By on January 27, 2012

Here’s a statement you won’t see at any other automotive outlet – when I hopped out of a 2012 Mercedes CLS and into a 2012 Nissan Versa SL, I felt like I was at home. This has as much to do with my auto journalist salary as it does my love of bargains. As much as I love $50,000 pickups and supercharged sports sedans, my friends and relations rarely ask which AMG product they should buy. Usually, the decision looks a little like the photograph above. Today’s quandary: the 2012 Nissan Versa vs the 2012 Nissan Sentra. Let the games begin.

Compact cars have a wide appeal to many customers, even if they’re not the sexiest choices out there. You might be shopping for a commuter car, or something for your college bound teen. Maybe it’s your first car, or a car for your elderly mother who doesn’t want anything “complicated”. Whatever the reason, when you’re shopping in the sub-$20,000 range, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether the “next size up”  is worth the 30 percent premium that often comes with it. With the introduction of the all-new Versa, and the continued production of the venerable Sentra, Nissan has made the conundrum that much harder, with the new Versa continuing the tradition of delivering a large interior for a small price. But does that mean the Sentra is superfluous?

Clad in a sporty red finish, we have the middleweight 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0S with a base price of $17,990 plus $850 in options, (Bluetooth, keyless go, leather wrapped steering wheel and cargo management in the trunk) and $760 in destination charges landing this competitor just shy of 20-large at $19,870. On the right in blue we have the bantam weight 2012 Versa SV sedan starting at $14,560 plus $520 of options (Bluetooth, iPod interface, map lights vanity mirrors, steering wheel audio controls and floor mats) and the same $760 in destination fees yields a $15,840 MSRP. While it is true you can find a Versa for the $10,990 base price, if you want features the market has come to expect like power windows, power door locks, automatic transmission, and more than two speakers, you have to move up the price ladder. Similarly, the base Sentra for $16,250 comes with a manual and lacks creature comforts the commuter car shopper will want like Bluetooth and a place to plug your iPod in. While our Versa SV tester lacked keyless-go and some price adjustment must be made, the Versa handily wins round 1 with it’s $4,030 smaller MSRP.

Looks are a personal preference, but placed side-by-side, the older design language of the Sentra was immediately obvious. The Versa’s curvaceous new form on the other hand seems less “economy” than the outgoing model and to some, more attractive than the Sentra. Sure, the Versa’s narrow track and tall roofline split my informal polling group between those who found the look strangely proportioned and those that found it strangely cute. Either way that was more emotion than the Sentra managed to evoke.

When shopping for a commuter car, the assumption is you’re going to be spending 30 minutes or more inside the car every day. After all, if you commute is short, why have a dedicated “commuter car?” As such, the feel and creature comforts are more important than styling, and in this fight, the Sentra makes a comeback. The Versa’s interior is designed to be profitable (or at least break even) at its $10,990 base price and it shows. From the lack of a center arm rest up front to the hard plastic trim on the doors, the interior certainly feels less expensive than the Sentra which sports a leather wrapped steering wheel, fabric door trim, a center armrest and plenty of silver plastic trim. While the Versa’s plastics may be low rent, they are no worse than those in the Mazda 2 or the new Chevy Spark and only a notch below the Sentra and Chevy Sonic. If you’re shopping a Versa, do yourself a favor and buy a model with the “sandstone” interior. The resulting two-tone dash makes the interior look far more upmarket than the black-on-black model – check out the gallery in our look at the pre-production model from last July if you don’t believe me. While I found nothing objectionable during my week with the Versa, my one-hour one-way commute did serve to remind me how much I missed having an armrest, a leather wrapped wheel and some cushy fabric on the door. The winner in this round is the Sentra with its higher quality touch points.

While the Sentra’s price buys a more appealing steering wheel and a significantly better headliner (the Versa’s “fabric” is reminiscent of the material GM uses to line trunks), the rest of the cabin materials are no more up-market than the Versa. As a result, the passenger comfort round sees some fierce competition. Rear passengers in the Sentra are treated to a center armrest with integrated cup holders and padded door armrests, but the Versa fights back with nearly four more inches of leg room than the Sentra. As oxymoronic as it may sound, the smallest Nissan still sells on spaciousness. This is a fact I did not fully appreciate until I agreed to take some friends to the airport. The send-off journey in the Sentra was a cramped affair (we are all six-feet tall or over) and the Versa proved more comfortable on the return journey home. The reason is due largely to those 38-inches of rear leg room, not only the most in its class, but more than a Ford Fusion or Honda Accord. It’s worth nothing that the Versa is four-inches narrower than the Sentra, meaning sitting three-abreast in the rear is far from enjoyable. For the young family shopper, the Versa was able to comfortably accommodate two rearward facing child seats and a 6-foot, four-inch tall driver while the Sentra was more of a squeeze. Unless you really need to carry 5 regularly or value armrests over leg room, the Versa wins this round with its rear seat leg room and accommodations for two child seats.

