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Nice Versa

The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan

It’s nice to see auto makers treating small-car buyers like something more than second-class citizens. Used to be, when you went into a dealership to buy the cheapest car they had, what you got what a cheap car. Now you’re more likely to end up with maybe the least-expensive car they have, but it’s by no means the El-Cheapo throw-away tin can we used to see.

Take, for example, the new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan. And I have to say here—sedan. The five-door hatchback, although a swell car in its own right, is pretty much the same car as it was for the 2011 model year; only the sedan has been totally redone. And redone nicely, too. Yes, it’s still an entry-level compact sedan, but you’d never know it from where I sat in the back seat. Chris Kivi, the Internet Sales Manager at Mike Barney Nissan in Amherst, ushered me over to the Titanium SL sedan with the charcoal interior, and proceeded to adjust the driver’s seat as far back as it would go. He then opened the back door and said, “Get in.” So I slid my six-foot frame into the back seat, behind the driver’s seat mind you, and settled in. There was still space between my knees and the front seat, and I could have comfortably worn my fedora without it hitting the roof. I’ve been in much bigger cars (bigger on the outside, that is) that don’t fit me nearly as well as the Versa. Yes, I was impressed.

Watch Jim Corbran check out the Nissan Versa at Mike Barney Nissan in Amherst:

Stepping out and entering the driver’s seat for my test drive I was just as comfy; I actually had to move the seat up a bit from its aft position. Headroom was great, my knees didn’t knock against anything, and I was easily able to find a comfortable driving position. I was happy to see the simplified HVAC controls grouped together under the radio. Not simple as in cheap, but simple as in they’re intuitive to use without long looks away from the road while you’re driving. Some cars just have too much whiz-bang electronic gimmickry for my tastes. The upper level SL model is equipped with steering wheel controls for the cruise control and the audio system. Other upgrades from the base model include remote mirrors, power windows, a nicer cloth upholstery material, 15-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, 60/40 folding rear seat, Bluetooth, iPod connection, automatic CVT transmission, and an upgraded stereo system (among other things). Base L sedans, with a $10,990 starting price, come with the same 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine as do the SV and SL models. Standard transmission on the S is a five-speed manual; the CVT is standard on the SV and SL and optional on the S. EPA gas mileage figures are 30/38 for the CVT and 27/36 with the five-speed. My SL test car had a starting list price of $15,560 (the mid-range SV starts at $14,560).

Driving the new Versa on both the winding back roads of Northern Erie County, and the I-990 with its 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, wasn’t disappointing. Pickup is good, although I kept waiting for the up- and down-shifts I’m used to with an automatic (which don’t occur with a CVT). The car was quiet enough on the interstate, and steering and braking responses were excellent. I can imagine the Versa on a long drive—especially with its generous trunk space. My only beef on that long drive might be the absence of a front seat center armrest. There are some things that shouldn’t be scrimped on. Spending over $15,000 for a car, what’s another 10 or 15 bucks for an armrest? I doubt it would be a deal-breaker for any buyer to pay that much more.

I think Nissan should do well with the North American-built Versa sedan. It couldn’t have come along at a better time.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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