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First Drive: 2012 Nissan Versa

by on Jul.13, 2011

Nissan comes up with a complete remake of the Versa sedan for 2012.

With a starting price of just $10,990, the 2012 remake of the Nissan Versa sedan will clearly catch the attention of those on a tight budget.  And in this economy, there are a lot of folks who qualify.  Stealing a march on its Korean rivals, the Japanese maker’s smallest 4-door actually comes in significantly cheaper than comparably equipped offerings from Hyundai and Kia.

Anyone familiar with the Nissan Versa nameplate knows that has long been a big selling point – but a low cost often has its price, the prior generation requiring buyers to accept significant sacrifices in terms of room, performance and creature comforts.

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The good news is that the all-new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan no longer demands such concessions.  Based on the Japanese maker’s new global V platform, the latest iteration proves unexpectedly roomy, far better equipped and is a lot more fun to drive.  It also gets significantly better fuel economy, though it does not meet the magic 40 mpg highway target that some key competitors are unabashedly promoting at every opportunity.

There will be two Versas for 2012, buyers need note.  The hatchback, which has traditional accounted for almost two-thirds of Nissan’s subcompact sales, won’t get a re-make for another year.  The big news for the upcoming model-year is the redesign of the sedan.

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Nissan Wants to Trim Vehicle Weight By 15%

But increasing government mandates could offset gains.

by on Jul.12, 2011

Nissan trimmed 150 lbs off the weight of the new Versa sedan and hopes to cut mass by 15% on future products.

When the new Nissan Versa sedan rolls into showrooms, in the coming weeks, motorists might notice it’s a bit more svelte, despite adding decidedly more cargo and interior space.

The Japanese subcompact is 150 pounds lighter than the vehicle it replaces, reflecting a conscious effort to put the second-generation Versa on a diet.  Indeed, Nissan has set a corporate goal of trimming at least 15% “off the weight of every vehicle” it develops, going forward, says Vice President of Product Planning Larry Dominique.

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That’s a critical step in the maker’s efforts to meet consumer demands for better mileage – and rapidly increasing government fuel economy mandates.  But it also underscores the conundrum makers like Infiniti face.  Even as they use smarter designs and lighter materials to reduce mass, tougher regulations – particularly when it comes to vehicle safety – force engineers to add content that only packs the weight back on.

The industry continues to discover a variety of ways to improve fuel economy, notes Dominique, such as 8-speed gearboxes, advanced turbocharging and direct injection.  But improvements to the internal combustion engine “are reaching their limits,” he stresses, “so we have to lighten up.

On a midsize car, goes conventional engineering wisdom, a 100-pound reduction can yield at least an extra mile a gallon.  So on a 3,000 to 3,500 pound vehicle like a Nissan Maxima, a 15% drop would be substantial.

How to get there is the challenge.  Makers like Nissan have been turning to lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum, magnesium and advanced plastics.  And even when they use steel they’re switching, where possible to thinner, high-strength alloys.  But “there’s a significant cost to that,” Dominique cautions.  “I could make all my seat frames out of magnesium, but I couldn’t afford it.”

Automakers see carbon fiber as a sort of Holy Grail, as it is incredibly light and phenomenally strong.  But, for now, it remains impossibly expensive, suited only to ultra-expensive models such as the Lexus LF-A supercar build by Nissan’s rival, Toyota.  Like all so many other executives, Dominique says he is hoping that, going forward, new manufacturing processes will be developed to bring carbon fiber into the realm of mainstream automakers.

There are other ways to reduce weight, noted the Nissan planner.  The new Versa has about 20% fewer parts and components.  In some cases, developers were able to shift to one large piece of molded plastic where three might have been needed in the old sedan.  And that reduces overlaps and eliminates fasteners that can yield a 5% savings, according to Dominique.

Meanwhile, by trimming the weight of the overall body, for example, Nissan might then be able to switch to smaller brakes and a lighter, less powerful engine.  The new Versa migrates from a 1.8-liter inline-four to a new 1.6-liter engine.

The Japanese marque is by no means the only manufacturer pursuing significant weight reductions.

“In the mid-term, from now to 2017 or 2018, we’ll remove anywhere from 250 to 700 pounds depending on the vehicle,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s global product development chief.  (Click Here for more on Ford’s program.)

But such numbers can be misleading.

Nissan proposed weight reductions refer to apples-to-apples comparisons – that is, assuming that the next-generation Altima, for example, were to feature the same levels of content as the outgoing model.  But that seldom happens.

For one thing, consumers continue to demand more and more content, whether it’s larger, more powerful infotainment systems or new, heated/cooled seats.

Add to that what the government continues mandating, such as the latest roof crush standards.  “We know that keep adding weight to the car,” lamented Dominique, during an interview following a drive in the new Versa.  “And that will offset much of the weight we hope to save.”

First Look: 2012 Nissan Versa sedan

by on Apr.20, 2011

Nissan brings the new Versa sedan to the Big Apple.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Or in Nissan’s case, the hatchback or the sedan?

The maker has set off a bit of confusion by splitting the launch of its updated subcompact line-up between the Shanghai Motor Show, earlier this week, and a separate Wednesday news conference at the New York Auto Show.

For American motorists, it turns out, the four-door model shown in New York, and badged Nissan Versa, will be the update they’ll be seeing later this year at U.S. dealerships.  But that will be followed by a 5-door based on the Nissan Tiida unveiled in China, it turns out.

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Nissan sees the upcoming update as a chance for it to redefine how it competes in the small car market – moving away from the classic econobox and into something more stylish, roomy and well-equipped, noted Carlos Tavares, CEO of Nissan Americas, during a Big Apple news conference.

The 2012 Versa should also play well with those focusing on fuel economy, the new model getting a roughly 5 mile per gallon bump, to 30 mpg City, 37 Highway, according to the EPA, and 33 on the Combined scale.

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