just $780 more.

 Perhaps more fair would be pitting NISSAN VERSA against the MAZDA 2 Touring. A five-speed manual-equipped '2 can be had fully loaded for $16,430, and gets 29/35 mpg city/highway - the same ballpark as the NISSAN VERSA SL. And to top it off, the little Mazda is also much more rewarding to drive.

Don't want to row your own gears? Don't like hatches? The Ford Fiesta SE sedan can be had with Ford's six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and Sync for $16,390. While the Fiesta can't match the NISSAN VERSA on space, and gets 1 mpg less in the city, it's better-looking. If you spend an extra $695 to get a Fiesta SE with the SFE package, highway mileage jumps from 38 mpg to the hallowed 40 mpg rating.

The NISSAN VERSA is safe, reliable, spacious, and inexpensive. However, if you've got enough cash to spring for a high-end model, there are several other cars that offer more for your money. But if you have $13,520 in your wallet and all you need is basic transportation, the S CVT is what you're looking for.

.hdr {color:#ffffff;font:bold 12px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#343434;} .hdr1 {color:#000000;font:bold 09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#aba9a9;} .hdr2 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#dddddd;} .hdr3 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#FFFFFF;} 2012 Nissan Versa SL BASE PRICE $11,750 PRICE AS TESTED $16,320 VEHICLE LAYOUT front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan ENGINE 1.6L/109-hp/107-lb-ft DOHC I-4 TRANSMISSION Cont. variable auto CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 2453 lb (59/41%) WHEELBASE 102.40 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 176.0 x 66.7 x 60.4 in 0-60 MPH 10.2 sec QUARTER MILE 17.6 sec @ 79.2 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 132 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.4 sec @ 0.54 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 27-30/36-38 mpg ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 125-112/94-89 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS 0.59-0.64 lb/mile (est)

(Source)


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