2012 Nissan Versa Sedan Lowest Price New Car, or Is It?

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There are no bad cars.  It’s been years since I’ve seen a really bad car to be sold as new in the USA.  Maybe the not lamented Chrysler Sebring came close before it evolved into the Chrysler 200 for 2011.  So, as the new V-Platform Nissan Versa is poised to be launched for the 2012 model year as the lowest price new car available in the USA you wonder if a new car priced so low is a bad car?  The answer is a resounding no.  But with the Versa and new Hyundai Accent arriving almost concurrently on the market it begs brief comparison.

2012 Nissan Versa Sedan

2012 Hyundai Accent Sedan

Pricing the New Entries – Versa Wins by a Nose: The new Versa, available at first as a 4-door sedan only, is a real car and the largest one in its class (the trunk is gigantic!).  Its base price is $10,990 which is the lowest in the “subcompact” size class includes air conditioning and AM/FM/CD audio.  Nissan’s price point had been $9,990 for the base 2011 4-door sedan.  So, for the base 2012 4-door sedan for $1,000 more you get an all new 1.6L 4-cylinder engine with about the same power (109 now compared with 107 for the 1.6L in 2011) getting 38mpg on the highway (4 mpg better), a 5-speed manual transmission or an improved CVT (continuously variable) transmission (optional), spartan interior (cheap plastic door trim panels, misfits on the instrument panel air bag cover, saggy seat trim), “mainstream styling” and (large) compact car size.  Driving the Versa is “pleasant”, quiet and not very engaging.  The price point for the most popular Versa is $14,910 for the SV model with CVT and the convenience package.

Clearly, Nissan adopted a dramatically different base pricing strategy than did Hyundai with its all new 2012 Accent.  Eerily, the end point is about the same.  The base Accent is priced at $12,445 for the 4-door GLS model with manual transmission, no air conditioning, no radio and manual windows and doors.  Since this base model does not appear on Hyundai’s website, you have to think it is just an advertising price leader that you’ll never find in a Hyundai store.  Just twitching one box and adding the “comfort package” adds $1,600 to make the first “available” Accent $15,195 with a 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,000).  With the comfort package you do get air conditioning, radio and power windows and mirrors.  The Accent comes across as more upscale, offering a more powerful 138HP 1.6L 4-cylinder engine with 40mpg highway fuel economy, six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, rear disc brakes standard, substantially upgraded interior materials, expressive styling and compact car size.  The Accent 4-door is only about one cubic foot smaller than the Versa.

2012 Nissan Versa Cockpit

2012 Hyundai Accent Cockpit

The Choice – Hyundai Accent: So, give the Versa a very slight price advantage when considering comparably equipped models that someone would actually want to drive.  Given the almost equal price, you get more with the Hyundai; power, fuel economy, fun to drive, higher quality materials, style.

OTHER ISSUES

So, Why Not 40mpg? Adding the technology to increase fuel efficiency from 38mpg to 40mpg would only save $36 per year in fuel costs if you drive 15,000 miles per year according to Nissan’s Director of Product Planning Mark Perry.  Even though this puts Nissan at a disadvantage in the “brochure war” among subcompact competitors, the lower cost was most important.

Where is the 5-Door Hatchback? The 2011 Nissan Versa hatchback is being continued for a year.  So the 4-door is on the new V-Platform and the 5-door stays on the previous platform.  The 5-door has historically accounted for 70% of Versa sales.  Perry says launching the new 4-door ahead of the 5-door may allow for stronger acceptance of the 4-door moving the mix closer to 50/50.  In any event, says Perry, Nissan has the flexibility to move either way – more sedans or more hatchbacks.  Look for the hatchback to be first shown at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

The Accent launched with the 5-door hatchback as a premium bodystyle in its lineup.  Based on trim level, the 5-door Accent is $400 to $600 more expensive than the sedan.

Where is Versa Built? Mexico; part of NAFTA.  The Accent will be imported from Korea.

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