The Car Connection Nissan Versa Overview
The Nissan Versa is the name applied to two different vehicles—a four-door sedan and a more practical five-door hatchback, the Versa Note. Neither offers much in the way of luxury, but their biggest selling points have always been their low prices.
Regardless of body style, both Versa variants are spacious for their subcompact size class, and both are among the most affordable vehicles in their niche.
The current Versa lineup delivers a value-priced alternative to the latest Honda Fit hatchback as well as the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Mitsubishi Mirage, and Toyota Yaris.
The Versa was most recently redesigned for the 2012 model year and hasn't been substantially updated since. For 2017, the lineup gains a new SV Special Edition package that bundles some nice features—a 5.0-inch audio system with streaming Bluetooth, alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a backup camera—for just $500. At a hair under $17,000, it's actually a pretty good value for a small car, although it's hard to overlook some of this model's inherent weaknesses compared to its domestic and Korean rivals or even a lightly used compact sedan or hatchback.
MORE: Read our 2018 Nissan Versa review
The new Nissan Versa
The current Versa four-door made its debut as a redesigned model for 2012, trading its predecessor's slab-sided lines for more rounded—some might say bulbous—shapes, and an updated Nissan corporate grille.
A new Versa Note five-door hatchback with very different styling was added as a 2014 model early in 2013; the two share a common name and some underpinnings but not a single body panel. (You can read a first drive report on the Nissan Versa Note here.)
All current Versa sedans are powered by a 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. The 1.6 S gets notably worse fuel efficiency ratings (27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined) than better-equipped models, because it is available only with a 5-speed manual gearbox or an optional 4-speed automatic. The higher-line models can be ordered with a more fuel-efficient version of Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which pushes the Versa sedan's ratings to 31/40/35 mpg.
The Versa continues to emphasize its value over any other attribute, helping the car appeal to folks who aren't necessarily looking for top performance or amazing fuel economy. It's a nice enough car to pilot in commuting, but the suspension is very soft, which hampers handling.
The Nissan Versa's lower price, however, comes with a tradeoff: a very basic interior and minimal driving feel. The latest Versa seems even more bargain-basement than ever in its features and appointments, with drum brakes across the lineup; short, flat seats; hard-and-hollow-feeling dash and door trim; and rear seatbacks that don't fold forward on the less expensive models. But for many buyers, roominess often trumps both of those qualities.
The Versa sedan and Note have very good interior room for their size class. Two normal-sized adults can even fit into the back seat in comfort, something not easily claimed by most competitors in the segment. The rear doors open wide to a back seat that's very spacious for the class, easily accommodating two adults or three kids. Those who want the most versatility should choose the Note hatchback, although it costs slightly more.
The Versa's safety ratings aren't a complete picture yet. Both the sedan and Note hatch receive four stars out of five overall from the federal government. The IIHS, meanwhile, hasn't fully tested the Versa in either configuration. The Versa Note performed well in the agency's moderate overlap front test, but hasn't been subjected to anything else so far. The sedan, on the other hand, good top marks for that test as well as side impact and roof strength.
However, the 2015 Versa lineup received a "Poor" rating—the agency's lowest—for the challenging small overlap test. The 2016 and 2017 have not yet been rated. No collision avoidance or automatic braking tech is available.
Features are meager at the entry level. Air conditioning is now standard, as is Bluetooth pairing and voice control, though power windows and locks are not. (Power mirrors were made standard for 2016.) The mid-range SV model adds the usual convenience items, including power windows and cruise control, while the top-of-the-range SL models can reach around $18,000 when fully optioned with navigation, XM NavTraffic, and USB/iPod controls.
The Versa Note was substantially revised in 2017 with a new face and headlights, updated wheels, and new paint colors. The sedan carried over unchanged from the prior year.
Nissan Versa history
When the first-generation Versa was introduced back in 2007, it was the only subcompact to have a standard 6-speed manual gearbox (something it no longer offers, sadly). Both the four-door sedan and the five-door hatchback were equipped with a 122-hp, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. At first, a conventional 4-speed automatic transmission was optional, but it was soon replaced by Nissan's CVT.
Nissan added Base models of the Versa sedan in 2009, which were powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder making 107 hp. A 5-speed manual was standard there, as were manual locks and windows, while air conditioning, a stereo, and the automatic transmission were options, all to keep the price down. This lack of features also kept weight down, making the 1.6-liter models a little more fun to drive, if not to be in for long periods of time. The 1.6 was only really adequate if you stuck with the manual transmission, however. Interestingly, the Versa 1.6 got slightly lower fuel economy than 1.8 models, with EPA ratings of 26 mpg city, 31 highway, likely due to gearing that was meant to compensate for the lower engine output.
Versa S models were better equipped, including most of the basics the Base models forewent, while range-topping SL models came with upgraded sound, height-adjustable seats, power windows and locks, keyless entry, and standard electronic stability control. Although the Versa earned reasonably good safety ratings, prior to 2010 the Base and S models didn't come with standard anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control.
For 2010, in addition to the new safety equipment, Nissan added a slightly different grille to the lineup and made large, 16-inch alloy wheels optional, as well as a navigation and a satellite radio. Intelligent Key and Rockford Fosgate sound remained major options.