2012 Nissan Versa SV Sedan road test: A practical appliance for the frugal car buyer

2012 Nissan Versa SV Sedan

2012 Nissan Versa SV Sedan

If it’s excitement,  exhilaration or just a lot of entertaining driving that you are looking for in a car, the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is not the one you want.

But if your goal is a proven reliable automobile that is inexpensive to buy, economical to operate and big enough to seat four adults in reasonable comfort, then the Versa may deserve a prominent spot on your shopping list.

The front-wheel-drive Versa arrived in the United States in 2006 as a hatchback, and has been available as a hatchback or a sedan since 2007.

For 2012, the Japanese manufacturer has completely remade the sedan, replacing its rather awkward design with a smoother, more generic-looking compact configuration.The hatchback remains unchanged until its makeover, possibly in 2013.

Neither has been considered an option for the enthusiast. But Nissan knows what automotive marketing people have always known —not everyone thinks of an automobile as part toy. Many people simply want to get from place without any fuss, and without driving themselves deeply into debt.

Nissan Versa instrument panel

Nissan Versa instrument panel

To make the Versa more attractive to a frugal consumer who prefers a new automobile over a used one, Nissan has modernized the sedan’s looks, reworked the engine and upgraded the automatic transmission.

And all of this is available at a price not significantly greater than the 2011 model.

By the numbers, the new sedan has the same 102.4-inch wheelbase and 66.7-inch width, but it is 1.6 inches lower, .6 inches shorter and 150 pounds lighter.

What will mean more to a buyer is the packaging. With a shorter front end made possible by a more compact engine and transmission, and a longer trunk, the Versa has greater rear passenger room and 14.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats.

Under the hood is an upgraded version of the 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that incorporates dual fuel injectors at each cylinder and continuously variable timing controls at the intake and exhaust ports.

Nissan Versa rear seating

Nissan Versa rear seating

Techno talk aside, the result is an engine that marginally increases horsepower to 109 from 107 and reduces torque from 111 foot-pounds to 107.

Combined with a continuously variable transmission, the engine returns an EPA-estimated 30 miles per gallon of regular fuel around town and 38 on the open road. A five-speed transmission is available only on the base model, which returns an estimated 27 mpg city/36 highway.

That compares with EPA figures of 26/34 obtained on the 2011 sedan with both a five-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic shifter.