The number on the window price sticker says $11,798, and that’s for the whole car, not just the front half, which makes this new 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan the vehicle with the lowest starting MSRP in Canada.

Now that’s not quite the same thing as saying it will be least expensive new vehicle you can buy at any given moment, because automakers do like to have clear-out sales and throw incentives around now and then.

But it’s a helluva starting point.

We recently had a chance to drive said vehicle around Orleans Island, that beautiful and historic island in the Saint Lawrence Seaway, just south of Quebec City, and can report that the vehicle is more substantial than its stingy MSRP suggests.

 

In fact, Nissan has actually re-positioned the car as a larger and more mature counterpoint to the rest of the entry-level competitors, all of which shout about being tidy and fun-to-drive (Accent, Fiesta, Mazda2, Yaris, Honda Fit, etc.)

“Not everybody wants an athletic, edgy product,” said Tim Franklin, senior manager, product planning, Nissan Canada. “Sometimes differentiating yourself in the marketplace creates more opportunity.”

The current Versa, available in both sedan and hatch formats, already has a significant following — it only trails Hyundai Accent in sales in its category. This new and improved model will only bolster Versa’s popularity.

The new Versa is now based on Nissan’s global “V” platform — lighter by 150 lbs than the current “B” platform, and with 20 per cent fewer components. Less complexity was key to Versa’s keen pricing.

Of course, most buyers will opt for Versa models with a bit more content than the $11,788 base model, known as 1.6 S, which is only available with a 5-speed manual transmission. But standard equipment on 1.6 S does include audio player with CD and aux input, 15-inch wheels, 6 air bags, and the same safety systems as every other Versa model.

The all-new automatic transmission, a CVT, features an auxiliary gearbox using planetary gearing, to give it a very broad range, almost like a 7-speed.

It’s also more compact, which allowed engineers to create a more compact front end. Overall length was retained, so this newfound space was added to the rear seating and cargo areas. Net result: There is more legroom back there than a lot of midsize sedans, and trunk space, at 419 litres, is as big as it gets in Versa’s class.

Versa’s 1.6-litre engine gets two significant upgrades; the Continuously Variable Timing Control (CVTC) now works on both intake and exhaust ports (similar to the system used on Maxima); and there are now two fuel injectors for each cylinder (mounted near the inlet valve). So it’s cleaner and more fuel-efficient.



The CVT-equipped vehicles are rated for 6.7 L/100 km city, 5.2 L/100 km highway, and 6.0 L/100 km combined — very frugal.

And overall, a very pleasing package.

Starting MSRP: $11,798

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