Commuters may not care about cargo capacity that much, but it’s handy to have it when you need it. The young family shopper may find this more important with a need to jam luggage for four in the trunk. On the surface the Sentra’s larger proportions and trunk hinges that don’t impact the cargo area set it up for an easy win, but the plucky Versa manages to best the Sentra by 1.7 cubic feet in the rear. With 14.8 cubic feet available, the Versa’s booty is only 4% smaller than a Dodge Charger’s trunk. Even subtracting the space occupied by the trunk hinges, our “airport shuttling” proved that it was easier to get our friend’s bags in the Versa than the Sentra. If this is your family car, you might not want to take the Versa as the ready winner.  The Sentra’s standard folding rear seats make loading IKEA flat-packs possible in the Sentra. The Versa does offer folding rear seats, but only in the more expensive SL trim. With a bigger trunk in the Versa, but no folding seats, our cargo carrying fight ends in a dead heat.

My journey to and from SFO is a 66-mile one way journey which involves going over a fairly windy 2,000-foot mountain pass. With 800-pounds of human cargo and easily 200lbs of luggage in the trunk, both vehicles had their work cut out for them.The Sentra has a respectably low (for a modern car) 3,000lb curb weight when equipped with Nissan’s CVT.  To shift this weight, the Sentra is equipped with Nissan’s popular 2.0L four-cylinder engine. For Sentra duty, this variable valve timing engine is worth 140HP and 147lb-ft of torque.  The Versa on the other hand weighs 576lbs less than the Sentra. At 2424lbs, the Versa isn’t just light for a four-door sedan, it’s light for our modern era period. The small Nissan is only 300lbs heavier than the microscopic Scion iQ despite having more doors and being four and a half feet longer. The Versa gets an all-new 1.6L mill capable of 109HP and 107lb-ft of twist. This may sound like an unfair fight with the Sentra cranking out 28% more power, but the Versa counters with 24% less weight and a trick two-speed CVT. The new “Xtronic” transmission marries ye-olde CVT with a two-speed planetary gearset giving the Versa’s drivtrain a broader range than the Sentra. This improved range was obvious when trying to maintain highway speeds at an 8-percent grade. While the Sentra has a better power to weight ratio on paper, the revised CVT delivers a sucker-punch, helping the smaller engine reach its optimum range faster and stay there longer. The results are clearly seen in our back-to-back quarter-mile tests. The Sentra ran to 30MPH in 3.35 seconds, 60MPH in 9.09 seconds and finished the quarter-mile in 17.06 seconds at 80MPH. The Versa got a quick start hitting 30MPH in 3.11 seconds. By 60MPH the gap was closing with the Versa essentially neck and neck with the Sentra at 9.04 seconds. Above 60MPH, the two-speed gearset helped the Versa finish the quarter-mile race at 16.97 seconds and 81MPH. (It should be noted this was faster than our pre-production Versa in June by a decent margin due likely to improved tuning of the production drivetrain). If straight line performance is really what you’re after, then neither sedan is likely to get your juices flowing. If you just need to make sure you can get on the freeway without getting out to push, both sedans perform admirably. This fight also ends in a tie.

When the going gets twisty, those interested in performance should cross both sedans off their shopping list. If you want a Nissan compact sedan with decent handling characteristics you should just throw down $20,810 for a Sentra SE-R Spec V and call it a day. If however your primary interest is to not head into the forest at the slightest curve, the Versa with its lower curb weight and 185-width tires delivers a decent balance of road holding and ride characteristics due as much to its weight as its 102.5-inch wheelbase. Contrary to most of the automotive press, I have a peculiar love for the CVT and its passion for letting an engine rev at high RPMs endlessly while climbing a hill. Aside from the novelty, it pays dividends for the consumer in hill climbing performance and fuel economy. The Sentra also performs well and its longer wheelbase does make the ride a hair more composed over washboard pavement. For its overall refinement, the Sentra wins.

