Home » The Case For Cheap Cars: 2012 Nissan Versa vs All Of This Week’s Winners

The Case For Cheap Cars: 2012 Nissan Versa vs All Of This Week’s Winners

Sbsd 10 27 23
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Good morning! On this special Friday edition, we’re asking the question “why shitboxes?” by pitting all of this week’s four winners against a single challenger for the exact same price. Is it better to have a fleet of cheap clunkers than one modern-ish reliable all-rounder? We’ll see.

First, we need to know what our fourth winner is, and to my slight surprise and absolute delight, it’s the Audi.

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I do still think it would be fun to own a manual shark-nose BMW for a while, and that 528e isn’t a terrible deal at all, but up against that Audi, it doesn’t stand a chance, at least for me. Nor with most of you, it seems.

I personally own three cars: a 1971 MGB GT, a 1989 Chevy K1500 Cheyenne, and a 2013 Chrysler 300C. The Chrysler is a nice, sensible, modern car, but the only reason I have it is that I inherited it from my father. The car it replaced in my fleet, a 1995 Toyota Corolla, was absolutely a shitbox, and a damn fine one at that. Boring as hell, yes, but dead-reliable, cheap to run and insure, and a car I felt no qualms about parking anywhere. If I didn’t have the Chrysler, I’d be driving another cheap old car, I’m sure. And my plan is to rack up a good couple hundred thousand miles on Dad’s old ride, so with a little luck, it will be a shitbox someday too.

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And my trio obviously pales in comparison to some of the fleets owned by writers here. Ask Mercedes how many cars she has, and she has to think for a minute. David has crappy old cars stashed all over the world. And Gossin’s going to have to apply for a dealer’s license pretty soon, the way he buys and sells. And like me, I’m sure they’ve all been asked the same question by non-car-people friends: “Wouldn’t you just be better off with one good car?”

The answer is obvious to us: No. I need all of them. Each one serves a different purpose, and no one car can cover all that ground. Besides, if you have one car and it breaks down, you’re taking the bus. If you have multiple cars, just grab a different set of keys. But is it really that obvious? To find out, we’re going to lump all four of this week’s winning cars into a package deal, and compare them heads-to head against one car the exact same price. Will the constant needs of the many outweigh the reliability and economy of the one? You decide.

1977 Chevy C10 Bonanza – $3,999

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The first vehicle in our foursome is the oldest, and also the most expensive: a picture-perfect example of a classic “squarebody” Chevrolet pickup truck. It has the venerable 350 small-block V8, two-tone paint (three if you count the surface rust), and gobs of character. It’s also a reliable runner, and more than able to earn its keep hauling stuff around.

2003 Pontiac Bonneville – $1,700

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Next up is another General Motors product, this time a full-size front-wheel-drive sedan from GM’s coolest former brand: Pontiac. They may not have always built excitement, but in this case they built a pretty nice ride. It’s powered by another famous hunk of cast iron, the Buick-designed 3800 Series II V6. This one spent its life in the upper Midwest, so it may have some rust issues, but it runs like a champ.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker – $2,500

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Did I call that Bonneville “full size”? Excuse me; I was mistaken. This ’78 Chrysler makes it look like a toy. You’re looking at more than nineteen feet of good old American steel, slapped together on a shoestring budget by the perpetual underdog of the Big Three, in perhaps its darkest hour. And yet, here it sits, with a good-running 440 under the hood and red tufted seats that would do a bordello waiting room proud. It has been sitting for years, so it needs some work, but you could have it sailing down the highway in no time.

1985 Audi 5000S – $2,400

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Last, but certainly not least, may I present The Art Of Engineering: Audi’s infamous 5000S sedan. Designed to be a world-class highway car, and done dirty by a media hatchet job, this sleek German land missile has racked up 260,000 miles, proving the naysayers wrong. Sudden acceleration? You’re damn right. No, it’s not a turbo, but it still has enough pull to effortlessly sustain triple-digit speeds. And it’s a five-speed, the only manual of the bunch, so you get to have some fun along the way.

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If my math is correct, that brings our grand total for all four cars to $10,599. What sort of “normie” car can you get for that much money? Let’s see.

