By on July 26, 2011

The last time we looked at the Nissan Versa, in October of 2010, it was the cheapest car in America at under 10 grand. Unfortunately, the price for such a low sticker was dearer than its four-digit sticker. The lack of modern essentials like air conditioning, anti-lock brakes and automatic transmission were more than just a bummer, as adding them to the Versa made the car less than cheap. For the first redesign of Nissan’s smallest family hauler, the boffins in Japan decided to attack the sedan first for an update, an interesting decision as the sedan only accounts for a supposed 30-35% of all Versa sales on our shores. Surprised? I was, especially since hatchback sales in the US are finally on fire. Nissan graciously invited us to Seattle so we could get down and dirty with the Versa before it arrives on showroom floors in August.


From the outside, the Versa (known as the Nissan Sunny or Nissan Tiida in other markets) looks considerably more grown up than its predecessor. Swoopy lines and the bold trapezoidal “signature” grille could almost be products of Infiniti. Nissan tells us to expect this schnoz to be adapted to all Nissan vehicles eventually. Out back, the trunk is acceptably well executed, prompting a sigh of relief as so many small cars get the rump all wrong. Hatchback lovers shouldn’t expect a new Versa hatchback soon; Nissan was tightlipped about a new hatch meaning we’ll probably see it in 2013, but that’s just a guess.

While some may scoff at hard plastics, the low base price of the Versa has always forgiven the econobox many faults and the new Versa is no different. Interior plastics are no snazzier than they were in the previous version meaning hard plastic dash and door bits are the name of the game. Still, the texture and color of the plastics are far less distracting than some of the alternatives coming out of Detroit regardless or price.

Under the hood beats an all-new 1.6L four-cylinder engine with dual variable valve timing and dual injectors per cylinder, good for 109HP at 6,000 RPM and 107 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. Fortunately for sedan buyers, the sedan now comes with a CVT instead of ye olde 4-speed auto. The new transmission incorporates the usual cone/belt arrangement and adds a novel twist: a two-speed planetary gearset giving this second-gen CVT a broader range than most 7-speed autos. Thanks to this crossbreed transmission and a slight weight reduction compared to the outgoing model, the loss of 13HP vs the old 1.8L engine goes largely unnoticed, and with EPA numbers on the rise most buyers won’t mind.

Because I had to share my driving time with a colleague from About.com, (and keeping in mind we were driving a pre-production vehicle) my experiences are based on some 80-miles in Seattle on mostly city streets with brief highway runs. Based on this fleeting encounter I’ll leave the majority of driving impressions to a full review. I can however say that the suspension is well sorted and composed even on the broken and under-construction pavement currently plaguing the Pacific Northwest, and the electric power steering is no worse than any of the others on offer in this segment. Acceleration is leisurely in relative terms, but not appreciably slower than vehicles like a Prius or Civic Hybrid. A quick test with our accelerometer resulted in a 0-60 time of 11.65 seconds. Nissan announced 2008 EPA numbers of 30/38/33 (City/Highway/Combined) and we averaged 29-34 MPG during our short time with the vehicle and mostly city driving making the Versa both cheap and frugal.

Safety has been on Nissan’s short list for a while and the Versa is no different, sporting all the safety gizmos mid-size car buyers expect. Side curtain airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters are all standard on even the base model. The only item conspicuously absent from the Versa’s safety list is Nissan’s active headrest, pity; it would round out all my favorite acronyms and would be a nice touch on the top-end low cost car.

Speaking of dollars, the Nissan Versa lineup starts with the base Versa S equipped with a 5-speed manual for $10,990 which now includes a radio with CD player (and AUX input) and two speakers (yes, just two) and air conditioning. (We were unable to test drive the manual-equipped sedan so I can’t comment on that model’s specifics). I have this feeling that most buyers will opt for the Versa S, a single step-up from the bottom. The S with CVT will set you back $12,760 but also brings a “high efficiency” alternator and wind deflectors to the party. For $350 more you can get cruise control and two extra speakers, good value in my book. The $14,560 Versa SV model bring power windows and door locks, standard cruise control, upgraded cloth seats, and some shiny chrome bits. $350 extra gets the SV Bluetooth phone connectivity with steering wheel controls, map lights, vanity mirrors and iPod control.

Top-line SL buyers get alloy wheels, fog lights, a split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, the aforementioned shiny bits and some cloth inserts in the door panels. Non-apple lovers will need to buy the SL and cough-up the $700 tech package to get the navigation system with USB interface. In addition the ability to browse tunes on your various USB devices, the 7-Benjamins buys an easy to use navigation system with XM radio and NavTraffic (service fees apply and it’s only available in the SL model). While $700 is a touch steep compared to the $199 Garmin special at your local box store, the look is well integrated with the steering wheel controls and in my book worth the extra dosh. This makes the fully-loaded price of the Nissan Versa some $16,260. Add in a $760 destination fee, subtract some inevitable wiggle room and it may actually possible to get a fully loaded Versa for under $17K plus tax.

