2012 Nissan Versa Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 8, 2011

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2012 Nissan Versa Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Versa is the best car for you if you value subcompact-car spaciousness over subcompact-car flash.

The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan is redesigned and launches this small four-door’s second generation with more standard safety features and better fuel economy than its 2007-2011 predecessor. It’s got new styling, too, though it looks about as dowdy as the first-generation Sentra sedan The 2012 Nissan sedan does remain in the running as America’s lowest-priced new car, starting at just $11,750, including destination. Meanwhile, the appealing 2012 Versa four-door hatchback reprises the design it’s used since 2007 in preparation for its own full redesign in model-year 2013.

Should you buy a 2012 Nissan Versa or wait for the 2013 Nissan Versa? Buy the 2012 Versa if you want the sedan body style and appreciate the outwardly subtle but inwardly significant changes Nissan’s bestowed upon it. Wait for the 2013 Versa if you want a crack at the redesigned hatchback and its possibly more powerful engine. The sedan isn’t likely to change for model-year 2013 and by our lights, the hatchback has always been the most desirable Versa -- indeed, it’s accounted for about 70 percent of Versa sales.

2012 Nissan Versa Changes back to top

Styling: Concocted of drowsy rounded forms, the 2012 Versa sedan’s body has none of visual punch of the subcompact class’s new fashion plates, the brash Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent. Nissan spins it as a sophisticated, wide-shouldered look that conveys a sense of volume. It does feature the new grille that’ll appear on all future Nissan sedans, though even that element is no-risk generic. The 2012 Versa sedan won’t disappoint if you wish to maintain a low profile.

Compared to the 2007-2011 Versa sedan the redesigned 2012 model is fractionally smaller inside and out by it remains the largest car in the subcompact class. Its roofline is 1.2 inches lower than before but still tall enough to allow relatively upright seating. There’s an inch less rear legroom, but Nissan says this second-generation Versa sedan gives back seaters as much knee clearance as some midsize cars. And the specifications sheet shows the trunk gaining a cubic foot of volume, to 14.8 cubic feet, to remain the biggest in the category.

Nissan makes a case that subcompact buyers place a premium on purpose. And the new Versa sedan design certainly is functional; the automaker even says a channel running along the roof is for sheetmetal strength, not style.

Beneath the 2012 Versa sedan’s skin is an all-new structure Nissan designates its global “V” platform, for “Versatile.” The company says this architecture has nearly 20 percent fewer components than Versa’s outgoing “B” platform and weighs around 150 pounds less. Versa’s key chassis dimension, the wheelbase, remains exactly 102.4 inches and is again the longest in the class. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and a critical determinate in how much space – especially legroom  a vehicle can allot passengers.

The 2012 Versa sedan comes in three trim levels: 1.6 S, 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL. The “1.6” signifies their 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (see below) and the letter designations indicate escalating levels of equipment. Visual distinctions include chrome grille accents and body-color outside mirrors on the SV and SL and fog lights and standard alloy wheels on the SL.

If Nissan maintains tradition, the redesigned 2013 Versa hatchback will share the 2012 sedan’s V platform and wheelbase but will beat it for interior volume without being larger on the outside. The 2012 Versa hatchback is essentially a carryover, save for some option-package content juggling. It returns in 1.8 S and 1.8 SL trim, the “1.8” signifying their 1.8-liter engine. Style-wise, the 2012 Versa 1.8 SL hatchback is distinguished from 1.8 S models by sportier front and rear fascias, a rear decklid spoiler, fog lights, and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and on the inside by woven cloth seats and a front center armrest with a soft arm pad.

Mechanical: The 2012 Versa sedan is more generous with transmissions and standard safety features but stingier with engine alternatives, at least initially. The first-generation Versa offered two four-cylinder engines, a 1.6-liter with107-horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque, and a 1.8-liter with 122 and 127, respectively. (Consider torque the force that produces acceleration, horsepower the energy that sustains momentum.)