2012 Nissan Versa S – $10,599

Versa 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead can inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Boise, ID

Odometer reading: 119,000 miles

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Runs/drives? I should hope so

I’m pretty pleased that I was able to match the dollar amount exactly. I wasn’t sure where to look for a car like this; Craigslist seemed like a bad choice, Facebook even worse, and I couldn’t waste a bunch of time searching every dealer’s inventory. Then I remembered Carmax – the 800-pound gorilla in the used car game. No-haggle pricing, clean and inviting dealerships, and a huge inventory make Carmax a popular choice for people who don’t really care about cars. And here it is – a car no one really cares about. I had to screen-shot the photos to get them off Carmax’s website in a useable format; please ignore the “back/next” arrows.

Versa 3

I actually have some experience with the Versa; I’ve rented a couple of them. You probably have, too. It’s a perfectly acceptable car to drive for thirty bucks a day for a few days. It goes, it stops, it turns, it carries stuff. The air conditioning is cold and the stereo turns radio waves or digital files into sounds. It’s fine. This one is an S model, which is one of the trim levels offered, and it has a 1.8 liter engine that turns a small amount of fuel into a commensurate amount of horsepower, and a normal automatic transmission instead of a CVT. At least, I think it does, based on the shifter, but Carmax isn’t really clear; the listing just says “automatic.”

Versa 4

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This actually felt like one of the better choices available for the price. There was a whole batallion of Kias and Hyundais, mostly with the self-grenading engine option, and several Ford Focuses and Fiestas burdened with that awful PowerShift transmission. The Versa is boring, but it’s probably better built than the other options. This one has 119,000 miles on it, which seems like a lot for the price, but if you buy a car from Carmax, you’re not just paying for the car. You’re paying for the infrastructure, the no-haggle sales experience, and the ostensibly thorough pre-purchase inspection and certification. It’s like going to the mall – it’s the same old boring stuff everyone else has, but it’s a known quantity.

Versa 2

I did try to find a more interesting color than fog-gray, but apart from a red Fiesta and a blue Kia something-or-other, every car in their inventory was monochrome. I do like the greenish seats in this one. I wish I knew if they were supposed to be green, or if they started out gray and slowly faded to green in protest. Either way, it’s kinda cool. I mean, for a Versa.

There’s nothing wrong with the Versa, and I wouldn’t fault anybody for simply choosing it, or something like it, over a whole drivewayful of older, cheaper cars. I’ve tried that path before myself, and I was bored silly. But if all you need is a way to get around, and something to carry that papesan chair home from World Market, any little hatchback like this will do. It will start every morning and be easy to park and not use much fuel. Life will be good. But some of us, I’m afraid, just can’t do it. We need a beat-up old pickup truck, and a big land yacht sedan to impress the folks at Cars & Coffee, and the fussy German classic to tinker with, and also a sensible but old “normal” car for daily use. Having that many cars either makes no sense, or perfect sense, depending on the sort of person you are. So which sort are you?

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(Image credits: Versa – Carmax; all others – Craigslist sellers)

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Xpumpx
Xpumpx
8 months ago

Do you remember, during the pandemic, the grocery store aisles were completely bare except for a few oddball items. There were several people pointing out that those items should be dropped as even starving people didn’t want them. That’s what we should do here. Take all the people that voted Versa and jettison them from the site!

Stig's American Cousin
Stig's American Cousin
8 months ago

In what drug induced fever dream is a now almost 12 model year old Versa with all of those miles worth $10,599??? I know things are still is somewhat bizarro world with used car prices, but in 2012, they weren’t that much more new. And this is a very used up Nissan with the dreaded CVT. I don’t know what’s in the air in Boise or if a tired Versa is now the “it” car to have (which I doubt), but I’d take the four might be left for dead in a year cars before any Nissan that old every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago

10k for that Nissan? Wtf?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago

I wonder how many folks voting for the fleet have the space for it. Its a lot easier to tolerate a hoarder who doesn’t spill their junk collection out onto the street.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
8 months ago

I would really love to be able to take the Nissan, but it’s just not possible.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
8 months ago

I’ve rented a Versa a few times. It’s fine. In the imaginary world where we’re spending money on old shitboxes I must have room to store them, so I’ll take the fleet. If I lived in a city where parking is at a premium I would have to settle for the Versa, but that would be fine. Just not very much fun.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
8 months ago

S was the base model. In sedan trim with a manual, its original MSRP was only $301 more than this one. Of course, this has the autotragic and hatchback, which bumped the MSRP all the way up to $15,870.