Speaking of those elusive MPGs, fuel economy is one of the most important factors for many compact sedan shoppers. If you don’t get twice the MPGs from your commuter car as your SUV or Town Car, why bother? Similarly, if you’re not getting near 40MPG, why not just buy a used Camry? During our 705-miles with the Sentra and 675-miles with the Versa we averaged 31.4MPG and 37.9MPG respectively in similar driving situations. Our numbers are taken from our own fill-up calculations but are fairly close to the car’s trip computer estimates. The interesting take-away for the commuter car shopper is that the Versa’s average fuel economy was far closer to its EPA 2008 highway numbers than the Sentra. If your commute requires a great deal of stop-and-go highway travel, then neither sedan will blow you away and you’d be best served waiting for something like the new Prius C. If however your commute is primarily highway, the Versa wins handily.

While the more expensive Sentra makes several compelling arguments with a few more creature comforts, two more speakers, a much-needed armrest for the driver and a more refined feel, the cost difference of $4000 skews the balance towards the Versa. Adjusting for additional content, the difference lands between $3000 and $3500 depending on which web tool you believe. While adjusted numbers are nice, if you want those basic commuter car features of Bluetooth and multimedia interfaces, then the difference is still about $4000 when it comes time to get that new car loan (less any cash on the hood). I’m not sure if this is a backhanded compliment or not, but the Versa delivers a totally unobjectionable experience at a very compelling price. So if you’re out there shopping Sentra vs Versa, save yourself some cash, get the Versa and take a road trip with the difference.

Nissan provided the cars, insurance and one tank of gas per vehicle for this review.

Specifications as tested

Sentra / Versa

0-30 MPH: 3.35 seconds / 3.11 seconds

0-60 MPH: 9.09 seconds / 9.04 seconds

1/4 mile: 17.06 seconds at 80MPH / 16.97 seconds at 81MPH


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62 Comments on “Review: 2012 Nissan Versa vs 2012 Nissan Sentra...”

  • avatar

    Wow. No wonder Nissan gave up selling normal sedans in the UK.

  • avatar

    Why on earth would anyone buy a $16,000 Versa instead of an Accent / Rio? As for the Sentra, it was uncompetitive from the day it was introduced and is a complete joke now.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess: interior space.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I recently bought a new car, and I literally test drove just about every subcompact and many compact cars. I believe in that price range the Rio5 is the best buy. The Rio was superior to the Versa in practically every way that I judged it. I avoided the Accent because the crash test ratings weren’t acceptable to me.

      I eventually bought a Mazda3, because I liked the sporty feel to it, but if I was looking solely for a commuter car I would definitely have purchased the Rio5.

      Edit: I just remembered. Another reason why I did not purchase the Rio5 was because it was redesigned for 2012. It has a new engine in it, and I never buy first year designs. I prefer to let them work the bugs out first.

      • 0 avatar

        You do realize that the Rio will likely get whatever the Accent got, don’t you? Only the Accent has been tested by either NHTSA or IIHS, but usually if the structure is the same, IIHS gives the Kia whatever the Hyundai got or vice versa.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 The Nissan economy cars are well behind the competition from Korea.

    • 0 avatar

      Because in this case, I’d rather have the Versa and its somewhat normal looks over the overly styled Kia/Hyundai alien looking things, with light housings that would look big even on a car with a 5 foot long hood.

      I’ve already got one overwrought style car from the 70s and want something that isn’t so dated in 5-10 years.

  • avatar

    This review raises an interesting question, and does a nice job answering it.

    I’ve long believed that the Versa was a direct hit at the buyer looking for the most space for the least money (without buying used). The car’s sales bear this out; apparently having the most space in a fiercely price-competitive segment is a winning strategy in a market where most buyers don’t care about steering feel or the shape of the torque curve.

    The Sentra just seems dull to me. I can’t think of one reason to buy it over all the other C-class choices. Has anyone here bought a current-gen Sentra? If so, why?

  • avatar

    “The Versa’s curvaceous new form on the other hand seems less “economy”

    I must most respectfully disagree. The Sentra is not an attractive car by any means, but it’s far better-looking than the bloated, ungainly Versa. It’s more upscale looking too, IMO, for two very important reasons: proportion and stance.

    The Versa’s wheels are comically undersized – both in pictures and in real life. In profile, the rear wheels in particular utterly vanish in an vast canyon of sheetmetal. The car would look much better with 18″ or 19″ wheels, but those aren’t available, and aren’t practical for an economy car in any case.

