One day, a friend once asked why he had to accept the mud flap on his new car. Demographics, I said. Most people want them, so you get them. Imagine a car in Florida without A/C? Who'd buy it?
However, there are still folks who don't want or need any accoutrements that are now accepted as standard fare for cars: power windows, power locks, and mirrors, for example. So, too, are radios, clocks, and external temperature gauges. Years ago New Hampshire received static by not ordering AM radios for state cars to save money.
Whether you called them "plain Janes" or "stripped" models, those cars failed to exist until recently when Nissan offered their Versa compact, sans bells and whistles. At $9,990, the Versa carries the second-lowest MSRP for an all-new car, besting even Kia.
"Nissan saw a way to help out in tough economic times," said John Schilling, a Nissan spokesman. "It was brought to market to offer consumers the choice of a new car at a used car price, offering a full manufacturer's warranty."
But it's got competition: the Hyundai Accent "Blue edition" is just $20 cheaper.
The high-value Versa has a smaller 1.6-liter, 106 hp inline 4-cylinder engine, compared to the standard 1.8-liter, 122 hp motor. It mates to a 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic is optional.
Do people miss the amenities? "If they want them, they can move up to the next model," said Schilling. "And they have the option of adding a radio later on. To keep costs in line, you really have to draw a line with the content you can and can't put into a car."
What consumers won't miss is stopping at the gas station. The Versa boasts 26/34 EPA numbers with the manual and 26/33 with the automatic from its 13.2 gallon gas tank.
Buzzing around in city traffic, the Versa seemed to hardly consume any gas. On the open road, it was even more economical. My week behind the wheel yielded an impressive 32.6 mpg from 572 mixed miles of driving.
What you miss is the physical feedback from the radio, the clock, and whatever else you're used to twisting, tweaking, and using during your commute. Instead there's an expanse of plastic filling the spaces.
You'll work your biceps as the manual windows — remember when they were called "Jack Armstrong" windows? — require numerous rotations. Want to push the fob to make the alarm beep to find the car? Sorry. Click a button twice to pop the locks for everyone? Spin again. The only key lock is found on the driver's door.
It's these trying times that reinforce the Versa's mission: price and gas mileage come first. It's all about providing a used car price point with a brand new car warranty.
For an entry-level offering, the Versa became an enjoyable ride backed with a solid feel. It was pleasant to unplug from the radio noise and be left with one's thoughts.
Mixing gears was fun and swift, but when another couple of passengers joined the ride, the burden upon the motor became noticeable. The Versa's short stature left it vulnerable to the whims of unfettered wind, almost forcing lane changes.
Inside, the Versa is devoid of a vanity mirror under the visors, a console storage bin, center arm rests, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat to augment truck capacity. While it's built to a price, sometimes this Versa is too soft on content.
Schilling says Nissan sells 60 to 70 of these Versa sedans a month (they're not offered as hatchbacks). "It sells a little everywhere, usually areas that do not have excessive heat for long periods, like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest."
Mostly, it answers what was once the age-old question of "How come they just don't make basic transportation anymore?" Well, now they do. Beyond the adjustable steering wheel, interval wipers, rear defroster, engine, wheels, and metal roof, there's not much more anyone really needs.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee