Nissan's new high-value Versa
How about this for a deal: a brand new shiny four-door sedan with a ton of space, air conditioning, a stereo and 36-miles-to-the-gallon economy. Yours for just $11,750. I bet Lady Gaga spends more than that on shoes. Say 'hello' to the 2012 Nissan Versa, officially America's Least Expensive Car and one of the best deals on wheels right now. OK, so this pint-sized people carrier isn't going to win your heart or stir your soul. But if you're looking for highly affordable transportation with genuine seating for four, excellent quality, easy driving and great gas mileage, this versatile Versa is hard to beat. While the base model comes with a shift-it-yourself five-speed manual, even when you add automatic you're still only paying $13,520. But that said, $1,770 for an automatic transmission, even if it is a continuously-variable CVT, is pretty steep.If you've seen the TV ads for the Versa, you'll remember the focus is on rear-seat legroom. And they're not kidding. Climb in the back and there really is stretch-out space. Knees don't even come close to the seat in front. And while, with a price like this, you might expect Dollar Store quality, you'd be wrong. The plastics are as good as those in cars costing twice the price, and the fit and finish is first rate. Power comes from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder packing 109 horsepower. Our tester came with the optional belts-and-pulley CVT which helps give the little Nissan zippy acceleration and even better fuel economy than the stick - 30mpg city and an impressive 40mph highway. Yes, there's a whole lot of competition in this part of the market. But if you avoid adding on all the options and keep it simple, Nissan's new Versa is one of the best first-car/family-car bargains around. Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.