On the electronic goody and luxury front, the new Versa attempts to be the best budget value without stepping on Sentra’s toes as the old Versa tended to in higher trims. For buyers this means niceties like the long-awaited center armrest, key-less go, and hidden cubbies for your USB devices are all gone. While I will mourn their loss as a tech-weenie, in their place comes standard air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, improved fuel economy and a new CVT.

Despite a base MSRP increase from $9,990 to $10,990, the Versa is likely to still be the cheapest car in America. Fortunately for the frugal shopper, the base price increase also means less of a penalty box than was checked in 2011 with A/C and anti-lock brakes now standard.

Real competition for the Versa can be seen in the form of the Hyundai Accent GLS when equipped with the manual transmission and air conditioning. So equipped, the Accent will run you $14,195 and the Versa S clocks in at $10,990, a difference of $3,205 which Nissan is quick to point out. On the surface, the Versa looks to deliver exactly what Nissan promises: cheap transportation without being a penalty box. When the Versa goes on sale in August of this year we’ll be sure to update our best & brightest with a full review. Until then, sound off in the comment section below: should buyers get an $11,000 new car with a warranty or something cheap in the certified pre-owned category? Is that the Versa’s real competitor?

Nissan flew me up to Seattle, put me up in a swanky hotel with free flowing drink, and provided the vehicle, insurance and gasoline for this review.


Statistics as tested

0-30: 3.75 seconds

0-60: 11.65 seconds

1/4 Mile: 18.44 seconds @ 76MPH


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59 Comments on “Review: 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan (Sunny)...”


  • avatar
    philadlj

    Maybe it looks better in person (I hope) but this sedan looks like it has 8″ wheels. Really, really dinky looking. Of course, that makes sense if the whole point of the Versa is maximum room for your money. You gotta tip your hat to Nissan for offering more of what the people want, rather than something with sexier proportions.

    Oh, and Nissan…your current three-part grille is fine. Don’t start using Lexus grilles!

  • avatar
    Marko

    Well, despite the mocking the Versa receives on car enthusiast websites, just like a Toyota Corolla or Camry, it seems to check the boxes for what consumers ACTUALLY want (i.e. roomy, refined, reliable, doesn’t drive like a “penalty box” as the author mentioned).

  • avatar

    $16,300 makes it a very affordable car for a typical college student. I wish Ford could make a fully loaded Fiesta or Focus that much.

    • 0 avatar

      $16,300 is without the destination fee. Total cost is $17,020.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      “$16,300 makes it a very affordable car for a typical college student.”
      Holy crap, so a typical college student has $16k to blow on a new car?
      Well I obviously do come from a different mindset. My college car was a 1986 Ford Escort – the bodywork of which was at least 30% iron ore.

      • 0 avatar
        Jellodyne

        Holy cow, they didn’t even bother to refine it into steel?!

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        One must hope it is chump change for today’s college students, what with tuition and board running up to $40K a year now.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        with tuition and board running up to $40K a year now.

        My son’s tuition and board is $55k per year. Maybe it’s an affordable car for the parent of a typical college student.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        http://finance.yahoo.com/college-education/article/111664/collges-that-bring-the-highest-paycheck

        I was looking at this list. I guess it doesn’t reflect room and board costs. It would be a shame to pay more for a school that isn’t on the list.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        It would be a shame to pay more for a school that isn’t on the list

        Yes, his school is on a couple of lists for best return, but we were more focused of what they had to offer in terms of a program that met his criteria. We looked at most of the schools on that list and those numbers the article shows don’t reflect reality. For example the article has MIT at 39k, but in reality it’s 55k. Same with many of the other schools on that list. Add to that the fact that many fields require graduate degrees, college cost is even higher.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    No comments on the seating space, especially in the rear? I’m surprised, as that was the Versa’s trump card.

    The reason the Tiida/Versa sold so well was because it was roomier and/or more comfortable than many midsizers (and, eg, the Chevy Impala) while offering subcompact frugality. Does the Sunny/Versa maintain that?

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is that with the swoopier roofline headroom will be compromised compared to the current sedan. The current sedan’s disjointed profile did allow for a high roofline.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Wasn’t the result of the first Versa’s goofy styling, roomy interior, and low price the top sales slot in its class most of the time?

