Nissan's smallest sedan appeared at the New York auto show with a long list of changes, but the 2012 Versa looks more like an evolution of the old car than a full-fledged redesign. The car wears revamped styling inside and out, and is said to be more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.
The 2012 Versa rides on an evolution of the last car's platform called V, for Versatile. The sedan's wheelbase and width are unchanged from the current model, but it loses about an inch of length and height. Despite this, Nissan says that packaging improvements for the engine and transaxle mean there is more trunk space. The new car also should be marginally lighter than before.
Styling-wise, the new Versa takes cues from the larger Altima and Maxima sedans, starting with a new grille design and oval-shaped headlights, and continued with a smoother rear and reshaped taillights that sweep from the rear bumper to the Versa's rear haunches. The hood and sides are broken up by an assortment of creased character lines akin to those seen on the Hyundai Elantra. Whereas the old Versa had a more conventional flat roof and steep rear window, the new car's roofline gently slopes toward the trunk, following the coupe-like trend. The exterior changes reportedly help achieve a low 0.31 drag coefficient.
Nissan claims the Versa's rear seats offer more legroom than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and says much effort was spent making the seats comfier and the interior more spacious and appealing. The new dashboard has rounded, contoured controls in place of the drab flat-plastic layout in the old car, a simpler dual-gauge instrument cluster, and a redesigned steering wheel. That said, the interior continues to showcase expanses of plain plastics and fabrics (in either Sandstone or Charcoal color schemes) that don't look particularly upscale.
The lone engine choice is a revised 1.6-liter four-cylinder that is lighter and now features dual variable-valve-timing, resulting in two extra horsepower (for 109 total) but a loss of four pound-feet of torque (down to 107.) The old Versa's optional 1.8-liter engine vanishes from the order sheet. Base models come with a five-speed manual, but all other trims have a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy is predicted to climb to 30 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. The car is the first to wear Nissan's new Puredrive labeling -- like BMW's EfficientDynamics tag, it will be applied to vehicles with the brand's most fuel-efficient technologies.
The Versa is stratified into three trim levels, each with one available option package. The S model, expected to ring in at just $10,990, won't have much more equipment than ABS, stability control, side and curtain airbags, 15-inch steel wheels, and a CD player, with an option pack to add cruise control. Next up the ladder is the SV, which adds cruise control, chrome grille trim, power mirrors, power windows, and better seats. The Convenience Package supplements it with a better audio system, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, and map lights. Finally, the top-spec SL gets alloy wheels, fog lights, a split-folding rear seat, chrome door pulls, and the electronics from the SV Convenience Package. It can be upgraded with the Tech Package, which bundles a touchscreen navigation system and satellite radio.
The new Versa will arrive at Nissan dealerships this summer. If stickers for the 2011 model are anything to go by, the new sedan is unlikely to break the $18,000 mark -- and the stripped-out S is said to start just under $11,000. For now only a sedan has been announced, but a hatchback may follow later -- after all, most of the Versa's competitors offer a choice of both bodystyles.