A "real" car
Nissan's plan was simple: develop and produce a spacious subcompact sedan using mechanicals shared within its joint alliance with Renault, nail down the essential stuff and affix the lowest MSRP to it. Inexpensive to build, inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to maintain. That's an easy yet effective plan.
And then they hand over the car to the automotive press for reviewing, and it all falls apart. Kinda.
You see, some people out there don't give a hoot about what they drive, as long as it brings them from point A to point B in relative comfort, and for as little as possible a month. But auto journos aren't this kind of people. We drive anything from 600-hp sports cars to $100K luxo-SUVs, and when the average car journalist parks his or her posterior in a 109-hp, $15K car, chances are they're going to write about how they feel at that moment.
The 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan doesn't deserve this. It deserves an objective opinion - even though I've just finished a week-long drive in a Range Rover before stepping into it - and that's what I'll give you. And the term "honest" just about sums it up.
Unremarkable week of driving
The Versa Sedan isn't a thrilling car to drive, but you probably guessed that already. If you want a car that's engaging and fun, Nissan's reps will gladly escort you to the Juke, the 370Z or, to a certain extent, the Sentra SE-R on the showroom floor. And while the Versa didn't get any amount of adrenaline pumping in my veins, it didn't leave me begging for the week to end, either.
Its comfortable ride is the result of a well-sorted-out platform that's shared with the Nissan cube; the car feels stable, planted to the ground, yet very nimble. The seats could be more supportive for the lower back, but for the daily commute, they're fine.
The Versa benefits from a spacious back seat; there's plenty of room for adults, so if you've got two leggy teenagers and need a car on a budget, the Versa could be for you. That is, if your teens still want to ride with their mommy and daddy, of course.
But the sedan's claim to fame is a roomy trunk: at 419 litres, it's actually huge for a subcompact car. Grocery shopping, carpooling, road tripping, the Versa can handle it. Space-wise, anyway.
The source of motivation
Under the hood of the Versa Sedan is a 1.6L inline-4 that develops 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque, and you can choose between a 5-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic. Nothing special to report here; the engine works as it should, and is fairly quiet at speed, although the CVT gearbox that equips our tester makes it howl at wide-open throttle. Not a big deal.
What is a big deal is fuel economy. I'm averaging 6.8L/100km and I'm not even trying; eco-driving could net an even lower result. You just have to get used to a CVT's way of revving up and down without any gear swaps.
Despite its low-budget underpinnings, the Versa Sedan holds up well, relatively speaking, in the handling department. As mentioned, the car feels sure-footed and confident, as long as you don't imagine yourself in a MINI Cooper.
Let's start with the Versa's appearance, as each person has their own opinion on what looks hot and what doesn't. In my view, the Versa doesn't, mainly because of the massive rear overhang that makes the car seem disproportioned. Hey, that's the sacrifice for getting a big trunk.
The CD player can't read MP3 files. This shouldn't be an option.
In addition, you must expect some form of cost-cutting in such a low-priced car. The hood prop rod is short and flimsy; I can't imagine myself topping up the washer fluid on a cold windy day and not worrying about the hood hitting me on the head. And the trunk hinges are somehow connected by two flimsy metal rods that rub against each other. Why?
About that MSRP
At $11,798 before taxes, freight and delivery charges as well as any sort of cash rebate, the 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan is the lowest priced car in Canada. This, good or bad, automatically qualifies it as a rental fleet and pizza delivery sweetheart.
Our SV trim tester with the CVT lists for $15,098. That's a good deal for a car equipped with A/C, power windows and keyless entry that can accommodate four adults. For only $400 more, you get Bluetooth connectivity, an MP3 file compatible CD player and cruise control.
Similarly equipped, the Kia Rio LX+ costs $16,595, the Ford Fiesta SE $17,249, the Toyota Yaris $16,990, and the Chevrolet Sonic LS $16,945.
Would I buy the Versa Sedan? Nope. Not because I'm a spoiled auto journo, but because I wouldn't mind spending an extra $1,500 for a car that better suits my personal tastes, because I'm a car nut so I want one that's more engaging. It all depends on your priorities in life; I don't spend my evenings in front of the TV, so I don't need a 50" plasma screen hanging on the wall, while others do.
So here's the objective conclusion: being a "real" car, a car whose mission is to take you where you want to go, uneventfully and in the cheapest way possible, without needing to impress anybody including its driver, the Versa has got a lot going for it. For the average person who couldn't care less about cars, it's all that matters.