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        That was my thought too. Most of Versa’s appeal is due to packing a lot of space into a small, cheap package. Compromising rear seat headroom to chase the 4-door coupe styling fad doesn’t make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      This isn’t a full review, just a quick look. Rear space is down on headroom because of the more traditional shape, but it still has more leg room than a BMW 5-series or a Mercedes E-Class.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        I figured as much, and I suspect that rear headroom advantage is why the Tiida/Versa hatch outsells the sedan as well. That, and the sedan is a wretchedly awkward-looking car.

        Good to hear they maintained the legroom.

      • 0 avatar

        Commenters have been kinder than I expected…

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Probably because it’s honest, which means means it comes off as homely and inoffensive, rather than aggressively pretentious.

        I mean, hey, it’s got four-bolt wheels. How often do you see those on a new car? Visibility doesn’t seem half-bad, either, though it’s missing those oh-so-useful A-pillar windowlettes.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        +1
        I’m more than happy to rage about some overpriced, ugly ass car which doesn’t do a lot of things very well.
        But, even though this Versa does look like it has a HUGE ass, it’s a straightforward mode of transportation at a good price – and that more than makes up for any visual shortcomings.

      • 0 avatar
        Mackee

        “Sunny”. Ha. Clearly irony is not strictly a Western conceit. This car has the charisma of a circa 1990 Yugo, only not so much. That uninterrupted interior sea of gray is just inviting people to shoot themselves in a fit of monochromatic induced psychosis. And seriously, you could plant a whole wreath of flowers in the cupholder (if the “Sunny” even offers one–perhaps an optional extra?) and it would still be a bland interior. I guess 15K shouldn’t buy anything more than strict utilitarian transportation. Keep lowering the expectations, boys: give the people what they want!

  • avatar

    Once upon a time, a Toyota Yaris wandered off and was raised by a family of Sentras. The end.
    Where the hell is my Nissan-badged Clio with the Juke motor in it?

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Does it have as little rear seat headroom as it appears to? It isn’t an attractive car, so it seems a shame to sacrifice space for styling. Who are all these 2+2 sedans supposed to appeal to? College kids tend to be fully grown, so a sedan for them should be able to carry their friends. Young families seem to need far more room than they did 25 years ago, so I don’t see too many of them buying cars with cramped back seats. I’ve purchased five 4-door sedans for my own use. I’ve never purchased one without first sitting in the back seat. I have walked away from cars I was interested in upon finding out that the back seats weren’t spacious enough to justify the extra set of doors.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    lets hope its death per accident record improves as well.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    The lack of an armrest might be the stupidest $10 an automaker could save.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    What is the purpose of making a car this NOT a hatchback? The trunk looks like an OK size, but it would increase the utility of this car (ostensibly for folks looking for value) to have a hatchback…

  • avatar
    buzzdsm

    Nissan really struggles with making cars that get good gas mileage even with the CVT. Looking at the size and performance numbers, I would think they should do a lot better than 35mpg.

    I have an Infiniti G35 but if I was in the market for a small car in this class I think I’d lean towards the Honda Fit.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Keep in mind we had a limited time with the car and 90% of our driving time was in Seattle city traffic. We recorded around 40MPG at 65MPG on the freeway with A/C on and level roadways.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      The CVT in the four cylinder Altima slightly lugs the engine at low speeds and during light acceleration (I’ve noticed this behavior in other vehicles with conventional automatics, as well). Nissan recently released a TSB to reprogram the transmission computer to eliminate this behavior, along with the warning that MPG may decrease from the already low for the class 31 MPG highway (or 30 highway on the earlier models).

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        This is an all-new CVT with a much, much broader range than the one in the Altima, Sentra or 2011 Versa, it has a range broader than most 7-speed autos and it does seriously help the feel of the car quite a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      I was just about to saw Fit FTW. The Fit is like flying a little experimental aircraft (someone else’s genius comparison). It’s very satisfying.

      However, even used first-gen Fits cost much more. I was lucky to find my 2007 for $9450 with 77k miles and a salvage title. Honda Fits have very stubborn resale value. It’s worth it to pamper any Fit and resell it at 200k, rather than drive it into the ground.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Nissan always made sensible cars in this class. Looks like they still do.

  • avatar

    Apparently the Versa hatchback accounts for around 65% of sales in hatchback hating America and IIRC about 90% of the sales in Canada.
    So why is it they come out with the sedan version first instead of the hatchback?
    Kind of scratching my head on that one.
    I like the Versa, it’s a nice package with lots of room for a cheap price, but only in hatchback form would I consider buying it. The sedan version looks odd, like an afterthought, as do all the other cars that started out as a HB and morphed into a sedan (Echo, Yaris,Fiesta,Focus,Accent,Aveo etc).
    And the CVT is a no go for me, perhaps it was my traumatising experience driving a Caliber CVT (sourced from Nissan) but their appeal is a mystery to me.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      So why is it they come out with the sedan version first instead of the hatchback?

