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2007 Nissan Versa Preview

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

A Timely Addition to the Nissan Family
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

After teetering on the brink of disaster a few years ago Nissan has come back strong under the guidance of the auto industry’s brightest mega star, president Carlos Ghosn (rhymes with bone), who believes any problem can be solved by good product. Over the past several years nearly all Nissan products have been revised, updated, redesigned or redefined. After a short hiatus without new product rollouts Nissan this week announced an entirely new car to the US market to share the under $20,000 customer with Sentra which is being pushed upmarket a half notch.

The new front-engine, front-wheel-drive car is called Versa, reflecting Nissan’s goal of providing “versatile space” by offering best-in-class cargo and interior room in a small car. Versa will be in dealer showrooms in May of 2006 for the 5-door hatchback and fall of ’06 for the 4-door sedan, both as ’07 models. Versa is developed from the “B” platform marketed in Japan just a year ago as the Tiida which will also be marketed in Mexico, China and other markets. Next year Nissan’s European partner Renault will have a version of the car as well.

Starting at around $12,000 and maxing out around $15,000 Versa will replace Sentra as the entry-level car while Sentra gets a bit more size and content remaining under $20,000. Nissan felt the timing was right to add to its already big family.

Size and shape of Versa remind me of the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix with a relatively high-off-the-ground stance, 102-inch wheelbase (fairly long for a subcompact), tapered rear roof and minimal overhangs. Coefficient of drag is a respectable .31 contributing to fuel efficiency. Materials appear first rate on the preview car and Nissan officials insist that this will be a premium little car. Nissan has concentrated on making the interior feel deluxe including extensive use of “soft-feel” materials.

Powered by a 1.8-litre DOHC 4-cylinder with about 120 horsepower and 125 pound feet of torque it should be adequately powered. The tuner clan will certainly want to add to that and Nissan will have hopped up examples on two stands at next month’s massive SEMA (aftermarket stuff) show in Las Vegas. Three transmissions will be available: a standard 6-speed manual, an available 4-speed electronically controlled automatic with overdrive and a version of Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) which will offer the best fuel economy at an estimated 38 mpg combined city/highway.

Suspension is MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam in the rear to maximize cargo area. Fifteen-inch wheels and tires are standard with currently no larger option. I’ll bet that will change.

Nissan claims best-in-class interior room with 94.4-cubic feet for the hatchback and 93.9 for the sedan. Cabin length is 72.3 inches and I’ll attest to the remarkably generous rear seat having climbed in and out a couple of time to see if my broad beam would fit. It did – admirably.

Options include an “Intelligent Key” system, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, satellite radio and Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer, Advanced Air Bag System, roof-mounted curtain side-impact air bags for front and rear outboard occupant head protection, and Active Head Restraints.

Versa will be manufactured at Nissan’s Aguascalientes, Mexico assembly plant that currently builds Nissan Sentra models for the U.S. market.

While final pricing and content decisions are still a few months down the road it appears the new Versa will be a strong contender in its classes around the world. The body style may change a bit from market to market but the concept is universal: small but efficient and practical, stylish and well equipped, and, of course versatile.

We agree the timing is good for a new little car like this. Good Luck, Nissan!