What's New for 2012
The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan has been fully redesigned, with major improvements being made to interior roominess and fuel economy. However, the Versa hatchback carries over from last year's model with only minor changes to standard equipment.
The 2012 Nissan Versa is a tale of two cars. The Versa sedan has been completely redesigned for 2012. It's more efficient, spacious and refined, while its styling is less bulbous. The Versa hatchback, however, soldiers on in its previous guise with only standard feature upgrades on which to hang its hat. This certainly tips the scales in the newer sedan's favor, but those looking for the added versatility of a hatchback will still find it an appealing choice.
In terms of exterior size, the new 2012 Versa sedan is largely unchanged. Under the hood is a new 1.6-liter engine good for 109 horsepower. It's actually less powerful than the previous 1.8-liter engine still used in the hatchback, but it has less weight to move around, as the sedan weighs 150 pounds less this year. Fuel economy is up, and when equipped with the revised continuously variable automatic transmission, the Versa sedan achieves an impressive 33 mpg combined EPA estimate. That's better than a Honda Fit and tied with the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent (with automatic transmissions). The sedan's also between 3 and 6 mpg better than the hatchback depending on transmission.
Inside the cabin, the Versa continues to provide a wealth of space for passengers. Thanks to an upright seating position with a high hip point, the Versa sedan's backseat is actually more spacious and comfortable than a multitude of bigger cars. These characteristics also apply to the hatchback, which has the added benefit of a larger, more practical cargo area. Even so, the sedan particularly benefits from its new, more attractive cabin design for 2012 along with better materials.
Inevitably, though, your choice is more complicated than simply Versa versus Versa. The subcompact class is now filled with desirable little cars. The Honda Fit is the practicality champ, with its innovative flat-folding seats and giant cargo area. The Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta feel like more substantial cars to drive, and strike an excellent balance between ride and handling. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio have also just been redesigned with excellent results. In other words, the 2012 Nissan Versa might be a tale of two cars, but shopping for a subcompact in 2012 will likely be a more expansive proposition in any case.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Nissan Versa is available in sedan and hatchback body styles, but each represents different vehicle generations. The sedan is all-new for 2012, whereas the hatchback represents the previous generation first introduced for 2007.
The Versa sedan comes in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. The S is pretty bare-bones, with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a trip computer and a two-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. When equipped with an automatic transmission, the S Cruise Control package adds a trunk light, two rear speakers and (obviously) cruise control.
Stepping up to the Versa SV sedan adds the Cruise Control package, full power accessories, keyless entry, upgraded upholstery and upgraded gauges. The SV Convenience package adds Bluetooth and an iPod interface. The Versa SL sedan gets 15-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and the contents of the SV Convenience package. The SL Tech package adds a navigation system, a compact touchscreen interface and satellite radio.
The Versa hatchback is available in S and SL trim levels. The base S comes with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Plus package adds keyless entry and cruise control. With an automatic transmission, the S can also be equipped with a number of options. The Convenience package adds the Plus package, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls and an iPod interface. Also available are 15-inch alloy wheels. The Special Edition package effectively groups all of the above equipment together.
The Versa hatchback SL includes all the S model's optional equipment and tops it with keyless ignition/entry, a height-adjustable driver seat, upgraded upholstery, front and rear center armrests, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a six-speaker sound system. Available on the SL and S Special Edition is a Navigation package that adds the navigation system, a compact touchscreen interface and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 109 hp and 107 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the S, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional on the S and standard on the SV and SL. The sedan has less power than its hatchback sibling, and although it does weigh less, acceleration is worse. In Edmunds performance testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds with the CVT. Fuel economy is much better, however, with an EPA-estimated 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined with the CVT. Getting the standard five-speed manual drops those estimates to 27/36/30.
The 2012 Nissan Versa hatchback is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the S, while a four-speed automatic is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped Versa hatchback went from zero to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual and 24/32/27 with the automatic. The Versa hatchback SL comes standard with a CVT, which brings fuel economy up to 28/34/30.
Regardless of body style, the 2012 Nissan Versa comes standard with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), brake assist, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags and side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Versa SL sedan came to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet, which is a respectable distance for a car in this class.
In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Versa sedan received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with three stars for frontal-impact protection and four stars for side-impact protection. The Versa hatchback earned three stars for overall frontal crash protection, but the government had not published the overall or side ratings for 2012 as of this writing. For 2011, however, the hatchback earned just two stars for overall and side-impact protection.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Versa sedan earned a top rating of "Good" for its protection of occupants in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests. The Versa hatchback received a "Good" in the frontal-offset test, but the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the interiors of the Versa sedan and hatchback differ in design, their basic virtues are similar. They have remarkably roomy cabins, with a generous amount of legroom that allows 6-footers to sit in back. The Versa's overstuffed front seats are comfortable enough during hour-long commutes, but support fades over long drives.
The controls are easy to use and well placed, while features like navigation, Bluetooth and an iPod interface are welcome touches in this price range (though certainly no longer unique). Overall materials quality is decent for the class, though the new sedan is nicer. Trunk space is enormous for a subcompact sedan, with 14.8 cubic feet of space. The hatchback nets a maximum of 50 cubic feet, which is quite large, but falls short of the Honda Fit and its flat load floor.
The new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan features a smaller engine than its more potent hatchback sibling. Acceleration is a bit worse, but the gain in fuel economy should be worth it for most drivers.
Regardless of body style, you can expect a comfortable ride, as the Versa is one of the more plush subcompacts on the market. Those expecting a zesty driving experience from a small car will be disappointed, though, as the Versa lacks the athletic feel of the Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and, to be honest, just about everything else as well. The Versa is A-to-B transport and nothing more. Still, the sedan is an improvement over the hatchback, thanks to its revised steering and suspension.