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Budget cars

Review: 2012 Nissan Versa SL, The Big Small Car



2012 Nissan Versa

Nissan’s budget car doubles up on growth hormones and offers more room for passengers, but is that all?

Nissan, an automaker known for the menacing 370Z Coupe and phenomenal GT-R, is also known for the less striking and more conventional Versa. The Versa has been the company’s budget-oriented vehicle in North America for many years, going as far as to snag the title as the most affordable car on sale for most of those years.

The first-generation Versa was a good ‘Point A to B’ car, but the lack of refinement left some wanting more. With the second-generation model, has Nissan crafted the de facto car for the most budget-oriented shoppers or has cost-cutting led to yet another ho-hum daily commuter? We hopped behind the wheel of the 2012 Nissan Versa SL to find out.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that while the Versa sedan is an all-new design, the Versa hatchback hasn’t been changed and is still the same model that has been on sale for the past few years. That is, Nissan is currently selling two notably different Versa models, stylistically and mechanically, alongside each other. This will change when the all-new Versa hatchback comes along.

We’ll start off by taking a walk around the car. At first glance, the 2012 Versa’s tall greenhouse makes it look large, not just for a subcompact car but for any class of car. Parked beside some notable mid-size sedans, including Nissan’s own Altima, the supposed subcompact stands taller and looks almost just as long. Such dimensions on a subcompact platform translate into some awkward proportions that make the car look bulbous and clumsy from certain angles. This is unfortunate because cars like the all-new Kia Rio and Chevrolet Sonic, the Versa’s direct competitors, have demonstrated that a good-looking subcompact is no longer an oxymoron. Admittedly, the Versa does look better in person than it does in pictures, especially in black.

So the latest Versa isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but Nissan likely had its priorities elsewhere. Succeeding at delivering an inoffensive exterior package, the company set its eyes on giving buyers class-leading practicality in a small sedan. And as it turns out, those forced-on proportions were just a means to achieving that end.

With 90 cubic feet of passenger room and a 14.8-cubic-foot of trunk room, the Versa offers enough room to be classified as a compact car, making it the most spacious contender in the subcompact segment. As a focal point, the room offered to rear seat passengers approaches that of many mid-size cars, which will undoubtedly be a key selling-point. The seats are comfortable and there is more than adequate — by subcompact standards — leg and knee room, hip room and, especially, head room. Tall and heavy-built passengers will not be disappointed.

What might disappoint some people, however, is the Versa’s drab cockpit. While everything is simple enough to use and ergonomically laid-out, the overall design leaves much to be desired. The center stack and climate controls look chucky and almost cartoony, and the lack of a center armrest detracts from the high level of comfort otherwise offered. Fit and finish is acceptable, but the deficiencies make the abundant use of hard plastics very noticeable.

Being a budget car, the Versa is no GT-R on the powertrain front. All models are powered by a 1.6 litre 4-cylinder engine producing 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft. of torque (the hatchback offers a more powerful 122-HP 1.8-liter engine), which is on the lower end of the class spectrum. So long as acceleration is not a priority, the paltry output is adequate for everyday driving, especially in the city. The CVT transmission is quiet and smooth, as is the ride on well-maintained roads. Things could get a bit jittery on rough pavement, but nothing unusual for the segment.

If you’re looking for a relatively sporty sedan, the Versa isn’t for you. And while an estimated 6.7 L/100km (42 miles per gallon) city and 5.2 L/100km (54 mpg) highway with the CVT is nothing to shrug at, those figures are at the middle of the pack. Still, the Versa is one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on sale.

At an MRSP of $16,298 Canadian (priced at $15,560 in the US), the Versa SL comes standard with many features, including six-way, manual adjustable front seats; power windows and door locks; remote keyless entry; air-conditioning; Bluetooth; 12 volt outlet; and quite a few safety features. Ours was equipped with $800 worth of optional equipment — a navigation system with USB ports and XM satellite radio. That’s a lot of stuff, but the highlight of the Versa lineup is the base manual-equipped S model and its $11,798 starting price ($10,990 in the U.S.). If that figure sounds auspicious, that’s because it is. At that price point, the Versa S is the most affordable car in North America!

According to Nissan, its littlest sedan offers more space per dollar than any other car in North America, and that’s a fact we can vouch for. An ultra-affordable, ultra spacious sedan was what the company set out to achieve and that is exactly what it delivered. Budget-minded shoppers will undoubtedly take notice.

