The average price paid for a new car last year was about $35,000. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay $35k to drive home a new car — a nice new car. You could buy a brand-new Nissan Versa — with air conditioning, a four-speaker Bluetooth-ready stereo and intermittent wipers — and pay less than $12k.
A Pinto reimagined it’s not.
What It Is
The Versa sedan is the least expensive new car sold in America.
It’s a compact sedan in terms of its overall size, but it has a midsized sedan’s interior space, including a back seat with 37 inches of legroom and a trunk with almost 15 cubic feet, about the same as Nissan’s midsized Altima sedan.
Base price is $11,990 for the S trim with manual transmission. It costs $14,130 for the S Plus trim with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
Intermittent wipers are now standard in all trims.
The SV Special Edition package that Nissan made available last year continues for 2018. Order this and your Versa will come outfitted Cadillac style, with leather trim, fog lights and a color LCD touch screen with streaming audio and hands-free Text Messaging Assistant.
Price can’t be beat — unless you buy used.
The amount of room for the price can’t be beat.
Essential features (AC, a very decent stereo) are included in that price.
What’s Not So Good
Bluetooth and a four-speaker stereo are standard, but some convenience features — cruise control, power windows, SiriusXM satellite radio — aren’t available in the base S trim.
The S trim with the lowest cost only has manual transmission. The nicer-trimmed S Plus and SV are only automatic.
Under the Hood
The Versa’s standard engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 109 horsepower driving the front wheels via either the standard (in S trims) five-speed manual transmission or (in S Plus and SV trims) a CVT transmission.
It’s nothing special — which is exactly why it is special. The Versa’s engine remains a relatively simple engine. No turbo, for instance. And yet, its gas mileage is still very close to the top of the pack: It gets 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with the manual transmission, and 31 mpg city and 39 mpg highway with the CVT.
On the Road
One hundred and nine horsepower is plenty — if you’re paying attention.
The guy next to you in his 300-horsepower whatever-it-is probably isn’t. He is probably texting — or just unfocused, his mind on other things. If you’re ready when the light goes green and he’s not, then you’ll win.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll win in a car like the Versa — if you’re prepared and making use of everything you’ve got. This entails actually driving, of course — and that is an activity actively being discouraged.
Besides, it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
And for the record, a nine second time from zero to 60 mph isn’t slow. It’s a good two seconds quicker than a Toyota Prius hybrid.
At the Curb
The Versa is a very practical sedan — for its size and otherwise.
To get a handle on this, have a look at some key Versa stats compared with the best-selling midsized car in the country, Toyota’s Camry sedan. The Versa is 175.4 inches long overall, whereas the Camry is 192.7 inches long, a difference of less than 2 feet. But the Versa’s front- and back-seat legroom, 41.8 inches and 37 inches respectively, are within a hair of the much-larger-on-the-outside Camry’s 42.1 inches up front and 38 inches in the back.
Both cars have about the same trunk space, too: 14.9 cubic feet for the Versa versus 15.1 cubic feet for the Camry. But the Camry’s base price, $23,495, is almost twice the Versa’s.
Also practical are the standard 15-inch steel wheels, which are sturdier than the aluminum wheels almost all new cars now come standard with now — chiefly because they shave a little curb weight and they look snazzier than steel wheels with plastic trim covers. But steel wheels stand up better to potholes, and ride quality is usually better on 15s, too — because there’s more shock-absorbing tire between you and the road than there is in a car riding on 16- or 17-inch wheels with short — and therefore, stiffer — sidewall tires.
One of the few needful things you don’t get in the base $12k trim Versa is rear-seat backs that fold flat; these come standard in the in the higher-up trims. But even the higher-up trims are steals on wheels compared with the cost of most new cars.
The Bottom Line
You pay less but get more.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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