Nissan ups affordability ante with ’12 Versa sedan

  • 13-Sep-2011 07:38 EDT
Versa.jpg

Compared to the 2011 model (bottom), the 2012 Versa sedan (top) features more modern, refined, and aerodynamic styling.

When setting targets for the all-new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan, affordability was one of the primary objectives of the design team. With an MSRP lower than any of its U.S. competitors—starting at $10,990 with standard air conditioning and radio—that goal was realized; however, comfort and convenience features that customers have grown accustomed to were not lost in an all-out assault on cost.

“People mentally they think a less-expensive car means small, which means I’m sacrificing and giving up something,” said Mark Perry, Nissan Director of Product Planning.

The Versa sedan, the second vehicle launched off the “V” platform globally, gains a cubic foot in trunk cargo volume, up to 14.8 ft³ (419 L), over the outgoing model, and fuel economy sees a significant increase of 5 mpg. These gains are the result of a more compact engine/transmission design, allowing for a 2.7-in (69-mm) increase in rear overhang, and a 150-lb (68-kg) weight reduction, achieved by cutting 20% of the components from the previous “B” platform.

“We didn’t want to change the wheelbase, we wanted to keep the existing platform, you could move it but that’s where things start getting really expensive. We knew we were able to shorten the engine front cockpit module, so now we’ve got this extra room, where do we put it—seat and trunk.”

At 37.0 in (940 mm), the Versa sedan boasts more rear legroom than some midsize sedans—the Lexus LS460, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class—and also edges its closest competitor, the Toyota Yaris sedan by 1.4 in (36 mm). The trunk design focuses on usable space, taking into consideration everything from the size of the hinges to the shape of the sidewalls.

The ’12 Versa sedan maintains the previous generation’s 102.4-in (2600-mm) wheelbase and 66.7-in (1694-mm) width; however, the new model is 1.2 in (31 mm) lower in height at 59.6 in (1514 mm) and 0.6 in (15 mm) shorter in overall length at 175.4 in (4455 mm).

With a lowered roofline and shorter front overhang, the 2012 model begins to “signal what future sedans are going to look like as we roll out the next-generation Sentra and Altima,” according to Perry. Video of Perry discussing the changes to the 2012 Versa sedan can be viewed at http://youtu.be/1T0WpqOL5lA.

The more compact, lighter weight 1.6-L four-cylinder engine, rated at 109 hp (81 kW) at 6000 rpm and 107 lb·ft (145 N·m) at 4400 rpm, features a new dual-fuel-injector system in the intake.

“It sprays the fuel in a finer pattern,” Perry said. “Better fuel spray makes easier combustion, which burns cleaner thus reducing CO2.”

The engine also uses a twin CVTC (Continuously Variable Timing Control) system mounted on both intake and exhaust ports, similar to the system used on the Maxima, helping achieve a 4% improvement in fuel economy.

Reducing friction was a key focus in the new CVT design. The CVT allows continuous change of the transmission gear ratio by connecting the pulleys with a metallic belt and changing their diameter by using hydraulic pressure. The new design adds an auxiliary gearbox using planetary gearing.

“What we were trying to do is have a final drive ratio to get you that better highway fuel economy,” Perry said. “In a CVT, what that meant was that final drive pulley would have been taller and taller and would need a CVT larger than what we had before. They put in a gearset to take the final drive ratio out to 7.3:1, which is bigger [ratio span] than a seven-step AT. With two drive pulleys, working to that final drive ratio, as you get up to where you need it the planetary gearset connects and you’re at that point. What that allowed them to do was shrink the size of the CVT, reduce weight but still have all the performance we were needing to get that 38 mpg highway.”

According to the company, friction is reduced by about 30%, weight by about 13%, and overall size by about 10% compared to the previous Versa sedan CVT design. A manual option is also available on the base 1.6 S model only.

Fuel economy climbs to 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway (33 mpg combined) in the 2012 model, up from 25/33 in 2011. While falling short of the 40-mpg achieved by some of its competitors, Perry and his Nissan counterparts are not losing sleep over the 2-mpg deficit.

“The difference between 38 mpg highway and 40 mpg highway over 15,000 mi of annual driving is $36,” Perry said. “We’re about $3000 below where some of those other folks are with their 40-mpg car. $36 or $3000, we think for consumers it’s a pretty easy tradeoff.”

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