Outside & In

Against a freshman class of stylish sedans — such as the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio — the Versa sinks into the background: anonymous headlights, sagging shoulders, wimpy wheels. Nissan says the 2012 Versa is the first car to take cues from the Ellure concept shown at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, and future Nissan sedans will follow suit. I hope those suits look sharper.

Like many base models, the Versa S has black side mirrors and door handles. The higher trim levels have body-colored mirrors and chrome handles; the Versa SL adds fog lights and 15-inch alloy wheels. The car measures slightly shorter than the outgoing Versa sedan, but the trunk hangs an extra 2.7 inches past the rear wheels. That contributes to an ungainly tail but a massive trunk — 14.8 cubic feet, or clear into much larger Honda Accord and Toyota Camry territory.

The same goes for the Versa's cabin. It can fit four adults comfortably, which is nearly impossible in a Fiesta or Chevrolet Sonic. The front seats have long adjustment range and comfortable cushions, and the driver's seat bottom jacks up and forward independently of the seatback. Raising it adds thigh support without moving you closer to the wheel — an annoyance in many cars — but tall drivers who sit low may find the seat cushion too short. Drivers of all sizes will want a telescoping steering-wheel adjustment, like in the Fiesta and Honda Fit. The Versa's wheel only tilts.

Headroom in back is modest, but legroom is abundant. By the numbers, the Versa beats the Accent sedan by 3.7 inches and beats the Fiesta by nearly 6 inches. Nothing about the backseat feels subcompact — it's a cavern back there.

Most of the controls feel sturdy, and the chrome door handles and backlit gauges in uplevel trims stand out. But those are exceptions in a sea of low-budget blight. The climate dials are crude, and shiny molded plastic covers everything else. Forget armrests — the doors have a hard outcropping for your elbow. It's better than what your inboard elbow gets, which is nothing at all, even in the Versa SL. Basic conveniences such as map lights, a rear center armrest and a sunglasses holder are MIA. The previous Versa sedan had a lot of these things. Make no mistake: Its successor has moved down-market.

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