Nissan rolls out with a
new sedan on a new global
platform for the competitive
compact car market.
Seattle. Space Needle. 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan?
Well, it is an urban environment, and the Versa is a compact car. Seattle is an environment that rapidly transitions from urban to Eddie Bauer terrain, and the Versa is not so small to be something that would be considered a “city car,” so it can travel beyond the downtown. It is a city where there is an evident abundance of young people, and with a starting price of $10,900, the Versa Sedan is something that might have financial appeal to those who are still paying off student loans but who don’t want to run the risk of a used car. It is a place where there is environmental awareness, and the Versa Sedan is the first car to carry the company’s PUREDRIVE logo, something that is affixed to cars that have features that either increase miles per gallon or decrease CO2 emissions.
Space Needle? Well, maybe Nissan brings us there with the car because it is . . . roomy. (An admitted stretch, but . . .) In fact, according to Mark Perry, Nissan director of Product Planning, the Versa Sedan has 39.8 in. of headroom, 41.8 in. of leg room, 48.1 in of hip room, and 51.7 in. of shoulder room in the front, and 36.6 in. of head room, 37.0 in. of leg room, 46.2 in. of hip room, and 51.9 in. of shoulder room in the back, an admittedly it gets a little exaggerated here (as though the comparisons are something that anyone outside of a Product Planning position would ever make), the car has more rear legroom than a Lexus LS 460, BMW 5-Series, or a Mercedes E-Class. Dimensions are dimensions, but still . . . And Perry acknowledges that the main crossshopped car is the Toyota Yaris, so the people at Lexus, BMW and Mercedes need not worry about lost volume.
The Versa (Sedan and Hatchback) appeared in the U.S. market in July 2006, and since then, more than 350,000 have been sold. Perry says that in calendar year 2010 the Versa was the segment share leader, at 30.8% of the market. And the market for entry-level cars is anticipated to double by 2015, to approximately 700,000 annual sales. What’s more, the number of offerings in the segment will go from 9 to 16.
Consequently, if you’re going to compete in this segment, you need to be competitive.
The Versa is a global vehicle. It is known elsewhere as the Tiida and Sunny. This Versa Sedan actually launched in China before North America.
The Versa Sedan uses a new global “V” platform, which replaces the company’s “B” platform. The new platform uses almost 20% fewer components and weighs approximately 150 lb. less than the predecessor.
The car features a new 1.6-liter engine that is smaller than the engine it replaces. The four-cylinder engine produces 190 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 107 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. It features a new dual fuel injector system that provides a 57% finer spray than a single injector and provides a wider spray pattern in the cylinder. It also has twin continuously variable timing control (CVTC) for the valves, a setup similar to the one used in the Nissan Maxima.
There is a compact continuously variable transmission. In order to get it as compact as it is (down 10% in size and 13% in mass compared with previous CVT), it was necessary to use a planetary gear set in an auxiliary gearbox because the dimension of the final drive pulley would have been too large for the packaging space. The CVT has a 7.3:1 final drive ratio, which Perry says is comparable to a seven- speed step-gear transmission.
It should be noted that the car is also being offered—in the base trim level—with a five-speed manual transmission.
This is a contributing factor to the low entry price for the car. Perry admits that while the take rate for manual transmissions is decreasing in the U.S. market, and while he provides a ballpark range of up to 10% for the take rate for the manual, he points out that the Versa is a global car, and just because a whole lot of people may not like to shift gears in the U.S., some still do, and as they’ve already done the
engineering for the manual, it’s not like they’re doing something that would seem not to have a whole lot of ROI.
Nissan is strongly committed to its CVT approach for automatics because of the fuel efficiency that can be obtained using them. The transmissions can be found from the entry Versa all the way up to the Maxima. (Not surprisingly, the 530-hp Nissan GT-R is not equipped with a CVT—when you get to torque in this vicinity—it produces 448 lb-ft @ 3,200 to 6,000 rpm—gears are good.) While some people say that manuals can help achieve better miles per gallon than any automatic, continuously variable or otherwise, it is interesting to know that while the Versa Sedan with a five-speed is rated at 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined, the CVT’s numbers are 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. This is a 5 mpg improvement over the 2011 Versa Sedan.
But wait: What about 40 mpg? Isn’t that number becoming de rigueur for new small cars? Perry responds that value for money is the number-one purchase reason for the Versa, and given that the car has a $3,205 price advantage over a comparably equipped 2012 Hyundai Accent (autofieldguide.com/products/looking-the-2012-hyundai-accent
), the 40 mpg isn’t as advantageous as it might otherwise seem.
Here’s something completely atypical.While the Versa Sedan is all new, for 2012, the Versa Hatchback will continue as the original, first-generation model. To be sure, there are refinements and enhancements being made to the car for the new model year, but the more popular of the two models will continue fundamentally as-is, perhaps in a strategic move to try to move more people to the sedan body style.
One thinks, however, that the people in Seattle (and elsewhere) are probably going to continue to opt for the Hatchback in greater numbers, especially now that that body style is become even more acceptable, if not popular.