    Those tires aren’t just small in diameter; they’re narrow. Like 1960s narrow, compared to the rest of the car. They strain to bear the visual mass of the whale of a car above them, and it looks like they could fail at any moment. The Versa’s stance is best described as “precarious”. Compared to the Versa, the Sentra is downright athletic.

    My question is, why bother styling the Versa at all? We know they designed it to be as roomy as possible, and yet they still tried to give it more ‘striking’ styling than its predecessor. Form follows function, and efforts to suggest otherwise fail miserably.

    Whatever details of the Versa are attractive are canceled out by those dinky wheelbarrow wheels and goofy stance. The old Versa was no looker, but at least very few attempts were made to hide the fact that it was a huge interior on wheels and little else. It wasn’t trying to say “look at me; I’m a mini-Altima!”

    The new Versa is a cautionary tale about putting lipstick on a pig. Of course, this is just a styling issue, and I doubt the Versa will lose its sales crown when it holds the edge in both price and roominess. But with much stiffer competition in the segment, Versa sales will slide, and its off-putting proportions will play a role in that.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll be damned…… the words “Sentra” and “upscale” right near each other.

      Nobody’s arguing the Senta is less craptastic…… but with that comes an additional $4,000 which is the point of this review. Great idea BTW, Alex.

      And a Versa with 19s would be one of the funniest things of all time.

  • avatar

    I have to love the TTAC car-rental method of obtaining review-mobiles. That said, this is a fantastic review.

    And it’s timely for me. I’m flying into SFO in two days and was trying to decide between the various penalty boxes. The question is: is it worth $5/day for a Sentra vs. the Versa? That armrest might make all the difference.

  • avatar

    The steering wheel audio controls on the Versa look like they were lifted from a early 2000s MP3 player.

  • avatar

    Enjoyable read.

    While the MSRPs are 3500 apart, how do the actual selling prices compare? I looked at the Sentra last year, and the discounting was extensive.

    The 4 inch difference in width helps the Sentra avoid some of the “band box” feel of the subcompact. But on purely practical terms it seems hard to justify the price premium.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Nissan corporate wasn’t willing to reveal sales number in that way, however a trip to my local dealer was eye opening. The dealer stocked four Sentras and 75 Versas. The little birdie at the dealer said this was not a case of idle inventory as the majority of Versa models had been on the lot fewer days than the Sentra models. None of the Versa models were the strippers, the lowest price was around $13,500 and the average I am told was around $15,500. The dealer would not talk transaction prices, only average MSRPs of those sold. The Sentras were around $18,500, the few that they did sell.

      • 0 avatar

        The Sentra was heavily, heavily discounted according to the last research I was able to do on TrueCar before all the hullabaloo about that service lately. I could get a Sentra with standard power locks/windows in the $14,500 range. A similarly equipped Versa was in the $16,000s according to the TrueCar pricing report. Says a lot about the Sentra being an older design that probably takes up valuable floorplan space at your local Nissan dealer, and the amount of marketing Nissan is giving the Versa sedan.

        I’ve always preferred the Versa hatch, even with the old sedan. I’ll be interested in seeing the new hatch when it arrives. Reportedly, it’s basically a Tiida hatch like the rest of the world gets (and apparently loves). Should be interesting to see if it starts crushing Versa sedan sales the way the hatch did with the old sedan.

        FWIW, and IMHO, the Cube crushes both of these cars as a daily commuter. Sure, the fuel economy’s not as great, but the space and interior comfort is so much better its ridiculous. A base Cube can be had for $15,000 without trying too hard when it comes to haggling your salesman, though he might have to order one for you since they’re just now getting 2012s on the lots and they don’t seem to sit around very long before being snatched up. Unlike the Mexico-built Versa and Sentra, the Cube is still a Japan-built Nissan at this point.

      • 0 avatar

        “the dealer wouldn’t talk transaction prices”

        Doesn’t that chap your a$$? Who do these guys think they are?

        Along similar lines I was shopping in a VW dealership recently and asked them to quote me a bottom line price on the CC. Their response? “Oh, we don’t do that…..we let you make us an offer, and then we decide if we want to accept it.” It’s like some of these guys have no idea the Internets have put the buyer in control of new car pricing. I took my dollars to Audi where they quote prices like reasonable people.

      • 0 avatar


        Who do we think we are? We’re salespeople. Back when I sold cars, I quoted a price – MSRP. I then invited the customer to name his or her price.