The 2012 Versa sedan debuts with one engine, a revamped 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. That’s the lowest output of any 1.6-liter four-cylinder in the class, but Nissan points to other virtues that it says contribute to smoothness, efficiency and lower emissions. These include two fuel injectors per cylinder instead of the customary one, as well as continuously variable timing for both intake and exhaust ports. The company christens this technology “Puredrive” and says the 2012 Versa sedan is the first Nissan to wear a badge touting the label.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard in the entry-level 2012 Versa 1.6 S sedan. That was the only transmission available on this model’s first-generation counterpart, but the 2012 version can be optionally equipped a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. The CVT is standard on the 2012 Versa 1.6 SV and 1.6 SL sedans. It previously was exclusive to the top-of-the-line 1.8-liter hatchback; other Versa sedans made due with an archaic four-speed automatic transmission.  

No automaker makes wider use of CVTs than Nissan, and like all such transmissions, this one plays the role of an automatic with but a belt-pulley system instead of a finite set of gears. The intent is continuously changing gear ratios that more precisely match engine output with acceleration and fuel economy. The downside is somewhat lazy throttle response away from a stop and a tendency during rapid acceleration for engine speed to race ahead of actual vehicle speed, resulting disconcerting exhaust droning.

All 2012 Nissan Versa hatchbacks again use the 122-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Base 1.8 S models are available with a six-speed manual transmission or the carryover four-speed automatic. The top-line 1.8 SL again uses the CVT.

Nissan has liberalized the 2012 Versa’s roster of essential safety features. Every 2012 Versa sedan and hatchback comes standard with an antilock braking system (ABS), traction control, and Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) antiskid system.

Designed to aid control in emergency stops, ABS had been optional for model-year 2011 on the entry-level 1.6-liter sedan (albeit at a reasonable $250) and was standard on the other Versas. Traction control provides more secure take-offs and VDC fights sideways slides. These notable safety features were previously standard only on the 1.8-liter Versa SL models, optional on the 1.8 S models (at $370), and unavailable on the 1.6-liter sedans.

On other mechanical points, the 2012 Versa sedan and hatchback run with the subcompact pack. Both have front-wheel drive to enhance wet-weather traction and promote predictable handling by locating the weight of the engine over the tires that propel the car.

Both the 2012 Versa sedan and hatchbacks have front disc brakes and rear drum brakes and a cost-conscious torsion-beam rear-suspension. Both have electric power steering, an increasingly common technology that saves gas by eliminating a hydraulic steering-system’s parasitic drag on the engine.

Nissan put 14-inch wheels and tires on the least expensive version of Versa’s first-generation 1.6-liter sedan, but all 2012 Versa sedans have 15 inch wheels and tires. Steel wheels with wheel covers are standard on the 1.6 S and 1.6 SV sedans and alloy wheels are optional on the 1.6 SV and standard on the 1.6 SL sedan. On the 2012 Versa hatchback, the 1.8 S model comes with 15-inch steel wheels; alloys are an option with automatic transmission. Sixteen-inch tires on alloy wheels are standard on the 2012 Versa 1.8 SL hatchback.  

Features: The 2012 Versa sedan has a roster of standard and optional features expected in a modern subcompact and is available with a navigation system, a feature some rivals don’t offer.

To keep the 2012 Versa 1.6 S sedan a price-leader, however, Nissan dials back on its available equipment. It can’t be equipped with a height-adjustable driver’s seat or with power windows, locks, or mirrors, for example. It does, though, come with a feature its bargain-basement predecessor did not: a CD stereo system, albeit one with just two speakers. If you want the base 1.6 S sedan with cruise control you’ll need to order one with the CVT and then spring for the $350 Cruise Control Package.

The 2012 Versa 1.6 SV sedan makes the above features standard, and adds upgraded cloth upholster, two more speakers, and a more crisply lighted instrument cluster that Nissan calls Fine Vision. The $350 SV Convenience Package adds to the 1.6 SV model Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity, an audio-system upgrade with a USB iPod interface and steering wheel audio controls, and a front passenger vanity mirror.

