New & Used Nissan Versa: In Depth
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The Nissan Versa is one of the most spacious subcompact cars on the market, with both the four-door sedan and the five-door hatchback Note model offering abundant interior volume. There's enough room in the back to fit two normal-sized adults and still have a comfortable ride.
It's also one of the most affordable entries in the segment, and the tradeoff comes in its very basic interior and minimal driving feel. Still, roominess often trumps both of those qualities, and the current Versa sells effectively against the Honda Fit hatchback as well as the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and Toyota Yaris. In other markets, the Versa is sold under different badges; the first-generation models were known as the Tiida elsewhere, while today's sedan is the Nissan Latio and the hatchback is known simply as the Note.
Nissan added Base models of the Versa sedan in 2009, powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 107 hp. A five-speed manual was standard, as were manual locks and windows, while air conditioning and the automatic were options, all to keep the price down. This lack of features also kept the 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 in the city and 31 highway.
The Versa Base didn't come with air conditioning, power locks, a sound system, and many other things that are sometimes taken for granted. Versa S models are better equipped, including most of those basics, and range-topping SL models come 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, in models prior to 2010 the Base and S models haven'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 an XM Satellite Radio package. Intelligent Key and Rockford Fosgate sound remained major options.
The new Nissan Versa
The current Versa four-door model was entirely redesigned for 2012, trading its predecessor's slab-sided lines for more rounded contours, curvier shapes, and the new Nissan corporate grille. To round out the range, an all-new Versa Note five-door hatchback was added as a 2014 model early in 2013, though it shares not a single body panel with the sedan. The new Versa Note is related to the Versa sedan only by their shared nameplate. (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 four-cylinder engine. The Versa 1.6 S sedan--Nissan's cheapest model in its U.S. lineup--starts below $13,000, including a mandatory destination fee. And air conditioning is now standard, even at that price, though power accessories--windows, locks, mirrors--are not. The 1.6 S gets notably worse fuel efficiency ratings (27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway) than better-equipped models, because it is available only with a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed automatic transmission. 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 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.
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. While materials can have an inexpensive feel, both versions of the Versa use switchgear that's just like that in bigger, pricier Nissans. 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.
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 new 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 trims; and rear seatbacks that don't fold forward on the more affordable models. Surprisingly, the Versa's safety ratings aren't stellar either.