        The sort of people that wanted me to throw out a number below MSRP first are the sort of people who would then take that number and invite other dealerships to beat it. Even if I got the sale, it would have been a “mini” meaning minimum commission. $100 commission might be worth it if I were doing 3 or 4 of these deals a day, but there weren’t THAT many customers, even back in 2006.

        I much preferred letting those folks go to one of the mega-volume dealerships and not waste my time with them. If I’m going to spend hours on paperwork, negotiation, and delivery, I want to make a decent commission. Thankfully, I worked for a dealership that felt the same way. Those who asked for “your best price” got MSRP, and if they wouldn’t counter with their own price, they could effectively get lost.

        Had I been an internet sales manager I’d likely feel differently, but our store wasn’t big enough to have one at the time. If I could sit at the computer all day making mini deals, it would be a different story.

        FWIW, this was a Lexus dealership, and while luxury cars had some more margin to play with, they also had a large proportion of customers who read the infamous Consumer Reports’ guide to buying a car. I much preferred selling used cars as A) I made a higher percentage commission and B) unlike new cars, every bit of information about how much we paid for the car wasn’t all over the internet.

        Ironically, had folks been willing to toss out a number, even a fairly crazy one, they’d probably be more likely to get a deal than at a bigger dealership. We were small enough that we didn’t have separate F&I department folks. Our sales managers worked with us on that. The upshot was that I could sell a car for less than we paid for it, all in, as long as we made some money on the financing. At dealerships with separate F&I, salespeople are often not paid commission on financing profits. I sold at least 5 cars that would have been losses on cash deals but on finance they were winners (if mini deals).

        I quite enjoyed the business (except for the “your best price” folks) but for me it was just a way to make money between consulting gigs.

        Look, hate them all you want, but most car salespeople are just regular folks trying to make a living. The real sharks are in the back room and in F&I, but even the vast majority of these people are normal people with families like you and me.

  • avatar

    While styling is highly, highly subjective…both of these cars seem out of date to me…even the brand new Versa. I can’t warm up to either of these cars. But I guess at this level, style isn’t the primary driving factor…even though cars like the new Rio5 seem to at least attempt some styling flair (but again, opinions on style are like rear ends…everybody has one!). Not sure either of these would be on my shopping list.

  • avatar

    This is a particularly interesting review for me as a just spent a week in a rental 2012 Versa. I had accidentally jumped into a Sentra next to the Versa at the rental office, so when I got into the Versa I immediately noticed the lower grade interior compared to the Sentra. I pretty much universally hate CVT’s, but after spending a week with one and putting on 380 miles, I can understand it’s strengths. A wide gearing range is certainly one of them. Cruising at 60 mph we were turning just 2,000 rpm. It was also geared pretty low as it jumped off the line pretty well, and as Alex noted, climbed hills well. Where it stumbled for me was when turning on to a busy highway, flooring it produced a lot of noise, but no accompanying acceleration. It was like you could trick the CVT into not shifting down to build speed. Very disconcerting. The trick was to roll into the accelerator more slowly and it would get up to speed in a more normal fashion. In normal driving, I was impressed enough to wonder if the manual version would offer disappointing performance in comparison. I averaged a hand calculated 35.5 mpg in a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.

  • avatar

    Thanks Mr Dykes, for the well written comparison. And bravo for writing something that may only appeal to small percentage of the readership here. I read the first few lines expecting something different, but it turned into a good informational piece.

    I really liked the common sense way the subject matter was handled, I don’t know if circumstances would allow, but another comparison like this would be great for different manufacturers. Something like Rio/Forte, Sonic/Cruze, Fiesta/Focus. I was just at our local car show last evening, and when you see all of the cars all grouped together, one tends to wonder if the extra $3-4,000 between certain cars are really worth it or not.

    If one of my cockroaches finally dies, I may be in the market for a commuter car, so this info was handy.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to agree. I thought the bit about the rear seat space was interesting. However, I’m guessing that anybody who has to carry around more than the average 2.2 children in the backseat would bump up to a midsized car if not a fullsized car. Trying to stuff 3 people in the back of any car which is relatively narrow is a chore.

      Maybe Mr. Dykes could do his own seperate story page (like Mr. Martins “Hell Project” and Mr. Niedermeyer’s “Curbside Classics” was”). Reading the mashups of a manufacturers subcompact v. compact could be very interesting. It could also be interesting to do a compact v. midsize comparison periodically.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        I’d love to see manufacturer comparisons that cut all the way across. Sonic vs. Cruze vs. Malibu vs. Impala for example. If they were all simiarly equipted (automatic, popular options, ect) which one would win?

