Driving the redesigned 2012 Nissan Versa sedan on Chicago's streets was at times an annoying experience. On the highway, it was downright nerve-racking. As a 2009 Nissan Versa hatchback owner, I was surprised by how much this inexpensive car's driving experience had changed with its redesign.
Along with a new look, the redesigned sedan has a continuously variable automatic transmission. Generally, I don't mind CVTs, but the Versa's transmission made a loud droning noise that was grating. When zipping around Chicago's neighborhoods, which are littered with four-way stops, the CVT whined and complained as I motored away from every stop sign. My 2009 hatchback has a four-speed automatic that keeps the noise to a minimum.
With a 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, the new Versa got up to highway speeds on its own terms; it made my 2009's 122-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder feel like a V-8 engine. The new model skittered around highway curves and never felt planted on the road - even though the roads were bone-dry. After feeling like I was going to slide off the highway a few times, I pulled over into the far right lane and slowed down, hoping my exit would appear shortly.
The redesigned Versa does get some things right. Backseat legroom is an impressive 37.0 inches. With two growing boys, I've never heard them complain about a lack of legroom in our Versa, which has 38.0 inches of space. The 2012 Versa gets an EPA-estimated 30/38 mpg city/highway, which is a huge improvement over my 2009's 26/31 mpg.
The center stack looks more refined compared with the one in the 2009. Storage space is still at a premium in the 2012, though. Nissan skipped the center console in the Versa, and I often wish it had one for out-of-sight storage.
The 2012's big draw is its price. The 2012 Versa sedan has a starting MSRP of $10,990, putting it within first-time drivers' reach. Parents should think twice before buying it for their teen driver, though. With its questionable highway handling, this Versa might not be a good fit for inexperienced drivers.