New Car Review: 2012 Nissan Versa 1.6 S Sedan

Front three-quarters view of a gray 2012 Nissan Versa being driven on an urban street
The 2012 Nissan Versa.

Sometimes my fellow automotive journalists are just the biggest whiners in the world. Reading their reviews of the new for 2012 Nissan Versa, I was braced for a new miserable experience, one lending new meaning to the words "ugly", "uncomfortable" and "cheap".

Did all of them have Porsche 911s the week before or something?

Now, I know I have a somewhat higher tolerance for basic transportation than some folks in this profession...but that doesn't mean that the car doesn't deserve to be judged on its merits. And frankly, the 2012 Nissan Versa 1.6 S Sedan surprised me.

This is Nissan's most basic of offerings. Get it with a 5-speed manual transmission and the base price is only $10,990. That's with air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo with auxilary jack, a trip computer, front and rear cupholders, six air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle dynamic control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and a tire pressure monitoring system.


Side view of a gray 2012 Nissan Versa being driven past a warehouse
The 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan.

Not on that list? Power mirrors (there are black plastic toggles like all economy cars had in the 80s), power locks and power windows. That's right, you open the car with a key and you roll the windows up and down with crank handles built into the doors. And only the front brakes are discs. There are drums on the rear.

Our tester went for the Continuously Variable Transmission, which brought the base price up to $12,760. If you have to have it, Nissan builds very good CVTs, but I'd shift the 5-speed myself and save the $1,770. Only two other options with the one Nissan sent over...carpeted floor and trunk mats ($170) and the Cruise Control Package, which gets you cruise control, silver trim accents on the steering wheel, 2 rear speakers for the audio system and a light in the trunk ($350). With $760 destination charges, the bottom line was $14,040.

The 2012 Nissan Versa interior.
Okay, we've established that it's basic. So what's it like to live with? Well, its 1.6 liter four only produces 109 horsepower, but it's surprisingly quick, at least in freeway-merging situations and it will cruise at 80 without any drama. Handling's a lot better than I would have guessed as well.

And mileage? The EPA says 30 in the city, 38 on the highway. 350 miles at the wheel, most of it in stop and go freeway and city street traffic, and I saw 35. That's very good.

The Spartan accomodations? Not that big a hardship, really. Rolling up and down the windows was no biggie (it only takes about two full turns of the crank), the stereo was better than some in more expensive cars, the seats are comfortably firm but covered in a material that traps loose hair so it's difficult to vacuum out (the previous driver apparently had a cat)...

But the lack of power locks...that was a pain. Probably wouldn't be if it was just me. Stick the key in the driver's door (the only one with a place for a key), turn, and get in. But in a dark parking lot with Mrs. TireKicker and the two young TireKickers, it's turn the key, reach in and start unlocking their doors. And the door locks are built flush into the door handles, making them difficult to find and flick in just a second in relative darkness. So they wait while Dad fumbles. Not confidence-inspiring.

Oh, and the trunk has no inside release. Dropping someone off and they have something in the trunk? You have to turn off the ignition, take the key, get out, put it in the trunklid lock and open the trunk. The TSA guys curbside at the airport will be less than pleased.

Those are minor niggles that should be fixed with a couple of ticks of the option box. But modern automakers don't allow a lot of a la carte option ordering anymore. To get power locks, you have to step up to the 1.6 SV, and that starts at $14,870...almost $4,000 more than the S's base price and $830 more than our S costs as tested. You'll get power windows, mirrors, upgraded seat material and some other niceties, too...but, still.

It comes down, as all car-buying decisions should, to your life and how you live. If I were 28 and single, as I was when I bought my 1984 Honda Civic brand new (the one with manual locks, manual windows, manual mirrors and no stereo until I could get to the local Alpine dealer.....but with decent seat materials and an inside latch for the trunklid), I'd have to give the Versa 1.6S some serious consideration. 28 years ago, that Civic stickered for $8,200. With the 5-speed instead of the CVT, the Versa would ring in at $12,270. It's an impressive value...and once the drawbacks are dealt with or lived with, a very good little sedan.