  • avatar

    When my sister was looking for a 2011, she passed up the Versa for another Sentra (she’d had a ’94). After six months, she traded in the Sentra for a Forester. She misses the fuel mileage, but not the CVT that drove her nuts. The review might have mentioned that the CVT takes some getting used to, and a short test drive doesn’t reveal its quirks.

    She ended up with the Forester for two problems common to both the Versa and Sentra: 1. she couldn’t see out raked the back windows and they got too dirty, and both needed wipers in the rain, and 2. the raked rear window made the trunk opening unusable for her, with a high sill and inability to fit boxes through the opening, though the trunk is big enough to hold the tall plastic boxes she uses in her business.

    Her complaint boiled down to “if I wanted a coupe with limited vision and small trunk opening, I’d have bought one.” To her, neither of these vehicles is a true 4-door sedan, but an example of styling over function.

    • 0 avatar

      So she went with the Forester and it’s awful 4-speed auto? I know, I own that transmission. I have nothing against CVTs so long as they are implemented correctly. I know Subaru’s is pretty good and I thought that Nissan had a good one, but maybe not so good in their lower end cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Own a Legacy with the same transmission. Only issue is the fact that it drops a gear with a sudden thud whenever hitting the ACCELERATE setting on the cruise control.

        Have long since learned to accelerate with the gas pedal.

  • avatar

    I never understood why people would buy a compact sedan. I know American’s in particular have this belief that sedans are more upscale, but come on, at this price point you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re a Saudi prince. At that size, you need to maximize your space as much as possible…..and the only solution is a hatchback. Same footprint, and a whack load more versatility.

    On an aesthetic front, I much preferred the older Versa. It had this boxy french thing going on, while this one just looks like a lame egg. Meh.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t worry, they’ve still got the boxy French thing going on for you, since the hatchback version hasn’t been redesigned.

      • 0 avatar

        It has been redesigned (called the Tiida in other markets) we’re just not getting it yet. Either way, I’d still rather get the old hatch over the new sedan. Or more realistically, just get something nicer that’s a couple of years old.

      • 0 avatar

        I was first concerned that they’d gone and dropped the hatchback, but to me, leaving it behind as the previous generation is worse. That said, a Google image search seems to indicate that a new hatchback version is to be introduced sometime this year. And it’s not bad looking – the more fluid design of the notchback translates better to the hatch, IMO.

  • avatar

    M.K., what does TrueDelta say about reliability for the Sentra and Versa?

  • avatar

    The dreaded hard plastic in a cheap econobox, oh horrors!

  • avatar

    MSRP is one thing. You can get Sentras dirt cheap around here. I’m talking 12k will get you automatic and air con. I’ve seen the somewhat better looking Sentra SR with NAV listed for $14,700 at the dealer. They’re giving these things away.

  • avatar

    Dull and duller. And I seriously do NOT get why anyone would want a sedan this small. A hatch is so much more useful.

    I’d buy a base FIAT 500 and anyone who does not want to sit in the back can take thier own darned car.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The odd thing about these small sedans is they really have a large trunk. Like Chevy with the Sonic, the need to make the sedan look like a sedan rather than the victim of a tragic farming accident means they are longer than their hatch cousins, as a result the Versa sedan has 1 cubic foot more cargo capacity than the Versa hatch (with the seats in their upright position of course).

    • 0 avatar

      I never got the small sedan thing either, til my daughter got a Rio. With the folding rear seats, it has about 90% of the functionality of a hatch, and she (irrationally, I know) hates hatches.

      I don’t get why Versa only gets folding seats in the upscale version. I would think it costs more to deal with procurement and manufacturing for two different rear seats than to just make the folding seats standard across the board.

      Nice review Alex!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting review. By sheer coincidence, I had occasion to rent a Sentra and a Versa hatchback(at different times) in 2010. If cubic inches is what you’re after, the Versa clearly wins. But, at least with those models, the Versa had a distinct “penalty box” feel to the interior and the Sentra did not. Driving the Versa around greater LA, I found the car to be marginally powered for freeway driving. The “loud pedal” was just that: more noise and very little acceleration at 60 mph. The Sentra did not feel so underpowered, even carrying my wife and daughter.
    I could certainly see the Sentra as an acceptable commuter car; but I think I would reject the Versa.

