2012 Nissan Versa SL
2012 Nissan Versa SL. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Nissan Versa

In 2007, the then-new Nissan Versa was a giant among subcompact cars, with interior volume that rivalled compacts and refinement that bettered some bigger cars. A lot has changed since then, and a number of the Versa’s competitors have caught up. Nissan’s response, for 2012, was to once again make the Versa the biggest small car there is.

It sounds like a counter-intuitive thing to do; don’t small car owners sacrifice interior space in exchange for affordable, efficient transportation? Nissan disagrees, and as a result, the redesigned Versa (available only as a sedan, while the hatchback is carried over for 2012) has more interior volume than a number of larger cars, including its own Maxima.

Rear seat legroom is the biggest shocker, with the Versa’s 940 mm (37 in.) making it a mini-limo, and handily out-legging the Maxima’s 879 mm ( 34.6 in.). The Versa’s trunk measures out to 413 litres (14.8 cu. ft.), which also bests the much larger Maxima, at 402 litres (14.2 cu. ft.), and impressed me by easily accommodating a full-size suitcase, a hard acoustic guitar case and miscellaneous other items (and a few more shopping bags on the drive home) with room to spare on a recent weekend road trip.

2012 Nissan Versa SL
2012 Nissan Versa SL
2012 Nissan Versa SL
2012 Nissan Versa SL. Click image to enlarge

Despite the above, the new Versa sedan is actually shorter tip-to-tail (4,455 mm, or 175.4 in.) than the car it replaces, as well most compact sedans; the Hyundai Elantra stretches 4,530 mm (178.3 in.) between its bumpers, while the Toyota Corolla is 4,540 mm (178.7 in.) long.

Nissan boasts that the Versa comes with the lowest base price of any car in Canada, so while it competes space-wise with compacts (and even some mid-sized sedans!) its price pits it against subcompacts. If interior space is your priority, this car is a good place to start.

That said, it would be nice if Nissan had paid as much attention to rear seat headroom as it did to legroom. I stand a modest five-foot-seven, and my head was within an inch of the headliner in the back seat.

Up front, the tall front seating position and low cut of the windshield header put the line of sight too high for my liking, relative to the car, and the height-adjustable driver’s seat didn’t go low enough to be of much help. That height adjustment is a weird one, too: it has the effect of extending the bottom cushion at its highest position, and pulls it back in as it moves downward. Seems like it should be the opposite: push the bottom cushion out at its lowest, as that’s where taller drivers – who are more likely to have longer legs and taller torsos – will probably set it, and move it back in as the seat is raised, for drivers shorter both above and below the waist. No matter where I set the bottom cushion, the angle of it felt wrong — tilted too far forward – making me feel I was sitting on the seat, rather than in it. Add a steering column that doesn’t adjust for reach and pedals positioned too close, and the result is that I never found a way to get comfortable in this car.

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