      A few reasons:
      One, they probably want to sell more Jukes, which sell at a higher margin.
      Two, they probably want to sell more Altimas and Sentras, for the same reason
      Three, the Versa, which sells well, probably doesn’t make Nissan munch margin.

      The problem is Four, just because you offer a higher-margin product doesn’t mean that people will flock to it—instead, they’ll flock to your competition. Ask Acura how killing the RSX did very little to help the TSX and RDX. A lot of companies don’t get that.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper

      The Cube is hatch/wagon a version of the of the old Versa. I’m guessing it will make the hatch customers happy for a while

  • avatar

    Can’t say my eyes like what they see here. Maybe it looks a lot better in person? Small sedans with roomy interiors do pose a difficult challenge for designers. I’ll try to drive one soon, to see how it compares to the Accent.

    The first-gen Versa had a rocky start in terms of reliability, but after the first year or so has required few repairs. I’ll share reliability stats for the 2012 here once we have them.

    To help with TrueDelta’s car reliability survey, with just about any car:

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    It doesn’t look too bad, judging from the shots given, and certainly looks better than the 2011 sedan, all things being relative. I test-drove a 2011 hatch and ended up passing for what I considered a nicer car. Part of the problem was that the CD player didn’t play MP3s (this is a big requirement for me because I have a lot of MP3 discs that I use regularly).

    In my area Nissan dealers are often combined with Kia dealerships and most of you know what I ended up with and I’m rather happy with it so far. With 5.5k and counting, it’s been really fun.

  • avatar
    Wagen

    “some sloth inserts in the door panels”

    Best typo/Freudian slip ever. At 11+ seconds 0-60, it’s about as slow as a sloth as well.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    11 grand with AC is a great price. If something happened to my current car, I’d be seriously considering one of these.

  • avatar
    SV

    Honestly, I think this car is just ghastly to look at. The old Versa sedan wasn’t a looker but it’s much more attractive than this monstrosity.

    It is cheap, fuel efficient and reliable, and that’s all fine – it looks like a near-ideal transportation appliance for people who don’t care about cars. There’s nothing wrong with that. But does it have to look so dang ugly?

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    With the Chevy Aveo about to be replaced, I think has the potential of becoming the new “Most depressing car on the market.”

    • 0 avatar
      Demetri

      What’s depressing about saving a lot of money on solid dependable transportation? I’d be depressed if I paid 3 or 4 grand more for something that provides the same main function.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        Just about every car provides the same main function and there’s nothing wrong with the Versa.

        It’s an honest vehicle that has its place in the market just don’t put it in my garage.

        Just my opinion. YMMV.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Skip the 2012′s early production flaws. I speak from experience with 07 Versa. Versa won’t burn a hole in your pocket and run for years sans significant parts.

    New CVT touch 2RPM @70?

  • avatar
    wsn

    I don’t get all the negatives on the exterior styling. Consider that it occupies the same segment of older Tercel, Echo, Aveo, and the newer Yaris, I would say this is pretty good.

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    For that bargin price I assume most people (meaning none of you reading this now) will buy it for the ‘new car’ peace of mind and warranty, and for that the Versa does fairly well.

    But adding power windows and locks will bump it very close to Honda Fit price range. And you get 5 doors instead of 4! And the magic seats… For those who doesn’t mind the Fit’s styling it will be very compelling to fork over the extra $500 and get the Fit. I know I would.

  • avatar
    Advo

    The Versa looks like it was designed to be as bland and inoffensive as possible while still staying with current styling trends. That will probably work well in a segment where people are concerned more about value for money rather than polarizing styling (like Fit, Hyundai/Kia) that some people will like a lot, but others (even a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend) won’t.

    I’m not sure if a Sentra styled like that would sell well. There’s a lot more choice in that category in whatever distinctive style you’d want, and such a styling may be too soft and rounded.

    I can’t really see why power windows or locks are so desirable on a smaller car like that. I can easily enough reach over to the other side to roll down a window or unlock the door from the inside. Sure, power locks are more convenient, but I’d rather save money in that type of vehicle. The A/C, IMO should be standard on all cars as there are very few places I wouldn’t appreciate it on at least part of the year.

  • avatar
    drifter

    Tiida=Versa
    Sunny=Sentra

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The Versa in China is sold as the Sunny, in fact it was first released as the Sunny in China and only later did Nissan say that the Sunny would in fact become the Versa and Tiida in other markets.

      http://www.drivearabia.com/news/2011/04/24/nissan-tiida-2012-launched-sunny-versa-sedan-hatchback-uae-gcc/

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Nissan Sunny?
    They should call it Nissan Funny.
    Small sedans always look odd.

  • avatar
    Bryce

    CVT no f…ken way take it back and build it properly


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