By David Colman
- Better rear legroom than a BMW 5
- 130 lbs. less curb weight than 2011 Versa
- About as exciting as driving an Autopia car at Disneyland
Back in the Eighties, my Dad, who lived in snow-bound Boston, needed something besides his Mercedes SL to drive during the relentless winter months. He ended up selecting a Nissan Pulsar, bought from a dealer who wryly observed that “Everybody needs a dinghy.” Basically, the 2012 Versa is today’s version of the Nissan dinghy. Like the Pulsar, the Versa is small, unprepossessing, and noisy at full chat, but eminently practical. You wouldn’t choose it as your only vehicle, but rather as a useful addendum to a well-stocked garage.
The big news for the just revamped Versa is its increased interior space. Although wheelbase remains unchanged at 102.4 inches, the substitution of Nissan’s new global “V” platform for the previous “B” chassis means that rear legroom has increased to 38 inches. As a rear seat passenger, I immediately noticed this commodious allocation of foot space. With the front seats positioned to accommodate 6 foot adults, the rear still offers enough lounging room to make long trips comfortably tolerable. Although there are no ventilation ducts to the rear space, both windows fold completely into the doors, so you can tailor your breeze at the expense of some wind noise. Also missing from the back cabin are reading lights, clothes hooks, grab handles and a fold down armrest. Still, spaciousness trumps econocar basic.
Up front, the Versa feels more expensive than its $14,560 base price would seem to indicate. Cloth covered seats offer decent support. The pistol-gripped, 3-spoke steering wheel, festooned with fingertip controls for radio (left side) and cruise control (right) looks like it belongs in a much more expensive car. Because the transmission control stalk on the center tunnel is connected to a CVT gearbox, only 2 selections of forward motion are offered: Drive or Low. The CVT makes the most of the Versa’s 109 horsepower, constantly altering engine speed to accommodate driving need. The upside of this behavior is unanticipated sprightliness in acceleration, and sterling fuel economy. We made a round trip from the Bay Area to Monterey and back on less than a single 12 gallon tank, averaging over 30 MPG.
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