By Tim Spell, Motor Matters

The 2013 Nissan Versa has a straightforward mission -- be the sedan with a small price tag that's big on features that consumers demand.

For a starting price less than $12,000, the 2013 Versa owner gets a subcompact sedan that's stylish, roomy and fuel efficient. The Versa built on the all-new "V" (for versatile) platform, is offered in four models, priced for the budget-conscience consumer: 1.6 S, $11,990; 1.6 S Plus, $13,690; 1.6 SV, $14,990; and 1.6 SL, $16,590. Tack onto these prices $780 for destination and handling. Our test car is the top-line SL, which for an under-$20,000 car is a well-rounded offering.

Designers succeed in delivering that looks-more-expensive-than-the-price appearance. Adorning the S Plus model is a rear spoiler; the SV model adds chrome accents to the louvered grille and door handles, and body-colored side mirrors; and the SL gets a visual punch with 15-inch, seven-spoke, machine-finished aluminum-alloy wheels and fog lights.

The Versa's silhouette looks like it belongs to a larger, premium sedan. It has a short hood that meets a nose that droops to a projecting chin. The steeply raked windshield fluidly meets the roof line, which arcs a long way before meeting a short decklid. The effect of the long roof line teaming with a brief, shelf-like decklid summons visions of BMW design.

Styling at the sides is clean, with crisp lines traveling across front and rear fenders, and making artful curls at the lower body-colored fascias. Aerodynamics is above average, with the Versa cheating the wind with a low 0.31 coefficient of drag.

Inside, styling is well thought out, but it's the Versa's roominess that's most notable. An interior volume of 90 cubic feet translates into impressive room for occupants in the front and rear. Its headroom and legroom are impressive for a subcompact sedan, and rear legroom even bests that of some midsize sedans.

Front seats have good adjustability and treated my back well during a week of driving, including a 200-mile road trip. Rear seats have a comfortable recline and, on the SL model, seatbacks are 60/40 split and fold near flat to expand cargo room. The trunk with seatbacks up has a roomy 14.8 cu.-ft. of space. Upholstery is cloth, with an upgraded fabric on SV and SL models.

The dashboard design is a straightforward three-segment layout with easy-to-read analog speedometer and tachometer, and a simply design center stack. At the bottom of the center panel are climate-control knobs, interestingly arranged in a user-friendly triangular layout.

Upgrading the test car is a $900 SL-only option Technology Package with a navigation system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, NavTraffic, RearView Monitor and USB connection port. Information is displayed on a 5-inch color screen.

The SL interior is further enhanced with Nissan Intelligent Key with push-button Ignition; variable intermittent wipers; Bluetooth hands-free phone system; steering wheel audio controls; upgraded audio system; MP3/WMA CD playback capability; MP3/WMA CD playback capability; interface system for iPod; remote trunk release; and an immobilizer system.

Those aboard the five-place interior enjoy good ride quality for a car in its class, and handling is respectable. Powering the 2,465-pound sedan is a new second-generation 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which is lighter and more compact than its predecessor. It generates 109 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 107 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. Highlight features include: a dual-injector system, delivering a wider injection of fuel and a finer spray for more-stable combustion; and a twin Continuously Variable Timing Control system, which contributes to improved fuel efficiency.

The S model has a standard five-speed transmission and a four-speed automatic is optional. The others are fitted with a lighter and more-compact new-generation Xtronic CVT transmission, which operates with reduced friction and features an auxiliary gearbox, designed to boost fuel efficiency.

The 1.6-liter and stepless CVT shifting doesn't motivate the Versa with a huge kick, but the smooth-running powertrain provides adequate power and, importantly, excellent fuel economy.

Estimated fuel economy with the CVT is 31 miles per gallon city and 40 mph highway, and equipped with the five-speed manual the Versa gets 27/36 mpg.

Nissan's Versa sedan is a solid competitor in its segment, pushing the right buttons to get the attention of budget-minded consumers wanting something extra from their investment.

SPECIFICATIONS

2013 NISSAN VERSA 1.6 SL

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger subcompact FWD sedan

BASE PRICE___________________ $16,590 (as tested: $18,270)

MOTOR TYPE__________________16-valve DOHC 4-cyl. w/SMPFI

DISPLACEMENT_________________1.6-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 109 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_________________ 107 at 4400 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ CVT

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 175.4 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 34.8 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,465 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 10.8 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 31 mpg city, 40 mpg highway