- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. — Maneuvering to be in the right place at the right time as buyers gravitate toward fuel-efficient automobiles, Nissan introduced a new entry-level compact car here last month.

Called the Versa, which Nissan officials say is short for versatility, the new four-door hatchback will go on sale next summer. It will be followed by a traditional notchback sedan in the fall of 2006.

Though the Versa is classed as a compact, it offers passenger space of 94 cubic feet, which is close to that of a midsize. Cargo space behind the fold-down rear seats is close to 17 cubic feet, more than that of most midsize cars.The front-drive Versa is powered by a new 120-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Three transmissions will be available: a six-speed manual, four-speed automatic or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

John Weiner, Nissan’s director of automobile product planning, said Environmental Protection Agency-measured fuel economy with the CVT, which provides smooth power multiplication with no shift points, is expected to be 35 miles per gallon city and 44 on the highway, with a combined city-highway rating of 38 miles to the gallon.

Mr. Weiner stressed that all of the figures were preliminary, but he and other Nissan officials were unusually forthcoming about a car that won’t be on the market for nine months or so.

There was no opportunity to drive the prototype Versa models on display here at Nissan’s North American Technical Center, but there’s no question that it’s a roomy car for one that measures 14 feet, 1 inch from bumper to bumper.

The interior is more than six feet long, which provides unusual back-seat room for a compact, with knee room as generous as that in some full-size cars. Jack Collins, Nissan’s product-planning vice president, said the Versa would start at about $12,000, with an option-laden model at about $14,000.

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