  • avatar

    nice review. except for the wider track, i don’t see the reason for the sentra still being offered. i know someone who has owned two sentras back to back. he kept the first one over ten years and i think his current one is at least twelve years old. it’s in perfect shape and he’s had no serious issues with either of them. he told me he is waiting for the current one to die so that he can replace it with the versa because he considers the versa to be the spiritual decedent of the old sentras. personally, i think the space utilization on the hatchback versa to be the best on the market and i kind of like its utilitarian looks. the sedan is b-o-r-i-n-g.

  • avatar

    The more I see and hear of this segment the more I am convinced the Prius C will clean up. And I’ve never been a fan of Priuses before. But if I’m going small for better gas mileage, I’d at least like a significant improvement over a mid size. The Sentra’s mileage just makes it clear you are buying pure compromise.

    • 0 avatar

      The Prius C likely to be at the top of my shopping list in a few years when it’s time to replace my Fit. (Assuming I’ll be able to find one- I expect demand to outstrip supply by a pretty good margin.)

  • avatar

    Nice review!

    FWIW, the Versa engine is a Renault (as is the platform). I had it in my Clio 2002. Pretty good engine. Responsive, economic, durable and relatively refined. Of course mine was mated to a 5 speed manual. In fact, I’m driving today a Renault Sandero equipped with said engine. Best thing about the car!

    The Versa is Nissan’s Logan. Big car, small price. Styling is an afterthought. It supposed to be cheap and easy to maintain. Tough.

    Hope you like your French car. Many more of them are going yoiur way dressed in a Nissan kimono.

  • avatar

    I prefer the exterior styling of the Sentra over the plainer ungainly top heavy looking Versa and so did my friend who was out shopping for a compact. The Sentra also had way more equipment for a very reasonable price at the time and out the door pricing was withing a grand for either car. The killer was the rear seat legroom in the Sentra or total lack of. The Versa turned us off on it’s narrower body, exterior styling, lack of features and harder working engine plus some obvious cost cutting in the interior like the deleted center armrest which drove him crazy on the test drive. In the end we both decided on the 2011 new style Elantra which married together a more modern exterior with a larger interior with more legroom, plenty of features, better warranty and surprisingly good response from the 1.8/6 speed auto. And the price was competitive too if not always the fuel economy.

  • avatar

    Judging by the amount of Sentras on rental lots, the real world price difference is probably less than indicated.

    However, I would skip both of these and look for something else. After having the Sentra and Forte as rentals back to back, the Sentra doesn’t even come close in terms of dynamics, design and interior quality. The Sentra’s suspension felt bouncy while the Kia was much more firmly planted. Likewise the 6-speed auto is much more pleasant than the Nissan CVT and the interior of the Nissan looks low rent and dated compared to the Kia.

    Nissan can make a good small car, they just haven’t tried very hard recently.

    • 0 avatar

      I find it more that just slightly hilarious that they don’t even compare to a Kia Forte… since the Forte is coming onto 3 or 4 yrs old and is about to be replaced itself… AND it always comes middling pack in reviews and itself is roundly defeated by the Cruze/Focuses of the world let alone the Hyundais which regularly win the crown. The Cruze/Focuses aren’t exactly super awesome cars either which says a lot about the low low standards being set in this segment.

      Be that as it may I have little issue with ‘developing world’ cars being sold in the Western world. Its a choice and I suppose people just want A to B with little fuss. Oh and government departments always needs cars too.

  • avatar

    GOod review

    Outcome surprised me.

    Adjusting for additional content,

    Did you use the tool?

  • avatar

    I’ve ridden in my friend’s 08 Sentra and I like the seat fabric better, as compared to my car, but wouldn’t trade my car for his on a bet.

  • avatar

    Makes me wonder what they are going to do with the next-generation Sentra, since the Versa has obviously rendered it all but obsolete. Maybe take the Volkswagen Passat USA route and just build a wider, longer Versa with a better interior and engine. Bet you’ll sell a mint of em.

  • avatar

    Good article. If I have this correctly a cube is a versa with a different body.

    I am retired a needed something for a primary car. Wife doesn’t like driving the truck on trips and I really cannot blame her for that. We bought a cube with a manual six speed and I am real happy with it. It may look silly (it does to me sometimes but she likes it) but I like the performance.

    I have never gotten less than 30 mpg (city) and do about 34-35 highway. Room for a couple bruisers in the back seat. Think we made a good move.

