We drove the slightly more upscale SV trim, and it was still obvious where Nissan cut costs. Even with about $4,000 in optional equipment above the base car, the SV still lacks vanity mirrors in the sun visors, sheaths covering the seatbelt bolts and arm rests in the front and rear. The carpet is thinner than a Two and a Half Men plotline, and the trunk-open handle feels like the pop top on a can of off-brand ginger ale.
Where the Versa doesn't feel small or cheap is on the road, and that's what matters. Its steering and suspension are unremarkable, but in this price point, that's a good thing. It's not a fast car, but it will keep up with highway traffic and dart from stoplight to stoplight with ease. Our only major complaint was the CVT. While it helped the car achieve gas mileage in the low 30s, it also stifled all attempts at heavy acceleration.
The Nissan Versa sedan is basic transportation—the kind you buy when your old beater is costing you more than it's worth. If you can live without luxury, take pride in frugality and insist on owning a brand new car, the 2012 Versa SV isn't a bad choice.
When you step into the 2012 Versa you won't find a navigation screen—navigation is a printout from Google Maps, or a local in the passenger seat telling you when it's time to turn left. There is no pushbutton start, and you'll have to pay extra for Bluetooth, but you will get power locks, power windows, an auxiliary input, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and cruise control. Steering wheel controls are optional.
There is a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack on the head unit, taking up half of the sixth preset key, but there's no USB input. If you want to charge your phone, you'll have to get an adapter for the 12v cigarette lighter. The Versa's four-speaker AM/FM/CD offers the worst sound quality of any car stereo we've encountered since that '93 Chevy Corsica we had went to the crusher. Tinny and echoey, it's better suited for talk radio than for music. Steering wheel controls are optional.
It's called Versa, not Attracta.
When our tester, painted in Red Brick, first showed up in the driveway, we were momentarily stumped. Although we'd driven 2012 Versa sedans before and even attended a press conference when the new car was first unveiled, we couldn't recognize it at first sight. The chrome door handles are a nice touch, but otherwise the car looks extremely plain. it's called Versa, not Attracta.
Step inside and you'd be forgiven for assuming the Versa is actually a rip in the space/time continuum that put you behind the wheel of a brand new 1998 Corolla. Though it isn't very modern, we appreciate that the layout is extremely straightforward. It would be a great choice for any driver who is confused by all the buttons on his or her dashboard.
A lot of the Versa's exterior is made up of glass, which means the driver has excellent visibility. This is a budget car, so no parking sensors or rear-view cameras, but there's no need for such frippery in a car this easy to see out of.
For a budget car, we were impressed with the new Versa's handling dynamics.
The Versa's electric power steering definitely felt light, but it was communicative enough that drivers won't fall asleep from boredom or point the car in the wrong direction. The suspension was a tad rough on bumpy roads, but it kept the car from leaning too far into turns. If your daily commute takes you along winding, high-speed roads, you'll appreciate the Versa's poise.
Nissan only made one major screwup: that darn CVT. Yes, it allowed us to get gas mileage figures north of 33 mpg, and for that we'll always be grateful. But, for the love of Datsun, let us rev! Picture this: You're merging onto a short onramp in your Versa and traffic is thick but moving at full speed. You find a spot and floor it, but the tachometer shows the engine is only making about two thirds of its total available power. The car seems to inch forward, so you keep pressing down on the accelerator as if to tell the Versa, "Yes, I really do want to accelerate, I promise!" Just then, a snarling WHARRRRRRRRR reverberates throughout the passenger compartment and the little car finally takes off, getting you off and into traffic just in time.
Not all CVTs are bad, but this one quite literally holds the Versa back to the point that merging and passing can become almost as much of a chore as driving a stick shift in stop-and-go traffic. We didn't expect much from such an inexpensive car, but we were hoping for a better transmission.
If you've decided to buy a brand new car and don't want to pay a lot for it, we suggest you check out the redesigned 2012 Nissan Versa sedan.
Just know one thing going in to the dealership: You won't be paying $10,990. That base price doesn't include a destination charge, and it will only get you an extremely basic car with manual locks, roll-down windows and a manual transmission—plus bragging rights that you bought the cheapest new car in America.
That doesn't mean the Versa isn't a great fit for some drivers. Overall, it's a comfortable ride with a pleasantly simple interior and inoffensive sheetmetal. The spartan sedan is an especially good choice for those folks who get confused by the myriad of buttons, dials and knobs on their dashboard. Handling is excellent, but we'll never stop cursing the lethargic and miserly CVT, which gnashes and thrashes its way through merging and passing maneuvers.
The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is basic, competent and comfortable transportation. It's not a bad choice for a brand new car—even if it ends up costing more than $10,990.
For 2012, there are two transmission options: a five-speed manual that's only available on the base, stripped-down version, or a CVT that functions the same way as an automatic.
The Versa is a very fuel efficient car. In a mix of highway and city driving, we managed around 33.5 mpg. On a long highway trip, we nearly cracked 40 mpg. Yes, there are a plethora of small sedans that can do 40 highway—the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3 are among the best—but they cost more than the Versa.
If fuel economy is your thing, you should wait for a 2013 Versa, as Nissan says they're tweaking the little car to get more than 40 mpg highway.
Meet the tester
Former Editor in Chief, Reviewed Home@itskeithbarry
Keith was the Editor in Chief of Reviewed's appliance and automotive sites. His work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Car & Driver, and CityLab.
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