2012 Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6 SV CVT Road Test Review

Frik Els - CAP staff
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The Versa is an important vehicle for Nissan and it's clear that Japan's number two auto manufacturer is throwing its full corporate weight behind the all-new sedan: The 2012 Versa 1.6 Sedan is now officially the cheapest vehicle on sale in Canada.

In its battle against increasing competition from American manufacturers that have rediscovered the ability to make decent small cars (Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic) and the South Koreans, who are no slouches when it comes to aggressive pricing and value for money deals, Nissan has put together a package that provides a lot of car for a base price of just $11,798 plus destination.

For that you get a standard 1.6-litre DOHC 4-cylinder engine, as well as six airbags and a few nice-to-haves such as heated side mirrors, traction control, a trip computer and auxiliary audio input. Incidentally, the Versa hatch, which Nissan will continue to sell for another year in its current guise, is available in a more powerful 1.8-litre four-cylinder for $14,678 plus destination.

The lack of air conditioning on the base sedan would probably convince most buyers to opt for the SV that starts at $13,798. Apart from aircon, the SV adds power windows and locks, remote keyless and illuminated entry, chrome grille and exterior door handle accents, silver interior trim accents and upgraded seat cloth.

My $17,100 test vehicle (including destination charges and pearl paint) was equipped with the convenience package, which for $400 adds plenty of, well, conveniences: cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free, steering wheel audio controls, iPod interface, speed-sensitive volume, map lights and radio data system, the latter meaning you can seek out stations on the basis of genre while song titles are also displayed.

Taking into consideration that you'll be paying off that $400 over say, four years, and spending the equivalent cost of two coffees per month on it, it's a no-brainer. The top line SL even has satellite radio and navigation as options.

The available gadgetry should prove to be a hit with the younger buyer Nissan is targeting with the Versa. Market research shows that unlike their parents and grandparents (more specifically fathers and grandfathers) younger buyers place price and practical considerations like interior and cargo space and fuel consumption above horsepower. And if nothing else, the Versa is practical.

The test vehicle was equipped with Nissan's new continuously variable transmission (CVT), available for $1,300 extra, which gives it an estimated fuel economy rating of 6.7 L/100km in the city, 5.2 L/100km on the highway and 6.0 L/100km combined. I came close to these figures in real world conditions, even when pushing the vehicle quite hard. The manual version gets 7.5, 5.4 and 6.6 L/100km, respectively.

The engine supplies 109 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 107 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm, which won't set hearts racing by any stretch of the imagination.

Noise levels are acceptable except when the engine is really taking strain. In fact it feels a bit more underpowered than it should, and with the CVT, which provides wider gear ratios than previous versions and class competitors according to Nissan, an uphill quickly becomes a slog while overtaking can turn into a white-knuckle experience. You soon learn not to expect too much from the Versa in these circumstances and adjust your driving style accordingly. Personally, I'd rather stick with a stick and save $1,300.

The suspension and ride quality were something of a revelation – the car absorbs speed bumps very well, but it is not too soft to eliminate feedback and road feel completely.

While it competes in the subcompact space on price, it's almost as roomy as a compact Ford Focus or a Hyundai Elantra. Rear seating is not the knee-crunching variety, although six-footers may not last too long on the back seats. It is a compact car after all. Trunk space is also more than ample, although on the base model you can't fold the rear seats flat, which is another reason to go for the SV.

The styling of the new sedan is not nearly as bold as some of its Korean competitors and the blandness seems almost deliberate. In the interest of not being labelled boring, some manufacturers having been going slightly overboard on the angles, flares, dams and character lines on some new models. In contrast, I believe the Versa's design simplicity will have lasting appeal.

No one expects the interior of a $13,798 car to be plush and Nissan certainly does not surprise on the upside. The expanse of dull grey plastics and cloth is sombre and sterile, but overall the Versa sedan's cabin is not unpleasant and the quality of the materials not entirely bargain basement (it does come close here and there, mind you).

The controls are ergonomic and the instrumentation clear. The Versa driver seat's six-way adjustments – including height; a big plus – were more than enough to get comfortable and back support was better than you'd expect.

In fact, 'better than you'd expect' sums up the 2012 Versa 1.6 SV CVT Sedan experience. While nothing really wows, save for the roominess and real-world fuel consumption, the car provides more than you typically get at this price point.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Nissan, 2012, Versa, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

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