If you don’t account for inflation, it’s only depreciated by 1/3 over 12 years and 120k miles! That’s pretty damned good. Accounting for inflation, the MSRP in modernbux is a smidge over $21k, so it’s still only lost a little over half its value. Not bad!

…If you couldn’t tell, this is idiotic.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
8 months ago

Fleet guy here, and deliberately so. I got my daily (Fiesta ST purchased new), adventure/utility (Suburban), and fun car (Jag XJ6) for the princely combined sum of just under $35,000 (over a period of 13 months in 2017/2018).

With regard to the choices offered that generation of Versa is an absolutely hateful little car that I suffered with all too often as a rental. I’d rather walk, bike, or take the bus.

The fleet could be fun. I genuinely like the New Yorker as a fun car/project, the Bonneville would be a good daily, truck is truck, and well, I guess the Audi would be amusing till it breaks.

Last edited 8 months ago by OrigamiSensei
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
8 months ago

Look, I realize that everything’s been grim lately and my will to live is barely hanging on by a thread, but subjecting myself to a modern Nissan product would be a step too far.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stef Schrader
Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
8 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

I’ve heard the continuously variable transmissions are very reliable.

Stig's American Cousin
Stig's American Cousin
8 months ago

Cousin, brother, or father of yours? 🙂

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
8 months ago

your username strikes fear into the hearts of man

0/10 do not trust

Racingtown
Racingtown
8 months ago

If it was anything but that Versa, I may be swayed to a 1 car purchase. A quick search in my zip shows far more engaging options for 10k. Alright, I don’t know how much more engaging a Ford Fusion is, but I’d take one of the multiple options available locally over a Versa.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
8 months ago

I mean, that’s a no-brainer…gimme the fleet. Got your beater pickup Chevy, reliable Pontiac daily, date-night Chrysler, and the Audi you’ll cuss at every time you walk through the garage. Variety is the spice of life, and these shitbox spices sure taste better than a bland Versa.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Someone please explain the how the Carmax no hassle deal is any different than walking into a dealership and agreeing to pay sticker, or what is being asked? This Versa way overpriced maybe even moreso what a dealership mark up. I would say equal to what you would get from a buy here pay here lot.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Glad to see interesting is beating boring. After upkeep, insurance, and registration I think interesting is more expensive. But I have heard enough horror stories that the Carmax inspection can be done states away with the car deep in a locked missile silo.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
8 months ago

I’ll take the fleet. I’d absolutely daily the New Yorker and the C10 and Off Road Autocross the other two. Talk about bang for the buck!

Ricki
Ricki
8 months ago

Daily drive the Audi and use the others for fun/utility. Anything the Versa can do, the Audi can do more comfortably while also looking stylish. The square body is unkillable and will turn into a Ship of Theseus like every other square body, and the Bonneville and Chrysler will both have uses of some sort, either as backups or as projects/donors.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
8 months ago

Versa.

Oh. HELL no.

My wife, who cares NOTHING about cars has tolerated me buying all sorts of vehicles, and there is only ONE that she has expressly forbidden me from ever even considering.

And it’s the Nissan Versa.

She’s driven a couple as rentals, and she has declared the seats and driving position to be the worst she has ever encountered in her nearly 38 years of driving.

We have been married nearly 29 years, and I would like to continue this streak.

Gimme the fleet.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
8 months ago

Nissan. The automatic gives me pause, but I still voted for it hoping it’s not the CVT.

I recall test driving that Nissan many many years ago with the 5MT and thinking to myself that it was a perfectly acceptable automobile. (to quote Toyota: “It’s a car!”)

It is the only hatchback on that list. So as a one-car option, it is flexible that way.
As a bonus: I needn’t worry about trying to find storage space for all four of the other vehicles (incl. the land yacht)

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