    It’s always been amusing to me the way folks will badmouth a reliable and economical car that does what it’s designed to do. I think I see some of that in the comments here. I think there are a lot of good choices so I think it’s just whatever wind blows your skirt up. All a matter of personal choice. I’m happy with mine.

  • avatar

    Bought a Versa SL hatch in 2008. Of all the “small” cars at the time, the Versa was the roomiest, the smoothest and the quietest. Not the cheapest, the Accent was. Sure, the Fit had the “magic” rear seat, but that wasn’t enough. It was noisy, more expensive and I felt that the dashboard was weird. Don’t care much about the Versa sedan version. Still waiting for the next Versa hatch (the 2012 is based on the previous generation, AFAIK). The Sentra is as roomy and quiet, but there’s no hatch version. A small car has to be a hatch. Americans still don’t get that.

  • avatar

    Unfortunate the Mazda2 rarely gets mentioned. I love mine. I drove all the popular crapboxes of the day before buying it. Reminds me of my CRX.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      Agree! I think Mazda 2 is the most overlooked vehicle in its class, I prefer it over the Fiesta and the Rio. only drawback is its archaic 4 speed tranny, but it will be very reliable and trouble free.

  • avatar

    The other piece of information folks should get from this story is that Nissan is sending a LOT of cars to rental fleets. Hertz is full of Versas, Sentras, and Altimas, as well as the occasional Cubes. I find pretty much all of these cars to be awful, so switching to National was a nice change of pace, where I could choose my own car and frequently get cars several rate classes better than what I reserved for free. Panther love, here I come! (Though, seriously, I usually go for the Charger, 300, or Genesis, but the CV is nice too!) So take their sales numbers with the same grain of salt that the “Best & Brightest” usually ascribe to the D3.

    I also agree that the Cube is miles better than either the Versa or Sentra – so much so that I bought one for my wife.

  • avatar

    When my soon to be wife and I were looking to get a car in 08 we wanted late model used ones. Liked the old sentras (her mom has a 2002 se) so we went to look at some. They tried to sell us a new sentra and showed us an 07 but I thought they looked tall and kinda lame with that mini van shifter. I didnt even want to test drive it and the cvt kinda scared me off. We ended up getting an 06 special edition which is a very clean, unassuming car. Its got the fog lights, spoiler and 16 inch wheels to keep it from looking too economy car. Something looked off about the 07 and 08 and its crazy they are still selling them. See a lot of them around my way though so if it works good for them.

    Hope the next gen gets it back on its feet. The sentra really fell off. It used to be such a cool, on the low car. A friend had a 93, not an se-r but a plain xe sedan but it was so light and fun to toss around the city streets. This new one is tall, bloated and has no personality. Reminds me of something pontiac would make, actually the whole nissan line is kinda pontiac-ish with the vanilla cars with orange lights inside and plasticy, jagged style of “sporting” them up.

    A friend has a 2010 versa hatch and man that back seat is insanely roomy for a small car. If the new one matches that its good to go. Thats a huge selling point for small families. Its also a good selling point for commuters because commuters sometimes car pool. You dont want to be the guy cramming someone back there. Even though its thin 2 can sit quite comfortably when on many other small cars the back seat is horrid. I feel bad when i put people in the back of my sentra.

    Gas mileage compounded with the price difference is even greater, even with cash on the hood of the sentra.

    Sorry I’ve rambled. Awesome review between 2 cars that I’m sure many people are debating and unsure about but you dont see people writing about.

  • avatar

    There’s no reason to put a hyphen between numerals and units unless you’re making an adjectival phrase:

    That gorilla weighs 800 pounds.
    Look at that 800-pound gorilla.

  • avatar

    2012 Versa incoming = factory flaws. 2012 Sentra outgoing = shanty town Amigo’s on hold for 2013.

    SER spec Sentra with larger four and all wheel discs but no 60/40. 2012 Versa with 2nd gen CVT & interplanetary gears. Not just Nissan the Koreans are beating… Well Nissan what’s with 2013 Sentra secrecy?

  • avatar

    I drove a 1997 Sentra for 12 years, and this comparison confirms my suspicion that the current Versa bears a much stronger resemblance to that Sentra than it does to the previous generations of Versa.

    The current Sentra reminds me more of a 1997 Altima with more creased lines in the design, but intended less for midrange families and more for rental fleets. That’s not a compliment, Nissan.

    Also, there’s got to be a way to make the interiors look like Nissan spent actual money on them, regardless of actual expenditures.

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