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Versa vs. GT-R: It is a contest

Posted by Bill Griffith  October 4, 2011 03:47 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

Nissan went to extremes last month when it brought both its new entry-level Versa sedan and supercar GT-R to Brookline's Larz Anderson Auto Museum.

Talk about different ends of the automotive spectrum. Outside of the Nissan nameplate, the only area of the color spectrum where they met was in their similar red paint jobs — "Solid Red" for the GT-R and "Red Brick" for the Versa.

Otherwise, the differences (duh!) were striking in styling, performance, and price. But which would you pick? For most of us, economics would rule.

The 2012 Versa, starting at $10,990 (plus $760 destination), is about as economical as you can get. It's also spacious for an entry-level vehicle, boasting class-leading rear-seat and trunk room. To test that claim, we put a pair of super-sized journalists in the back and found they easily fit in the rear seat with scads of legroom and adequate headroom.

The Versa is rated at 38 miles per gallon highway and 33 mpg in combined driving and you can buy one in the base S (now with standard A/C and stereo) or upgraded SV (Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted controls) and SL (navigation and satellite radio) versions. An updated hatchback version will be available soon.

Asked why Nissan hadn't tried for the now-reachable 40-mpg highway rating, Mark Perry, director of product planning, said it was about cost.

"We believe that 40 mpg still is marketing hype," he said. "To reach that, it would have added $3,000 to the Versa's cost, and assuming you drive 15,000 miles per year, at today's gas prices, you'd save $76 a year."

Instead, Nissan has introduced a new 1.6-liter engine and second-generation CVT (continuously variable transmission) to position itself in a compact segment that's expected to double in sales by 2015.

The new CVT, which Perry compares to a seven-speed conventional automatic, is actually a hybrid transmission with the CVT functioning in lower gears and actual planetary gears for higher speeds. "That allowed us to save considerable space," he said. That space went directly to the rear seat configuration.

2012-Nissan-GT-R.jpg

Click photo for larger version.

As for the GT-R, well, it's a supercar with a super price should you have an extra $90,000 hanging around ($100,000-plus if you'd prefer the all-black edition).

Behind the wheel, the GT-R driving experience ranged from surprisingly docile to exhilarating. There's 530 horsepower (an increase of 45 over the prior version) under your foot, ready to jump into instant action. That power comes from a 3.8-liter twin turbo V-6 and is distributed to an all-wheel-drive system.

To those of us who consider themselves adept with manual transmissions, Perry said that the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission "is far faster at shifting than even the best of you." He was right.

The suspension has three settings: normal, comfort, and "R" for ultimate handling. Even in the normal position, Jim MacPherson of The Hartford Courant quipped that "if you run over a coin, it's so sensitive you can tell whether it's a penny or a quarter."

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the car is its existence, and knowing that there's a sporting spirit at Nissan encouraging these advanced technologies that inevitably will filter through the product line.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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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
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul 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
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