2012 Nissan Versa Sedan SL

Matt Tierney

Look closely at some other cars and you'll notice something: if your fuel-filler cap release is on the floor, there's a piece of plastic molding between the latch and the carpet, so it looks finished. Not on the Versa: it looks like someone X-Acto knifed a hole in the carpet and poked the latch through.

Is this possibly a pre-production bug? Yes. If it isn't a bug, should you care? Not really. It's a sign of something bigger: Nissan means business about making cheap cars. So it would be wrong to complain that the plastics are cheap or that the stereo shakes the interior door panels when you turn it up or that the engine is buzzy: this car is inexpensive, and that's why you buy it. The Nissan Versa doesn't necessarily want to compete with new cars as much as it wants to compete with old ones: for $12,000 you can get a used compact, or a new one. It's your choice.

I liked the Versa's "cheap and cheerful" attitude until I found out the price: while you can have a Versa sedan with an automatic transmission for under thirteen grand, ours was $16,000. In other words, Hyundai Accent territory. And while the Versa is a simple, unassuming car at that price, the Accent has lofty aspirations, most of which it reaches.

Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor

The first generation Nissan Versa ranked high on my list of most-hated cars. It was tinny, loud, unrefined, handled poorly, and exemplified its bargain-basement price tag. This second-generation Versa, while not topping my list of most desirables, is a surprisingly competent package and inexpensive to boot. Unlike the previous car that felt like an oversize Power Wheels car, the 2012 Versa has a very planted and substantial feel. Cruising at highway speeds is no longer accompanied by the CVT-induced droning of the engine but is now a relatively hushed affair, and the powertrain no longer strains under 80-mph cruising.

The CVT and the 1.6-liter four-cylinder still create quite the racket around town, the steering is numb, and the handling is sloppy. The interior is low-rent -- as befitting of a $11,750 price tag -- but our tester rang in at $16,320. For that kind of money, higher-grade materials and more refinement places the Versa subpar in its class. It's been built to a price and accomplishes its goal; for those looking for nothing more than basic transportation, the Versa is a very good choice.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Not long ago, I attended the press launch for the new Versa sedan in Seattle. Now that I've driven it home, my feelings about the car's overall lackluster character have been reaffirmed.

I'll start with the good: The styling looks much nicer than the previous Versa sedan (although I think the older four-door's look nicely befits the more popular hatchback). Rear-seat legroom is very spacious, and trunk space is quite generous, too. The CVT is well-mannered and generally transparent in its operation, unless you're engaging in foot-to-the-floor sprints from a stop. The Versa offers a new-car experience and warranty for a low, low base price.

The bad: The inability to get a stick shift on anything but the bottommost trim level. The uncompetitiveness with rivals at this test car's $16K price. Uncomfortable, extra-firm seats. Weak interior design with lots of hard plastics.

As some of my colleagues have mentioned, we drove the Versa at the road course at Waterford Hills. There, the Versa was easily the least thrilling car, but it was actually very helpful as a teaching tool. The steering is direct and feels nice, too, but the body roll is extreme even though grip is actually OK.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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