Nissan Versa: the least expensive new car in the U.S.
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The Versa I'm talking about is the four-door sedan, which was redesigned for 2012. The funky five-door hatchback, with its 122-horsepower engine and a $14,480 starting price, remains unchanged from 2011.
While the five-door retains its funky vibe, the four-door is significantly more sober in its style. Still, being well-versed in Versa means knowing the car's mission: providing basic, affordable transportation. So it's little surprise that the Versa sedan's cabin is built to a price and is filled with hard plastic surfaces. The seats are the interior's only padded surface and they're fairly flat, but more comfortable than you might expect.
But look past that and you'll find the Versa's cabin is spacious for an inexpensive ride. There's good head and leg room for four adults. Even the glove box is large; it can hold an iPad with room to spare. Trunk space is just as impressive with a 14.8 cubic-foot rating _ as sizable as some luxury sedans.
Once rolling, you'll find the front-drive Versa's ride is fairly comfortable for a small car. Bumps are suppressed with little discomfort for passengers. This comes at a price: There's noticeable body lean in corners, while the suspension tops off over the worst bumps and expansion joints.
The 109-horsepower, four-cylinder engine gives up 13 hp to the hatchback, but the sedan weighs less. It comes with a five-speed manual in base S trim, or a continuously variable automatic transmission on S, SV and SL models.
Nissan provided an SV for a weeklong test drive.
Power is adequate for a grocery getter, but like many vehicles with CVT transmissions, the engine moans as the CVT reluctantly responds to requests for more power. But don't jab the throttle hard and fast. The transmission responds in a panic, sending the suspension flopping about in response.
Braking is OK, with decent pedal feel. Steering is quick, although it feels somewhat vague on center.
The cabin is peaceful at times. Road and tire noise are noticeable, and engine noise is pronounced when more juice is needed from under the hood.
Opting for a few frills on the more lavish SV trim level nets upgraded cloth upholstery, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, keyless entry, remote trunk release, power locks and windows, cruise control and a six-way adjustable driver's seat.
The test car's optional "Convenience Package" adds a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, iPod interface, front map lights and a passenger side vanity mirror. This makes the car more livable, despite the absence of a front or rear center armrest, driver's side vanity mirror, telescopic steering wheel or center console box.
Still, there's a lot that makes up for the Versa's lack of poshness, personality and handling prowess. And it's the three things that matter most to many subcompact buyers: minimum price, maximum space and frugal fuel consumption.
What you get with the Versa sedan is a useful, inexpensive transportation appliance. It isn't high art; it's automotive Calvinism.
Given today's economic climate, that makes the Versa perfect for many drivers.
2012 NISSAN VERSA SPECS
_Engine: 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder
_Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
_Length: 175.4 inches
_Weight: 2,424 pounds
_Cargo space: 14.8 cubic feet
_EPA rating (city/highway): 30/38 mpg
_Fuel consumption: 38.8 mpg
_Fuel type: Regular
_Base price, base model: $10,990
_Base price, test model: $14,980
_As tested: $15,840
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.