Bank. Money. If you have ever tuned into Food Network’s ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ in the US, this is how host Guy Fieri describes a successful recipe he’s sampled. It’s good, and as a restaurateur himself, he knows it’s profitable. Rewind the clock back to April of 2011, where yours truly, along with our Founding Editor Gary Grant stood for the global reveal of the all-new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan. It’s no secret the automotive press has been excited about the new interest in sub-compacts, but the sort of plain Jane image of the Versa has left us a little cold. And Nissan is fine with that. Why? The Versa is the best-selling car in its class, that’s why.
Even with a light show and pounding techno beats from the 2011 New York International Auto Show as the Versa was shown to us, it was tough to muster up any excitement. Now off the stage and in the real world, it was time to sample, and live with the Versa for a week. The Versa comes off as sort of narrow and top-heavy, and the skinny, high sidewall tires do nothing to add here. Thankfully our test car was the top-spec SL, which at least added chrome trim, body colored side-view mirrors, fog lights and 15″ alloys. Finished in a subdued Sandstone metallic, our Versa may have looked slightly oddly proportioned, but did not look at all out of place on Main Street in the wealthy town of Litchfield, CT among the chic shops and restaurants.
If the exterior of the Versa is a tad less graceful than the competition, there is a reason. The interior. Inside, the Versa offers an incredible amount of space. Other subcompacts like the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta have nothing on the Versa for interior room, especially in the rear seat. The amount of room in the rear has no peer in this class of car. Up front, there was more than enough room as well. Seats were cushy with little in the way of lateral support. All controls were intuitive to use, and easy to read. Icing on the cake was a positively enormous trunk.
The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is powered by a 1.6L four cylinder rated at 109hp. Only the base model is offered with a five-speed manual, while all other trim levels come with a Continuously Variable Transmission. As an automotive enthusiast, I despise CVTs, but Nissan is fully committed to the CVT, and as awful as they are, I concede that Nissan builds the best of the lot. No, the Versa is not quick, and as we toured the curvy roads of Litchfield County the Versa was struggling a bit. At highway speeds the Versa was completely comfortable, but passing takes some planning. With EPA fuel economy figures of 30/38 MPG city/highway, it is fuel economy that matters most over performance.
Yet even sticking to country back roads with tight corners and elevation changes, the Versa kept its cool. The steering was numb, the suspension soft, but the car never felt sloppy, and while not going slow, my wife and son never complained.
The Nissan Versa is one of the cheapest cars for sale in the US, with a base MSRP of $10,990. Our top-spec SL added the previously described features, as well as Bluetooth, audio steering wheel controls, iPod controls, trip computer, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, and cruise control. Options on our test car included floor and trunk mats, and the Tech Package, which added GPS Navigation, a 5″ color touch screen and XM Satellite Radio. Including destination charges, our Versa came in at a reasonable $17,190USD. That’s a good amount of of kit for what Nissan is charging.
It may not be sexy or most fun to drive in its segment, but Nissan owns the subcompact car segment in America. And to quote the blonde-bleached spiked hair Food Network persona Guy Fieri, that is money.