Test Drive: Nissan Versa

Seattle — In Latin, Vice Versa means ?the other way around.? In English, Nissan Versa means a compact car with low $10,990 starting price, 38 mpg highway fuel economy, spacious interior, high value, etc. etc.

All-new for 2012, the Versa sedan redefines the Nissan starting point from the ground up.? Developed from Nissan?s new global ?V? (for Versatile) platform, Versa builds from a small footprint, but fills the interior with enough space to rival some mid-size sedans, especially the rear seat legroom.

?Compact cars are getting a lot of attention lately due to rising fuel costs and concerns about the environment.? Yet many buyers are disappointed in what they find ? vehicles rife with compromise,? says Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc.? ?This new Versa Sedan, a ?clean sheet? ground-up design, takes small cars in a new direction ? proving that you don?t have to sacrifice style for affordability, interior roominess for a smaller footprint, or drivability for high mpg.?

More impressive than the interior space is the allocation of standard equipment.? Even the base S model includes features like air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD audio and the full complement of safety equipment including stability and traction control.

Inside the cabin, appointments are simple and have a plastic look, but the switchgear is solid and the whole interior has a quality feel.? The Versa sedan is available at Nissan dealerships now in three trim levels: 1.6 S, 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL.? Base prices range from $11,750, including the destination charge for the 1.6 S with manual transmission (or $13,520 for the S with Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission) up to $17,020 for the SV with the available Technology package of navigation and XM Satellite radio with XM NavTraffic?. ??Each model has one basic option package (from $350 to $700) that adds a few extra features commensurate with the standard equipment level.? For example, the mid-level SV $350 convenience package adds Bluetooth, iPod control, audio enhancements and a few convenience upgrades.

Exterior styling, while certainly not cutting edge, is pleasant with a modern grownup look that earns it a low 0.31 coefficient of drag, which helps cut wind noise and improve fuel economy.? The car is also about 150 pounds lighter than the previous Versa.

Typically, new models boast more horsepower, but the new Versa, takes a cut from a122 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine down to a 109 hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder in the 2012 model. ??The new engine has an advanced double port injection system and Continuously Variable Timing Control on intake and exhaust ports.? But with the lighter weight and more efficient engine, the new Versa is a little faster and gets five mpg highway fuel economy.

The Versa is the first Nissan model sold in the United States to get the PureDrive? designation, which is being used on models utilizing Nissan?s most advanced technologies to promote eco-friendly driving and lower CO2 emissions.

Nissan is an expert in CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmissions) and the new second-generation design is one of the best we?ve driven.? Unlike most CVTs that produce an unnatural rev pattern that gives the driver a feeling that the transmission is slipping, this one is more smooth and responsive producing the feel of a conventional automatic transmission.? It?s also 13 percent lighter than the previous version, 10 percent smaller and according to Nissan, there is 30 percent less friction.? The CVT is standard on the two upper level models and optional on the 1.6 S.? The 1.6 S has a standard five-speed manual transmission.

The front-wheel drive Versa has MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. The power steering is electric and the brakes are a disc/rear drum configuration with antilock, brake distribution and brake assist.? The combination produces a smooth controlled ride with a little body roll.

Nissan realizes ?a significant share of buyers will likely be in their 20s with an active lifestyle that includes a high degree of electronics use, so the upper level models have available Bluetooth? hands-free phone system, USB/iPod? connectivity, XM? Satellite Radio along with an available premium audio and inexpensive navigation option with XM NavTraffic? and five-inch color touch screen.? The $700 Technology Package on the 1.6 SV includes the navigation system, satellite radio and USB connection.

While the Versa sedan is all-new for 2012, the Nissan Versa Hatchback is a carryover from 2011 with minor changes.

The new Versa sedan is very good, very affordable transportation and doesn?t require friends and family to be crammed in, it has plenty of room.

Barbara & Bill Schaffer

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