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Fuel economy makes up for deficiencies

With chair-height seating for five adults, the small sedan offers a spacious cabin.


WHAT?S BEST:?Cheap to keep, no penalty-box back seat, sips fuel like a champ
WHAT?S WORST:?Weakling engine, rubber-banding CVT, squirrelly highway handler
TYPICAL GTA PRICES:?2012 – $12,000; 2013 – $13,500

They say miser is the first word in miserable.

Sage words these are not, but the lessons penny pinchers have imparted on the Internet may give one pause.

Hang up your dental floss to dry and reuse it. Reduce your water bill by flushing the toilet once a week. Wash your clothes while showering. Buy a Nissan Versa.

We added that last one. Since when did Nissan become the purveyor of cheap cars?

When it was introduced in the fall of 2011, the new-generation Versa sedan wore the lowest sticker price in the land: $11,878.

Skinflints were elated.

Or something.

?It will not make you grin when you drive it,? posited one post.

?I am happy . . . though not overjoyed,? read another.


In redesigning the Versa four-door sedan ? the old hatchback soldiered on for one more year ? Nissan made sure it remained big enough inside to avoid the damning subcompact category. With its tall greenhouse and chair-height seating for five adults, the space astounded many shoppers.

The strut-type front suspension, torsion-beam rear axle and rear drum brakes were built to an exacting budget. The new Versa retained the old wheelbase length and width, but engineers trimmed about 70 kg out of the car by specifying a smaller engine and 20 per cent fewer parts.

?Had a brief moment of buyer?s remorse when I realized that the car didn?t come with floor mats, rear speakers or even a trunk lid release,? sighed one owner online.

At least safety wasn?t compromised: antilock brakes, traction and stability controls, front-seat side airbags and curtain airbags were standard. And the Versa sedan earned the top ?Good? rating in IIHS crash tests.

The roomy cabin was composed of hard plastics with only the seats, skimpy carpet and headliner present to absorb the considerable road noise. Still, the roof was high and the big back seat offered relief for sore knees and cramped legs. Trunk space was generous, although the split-folding rear bench was absent in the base model.

The only available engine spinning the skinny front tires was an all-aluminum 1.6-L DOHC four cylinder, good for 109 hp and 107 lb.-ft. of torque. It worked through a five-speed manual transmission or optional continuously variable automatic transmission. A planetary gearset added to the belt-and-pulley CVT enhanced the ratio spread by 21 per cent for better fuel efficiency.

For 2013, Nissan offered a conventional, and anachronistic, four-speed automatic in base models.


The wee motor coaxed a CVT-equipped Versa to 97 km/h in an unflattering 9.8 seconds ? the slowest among six small gas-sippers in a published comparo (the Honda Fit was quickest). Unfortunately, that wasn?t the worst finding.

Auto writers widely criticized the Versa for its spongy brake pedal, loud and undisciplined engine and CVT, meagre grip on terra firma, and susceptibility to highway crosswinds that made the car feel nervous.

?I have to hold the steering wheel with both hands at all times. Steering seems extremely loose,? posted one frazzled pilot.

On the plus side, the flyweight sedan does deliver excellent fuel economy, often approaching 38 mpg (7.5 L/100 km) in city traffic. Cheapskates have something to celebrate.


Versa sedan owners revel in the car?s commodious cabin, excellent real-world fuel economy and overall value proposition. The Versa delivers one of the lowest operating costs in the business.

?No vice in Versa!? one driver summed up online.

The Mexican-built sedan has generally been as durable as the average subcompact, save for a couple of weaknesses. The popular CVT transmission, sourced from Nissan subsidiary and CVT supplier to the stars Jatco, exhibits some troubling traits, including acceleration lags and jerky operation.

?I run a fleet of vehicles, including five of these. Two of them had the CVT transmissions fail within the first year,? wrote one business owner online.

The problem is not widespread, but it?s noteworthy (Nissan extended its CVT warranty to 10 years on its pre-2011 models).

Other maladies include loose and rattling heat shields (a veritable plague), scratch-prone and flaking paint, and a few issues with the electric power steering.

Unfortunately, Nissan?s surgical cost-cutting yielded a cheap and cheerless auto. There are better used cars available for similar money.

  • Fuel economy makes up for deficiencies
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