Despite this, we feel the car could have been more, particularly on the styling and powertrain front. It’s larger and more fuel-efficient — more of what buyers want — and a better overall package than the outgoing model, but it is not the de facto car in in the segment. Subcompacts are no longer the bare-bone, bare necessities they once were. They can be both attractive and fun, all the while being textbook fuel-misers. That’s a lesson we hope Nissan takes to heart when designing the next Versa.

As things are, though, Nissan’s not-so-little baby is still a good buy.

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Budget cars

New Datsun mi-DO is a Hatchback on-Do for Russia



New Datsun mi-DO Hatchback

Datsun’s lineup continues to expand with the addition of the Datsun mi-DO, a hatchback version of the on-Do sedan developed for Russia and other developing markets. Both cars are based on the Lada Kalina.

Described as a “practical yet sporty five-door hatchback with a strong masculine appearance,” the mi-DO will be one of the most affordable cars money can buy. It features Datsun’s signature ‘D-Cut’ grill flanked by elongated projector headlamps that stretch virtually from grille to fender, helping set it apart from its sedan sibling.

Like the on-Do, power is provided by a 1.6-liter 8V engine that produces an anemic 87 horsepower, which is sent to the front wheels via a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. All models come equipped with driver and passenger airbags (this is Russia we are talking about, after all), ABS, and a winter pack featuring heated seats and door mirrors.

“The Datsun concept of offering a new car from a foreign maker at a highly affordable price has struck a chord with Russian car buyers. Datsun might be a new name on the Russian market but its impact will be felt for years to come. Rest assured we are totally committed to the Russian market: our debut at MIAS marks just the beginning of the story,” said Vincent Cobee, Global Head of Datsun.

In case you’re trying to make sense of the Datsun mi-DO’s peculiar name, ‘mi’ was chosen because it sounds like the English word ‘me’ and personalises the car, while “DO” is a Japanese word that means ‘moving’ and also refers to a ‘way’ of doing things.

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Beijing Motor Show

Jeep Renegade Zi You Xia Concept is a Rebellious Small SUV



Jeep Renegade Zi You Xia Small SUV

After its European debut in Geneva and North American debut in New York, the all-new Jeep Renegade made its grand entrance in China as a special design concept at the Beijing Motor Show.

Called Zi You Xia, which means “rebel”, the special concept is said to highlight “a more sophisticated aspect of the Renegade’s personality.” It is inspired by the colors of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and features a Warm Chocolate Gray exterior finish with a contrasting Dark Anodized Bronze color accentuating the grille throats, front fog lamp bezels, rear lower fascia, skidplate, tail lamp insert bezel and badging.

To keep things cohesive, a Dark Charcoal hue is used for the roof panel, grille surrounds and door mirror caps, while unique 20-inch Dark Anodized Bronze alloy wheels add more flair and underscore the vehicle’s impressive off-road capabilities.

The interior combines rugged and functional details crafted in high quality materials. Piano Black permeates but is contrasted by Anodized Copper on the air vents, speaker bezel, gear shifter, steering wheel bezels, cup holder and door release handles. The seats feature rich brown leather upholstery with ‘ombre’ grey/black plaid fabric inserts inspired by traditional menswear suiting and tailored patterns.

Mechanically, the Zi You Xia is identical to the regular Renegade, making it “the most capable small SUV and the first in the world to offer a nine-speed automatic transmission.”

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Budget cars

Chevrolet Trax Small SUV Finally Comes to the U.S. [Video]



Orange Chevrolet Trax, Small SUV

Available in Canada, Europe and elsewhere around the world for a while now, the Chevrolet Trax small SUV will now be offered in the United States, serving as a nice alternative to the growing number of budget hatchbacks and sedans.

Based on the same platform as the Buick Encore, the Trax is distinguished by its dual-port grille, sweptback headlights, chrome accents, pronounced rear fenders, and vertical taillights. Plastic body cladding and front and rear skid plates lend it a purposeful presence.

To my eyes, Chevy’s crossover looks better proportioned than the Buick and most other subcompact crossovers. What do you think?

The interior is plain and simple, featuring the Sonic’s motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster and metallic accents. Opening the rear hatch reveals a cargo area than can hold up to 18.7 cubic feet (530 liters) of luggage, but folding the rear seats down increases that volume to 48.4 cubic feet (1,371 liters).

Although a budget-oriented vehicle, the Trax nevertheless offers buyers many luxury and technological features, including leatherette upholstery, Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen display, Siri Eyes Free capability, and OnStar 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

Inside the small engine bay is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft (200 Nm) of torque. It is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission that can be paired with an optional all-wheel drive system.

The Chevrolet Trax made its U.S debut in New York and goes on sale in early 2015.

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