The 2012 Versa 1.6 SL sedan comes with all of the above, plus the alloy wheels, variable intermittent windshield wipers, chromed inside door handles, and extra map lights. The SL also gets a 60/40 split/folding rear seatback to enhance cargo versatility; the rear seatback in the other 2012 Versa sedans does not fold down.

A fully loaded 2012 Versa sedan would be a 1.6 SL model with the $700 Tech Package. This adds a navigation system with a color 5-inch dashboard touchscreen. The system includes XM NavTraffic service and XM satellite radio (subscriptions sold separately), but is otherwise a basic, budget-minded setup. It lacks, for example, voice-command recognition.

Excluding powertrain differences, the 2012 Nissan Versa 1.8 S hatchback’s features essentially mirror those of the 1.6 SV sedan while the 1.8 SL hatch tracks the features of the 1.6 SL sedan. Among changes, the 2012 Versa 1.8 SL hatchback gains as standard features previously contained in the $980 Premium Package option:  keyless entry and pushbutton starting, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and the 16-inch alloy wheels.  Also, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and illuminated visor vanity mirrors are now standard on SL models,

The 2012 Versa 1.8 S automatic-transmission model is also available with some new options packages. The $700 Convenience Package includes among its features Bluetooth, USB, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the 15-inch alloys. The $770 Special Edition Package includes the contents of the Convenience Package, plus remote keyless entry, cruise control, and special badging.

2012 Nissan Versa Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Nissan Versa is $11,750-$16,320 for the sedan and $15,140-$19,140 for the hatchback. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer's mandatory destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2012 Sentra is $760.)

Nissan will advertise the entry 1.6 S model with the five-speed manual transmission at a base price of $10,990, though that doesn’t include the destination fee. This price is some $1,000 above the starting price of the 2011 Versa base-model sedan, which vied with a similar stripper from Hyundai for title of America’s lowest-priced new car. Hyundai has thrown in the towel on that fight for model-year 2012, pricing the least expensive version of its redesigned 2012 Accent at $13,205, including destination.

The 2012 Versa sedan may not be flashy, but it should again appeal as an economy car priced like a subcompact but with the size and comfort levels more commonly associated with cars in the more expensive compact class.

Base price for the 2012 Nissan 1.6 S sedan with the CVT is $13,520. The 2012 Versa 1.6 SV starts at $15,320 and the 1.6 SL has a base price of $16,320.

Despite the newer design of the sedan, the best value in the 2012 Versa line may still be the 1.8 S hatchback. It’s priced from $15,140 with manual transmission and from $16,140 with the four-speed automatic. Add the $500 Plus Package option (remote keyless entry, cruise control, and 15-inch alloy wheels), and you have versatile, economical transportation at a very friendly price. The 2012 Versa 1.8 SL hatchback with the CVT starts at $19,150.

2012 Nissan Versa Fuel Economy back to top

The 2012 Nissan Versa sedan doesn’t’ reach the magic 40-mpg rating in highway driving that’s the new benchmark for small cars. But it does get better mileage than the first-generation Versa sedan and if shoppers perceive it as a compact car at subcompact prices, a few miles per gallon this way or that on the ratings sheet isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker.

The 2012 Versa sedan with the five-speed manual transmission is rated 27/36 mpg city/highway (the combined city/highway fuel-economy rating was unavailable in time for this review). With the CVT, the 2012 Versa sedan rates 30/37 mpg city/highway and 33 mpg combined. By comparison, the 2011 Versa sedan with the 107-horsepower 1.6-liter engine rated 26/34 mpg, 29 combined with the five-speed manual transmission and 25/33/28 with the conventional four-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Nissan Versa hatchback are unchanged. The 1.8 S rates 26/31 mpg city/highway and 28 mpg combined with the six-speed manual transmission and 24/32/27 with the four-speed automatic. The 2012 Versa 1.8 SL hatchback with its CVT again rates 28/34/30.

