2012 Nissan Versa review

It might be the driving equivalent of a trip the dentist, but the 2012 Nissan Versa is a roomy, well-built car.
It might be the driving equivalent of a trip the dentist, but the 2012 Nissan Versa is a roomy, well-built car.
It might be the driving equivalent of a trip the dentist, but the 2012 Nissan Versa is a roomy, well-built car.

Highs

  • Great Fuel economy
  • Spacious Interior
  • Cut-throat pricing

Lows

  • Uninspired handling and performance
  • Noisy interior
  • Largely lacking in comfort features
  • Sluggish CVT

DT Editors' Rating

If your war chest isn’t what it used to be, or you’re simply looking to purchase your first set of wheels, now is a great time to shop around. Gone are the days when buying an entry-level car meant giving up more of your bank account than you’re prepared for. Nowadays economy cars sport snazzier designs, snappy interiors, and are crammed with more options than ever before, while cutting costs and features has given way to wide array of comforts typically enjoyed up the ladder.

For the 2012 Nissan Versa, the Japanese automaker has attempted to deliver an inexpensive ride with just enough of a pulse in the hopes of attracting buyers looking for more than what entry-level vehicles have traditionally offered.

So how does the Versa fair? Well, with respectable fuel economy, a roomy interior and attractive price point, the 2012 Versa will easily lure in more economy-minded buyers, but its painfully dull exterior and uninspired drive managed to appeal to our fiscal sensibilities more than anything else.

Space Versa style

While we haven’t driven last year’s model, the 2012 Versa remains largely unchanged. Nissan has managed to shed about 150 pounds of the latest Versa with styling cues carrying over faithfully.

Unfortunately from a design perspective, the Versa does very little to generate excitement. While the hatchback model offers a little more skip to its step and added utility – although not really enough, in our humble opinion — our Versa sedan review unit exhibits truly vanilla visuals. It’s not ugly, poorly designed, or anything of the sort – it’s just…well, boring. And when you take into account the more aesthetically pleasing competition populating the segment, like the Kia Rio, Honda Fit and the Ford Fiesta, you too will have difficulty averting your eyes from the Versa’s more attractive rivals.

2012 nissan versan review subcompact car interior front

Luckily the Versa’s interior picks up the slack a bit. Not in a unique, stylish or anything-close-to-fun sort of way — but it’s solid, roomy, and easily fits four full-sized adults (not a task easily accomplished in the segment). Sitting in the driver’s seat is fairly comfortable, and about what we would expect from a car in its class.

Taller passengers will find headroom is abundant throughout, with plenty of legroom to go around. And for its small stature the Versa punches well above its weight — even daring to encroach on territory occupied by larger cars like the Accord and Camry, delivering ample space up front and in the rear. Cargo room is equally impressive with a total of 14.8 cubic feet. Drivers looking to administer austerity measures will no doubt happily trade pizazz for practicality.

Big yet barren

While you can consider us on board with the ever-increasing presence of new and useful technology, cluttering up interiors and needlessly jamming in buttons and screens is thoroughly annoying. Such distractions are not, however, a problem here. That said, the Versa does teeter on the verge of being barren, with not so much as an inner armrest to be found.

2012 nissan versa review left side
2012 nissan versa review front grill   2012 nissan versa review right rear view mirror   2012 nissan versa review right headlight   2012 nissan versa review back left tail light   2012 nissan versa review back

Despite our S models rather desolate, yet cavernous, interior, the 2012 Nissan Versa never feels cheap – it just looks cheap. And not because of the materials used; the silver trim accents on the steering wheel add a helpful bit of bling. It’s just seems that, in designing the Versa, Nissan appeared more concerned with making the interior look and feel as spacious as possible than making it look and feel high-quality. This is all well and good, of course, but a little pampering would have done wonders. At least give us an armrest Nissan! (We’re really hung up on that, as you can tell.)

The list doesn’t stop there though. Standard equipment on the S trim level excludes amenities such as power windows, power locks, and limits the number of speakers to two, but includes air conditioning and an AM/FM CD stereo along with an aux port perfect for bringing along your MP3 player’s vast library of tunes. For $350, customers can throw down for the S Cruise Control package, which includes an additional trunk light and two rear speakers.

Fuel — not fun — for the frugal

New to the 2012 Versa sedan is a revised 109 horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder CVT engine that delivers excellent fuel economy and little else.

The CVT outfitted sedan garners the best EPA rated fuel economy among its various drivetrains, netting 30 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway, while the five-speed manual sees those numbers drop to 27/36. It doesn’t quite reach the heralded 40 mpg club occupied by the Ford Fiesta or Chevy Sonic, but it’s up there among the top fuel earners nonetheless.

Observant individuals and eco-minded drivers will be happy about the 2012 Vera’s “Puredrive” badging, which appears on the trunk lid and indicates the 1.6-liter engine’s lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

2012 nissan versa review subcompact car promoLike most entry-level cars the Versa drives adequately enough for your day-to-day grind, and is best when confined to suburban and city driving. Tackling hills and passing traffic on the freeway can be a difficult endeavor, which is where the Versa truly struggles. Road noise can be overly intrusive and the car tends to lose stability when asked to exceed anything above 65 mph.

Because of its ability to deliver a righteous boost to fuel economy, we’re able to overlook certain shortcomings, like the Versa’s deafening CVT engine and lethargic performance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Versa’s handling.

Steering into and out of sharper turns and curves does little to instill confidence in the Versa’s road characteristics and is best approached with caution and sensibility. It never encroaches upon feeling unsafe or dangerous, but the Versa just doesn’t respond well to more demanding scenarios. Needless to say, driving the Versa is a rather uninspiring experience, but it is a practical one, so bear that in mind and weigh what type of driving experience truly matters to you.

Finish line

Sadly, we can’t all drive around in Maseratis, Benzes, or chromed-out Fisker Karmas (you know who you are). But those of us who happen to occupy the bottom end of the automotive food chain still feel entitled to competent, stylish, and comfortable cars for our hard-earned cash. Unfortunately, the 2012 Nissan Versa falls short of some of those expectations.

2012 nissan versa review subcompact car top down roof angle

While the Versa’s design is about as exciting as Kristin Stewart demonstrating her acting range, it more than makes up for with its unrivaled value (base price starts at $11,750 including a $760 destination fee) and completive fuel economy. Toss in an automatic CVT engine like the one found in our review unit, $350 Cruise Control Package, carpeted floor and trunk mats for $170, and that price jumps to just over $14,000.

It might be the driving equivalent of a trip the dentist, but the 2012 Nissan Versa is a roomy, well-built car. It doesn’t deliver a gripping driving experience, but makes a compelling argument with its roomy interior, excellent fuel economy, and wallet-friendly sticker price. Cash-strapped shoppers or first-time buyers would do well to at least give the Versa a test drive, but will ultimately find more exciting alternatives among its competitors.

Highs:

  • Great Fuel economy
  • Spacious Interior
  • Cut-throat pricing

Lows:

  • Uninspired handling and performance
  • Noisy interior
  • Largely lacking in comfort features
  • Sluggish CVT
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