2012 Nissan Versa Release Date back to top

The 2012 Versa sedan and hatchback went goes on sale in early August 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Versa back to top

Versa was introduced for model-year 2007 alongside Nissan’s redesigned Sentra, a compact-class sedan more powerful and more expensive than Versa, but really no roomier and certainly no prettier. Despite being the better-established nameplate, Sentra was overtaken at times in the sales race by Versa. That was thanks in part to Versa’s lower pricing but also testament to Versa’s more efficient design and friendlier road manners. It also gives Nissan a lot to live up to with the redesigned second-generation Versa.

Unfortunately, optimism that the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan would be more stylish than the first-generation model didn’t pan out. There’s more hope for the redesigned 2013 Versa hatchback. Nissan is moving in step with Ford and General Motors, which are leveraging their global portfolio to field cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze. Chances appear strong that the second-generation Versa hatch will basically be an Americanized version of the Nissan Tida hatchback already on sale in overseas markets. It’s a shapely wagon and far more visually exciting than the 2012 Versa sedan. The first-generation Versa hatchback was cooler than the sedan and possessed a confident, functional charm.

Optimists might also foresee a repeat of a two-engine lineup for this second-generation Versa hatchback. An alternative akin to the 1.8-liter four-cylinder would be welcome. First-generation Versas with that engine were markedly more satisfying to drive than those with the base 1.6-liter, and those with the six-speed manual were even a bit sporty.

2012 Nissan Versa Competition back to top

Honda Fit: Fit faces flashy new rivals such as the Fiesta and Accent with a basic design that dates to model-year 2009. Still, it’s a testament to the soundness of that design that no subcompact rival has quite yet overtaken this four-door hatchback for overall cargo versatility. Fit’s secret is a long, low load floor and a clever rear seat that folds several ways, including one in that creates a big transverse channel behind the front seats. Fit challenges for leadership in rear-seat passenger room, too, and Honda’s precision engineering gives it genuinely sporty road manners, if not quite enough sound deadening for peaceful long trips. Along with the Versa, Fit is among the very few subcompacts available with a navigation system. The 2012 Fit is due a styling facelift but the sole engine probably will remain a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 117 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque. Performance is adequate but Honda needs to improve on fuel economy ratings of 27/33 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission and 28/35 with the five-speed automatic. Expect a 2012 base-price range of roughly $16,000-$20,000.

Ford Fiesta: The new subcompact-class sales leader is this Euro-flavored sedan and four-door hatchback with sassy styling and a bushel of tech treats, including the popular Ford/Microsoft Sync infotainment system and even cabin mood lighting. Fiesta’s world-class suspension gives it an uncommonly stable feel on the road, and the only engine so far, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, has an impressive 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. It’s lively with the five-speed manual transmission but moody with the six-speed dual-clutch transmission that acts as the car’s automatic. The flashy dashboard design skews to a young audience, but no one over 5-foot-10 will like riding in the cramped back seat and cargo room isn’t a high point, even in the hatchback. Fuel economy is a pleasant 28/37 with the manual, 29/38 with the automatic, and 30/40 with the $700 Super Fuel Economy option. Expect a 2012 base-price range of around $16,300-$18,300 for the hatchback and $14,500-$17,500 for the sedan. A turbocharged model could join the lineup soon. A less showy version of the hatchback is available as the Mazda 2. It’ll save you some money and deliver a surprisingly athletic driving experience.

Hyundai Accent: No carmaker is more quickly establishing itself as a major player than South Korea’s Hyundai and its redesigned 2012 Accent is antagonizing the subcompact field with aggressive styling on top of an already-strong value story. Available as a sedan and four-door hatchback, the new Accent takes its place among the largest cars in the class in both interior and exterior dimensions. It’s also among the most fuel efficient, with EPA ratings of 30/40 mpg with both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions. And no subcompact has more standard power than the 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque Accent gets from its only engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that’s first in class with high-tech direct fuel injection. It’s also the only car in its competitive set with four-wheel disc brakes as standard. Bluetooth and USB interface are widely available, but not a navigation system. Base-price range is $13,205-$15,955 for the 2012 Accent sedan and $15,355-$17,555 for the hatchback.

UPDATED BY LARRY E. HALL

2012 Nissan Versa Next Steps