2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 BaseEnlarge Photo
For all the trouble, the 1.6 Base sedan is actually a very agreeable car. Air conditioning and a sound system aren’t available—at all—and there are lots of black-plastic spacers and tabs in the instrument panel that remind you of where features you’ve forgone would be. You crank the windows, and you have to individually lock and unlock each door—a feature that we found both frustrating and novel in our week with the Versa hatchback. The upholstery is a downgraded material (sort of like a durable felt), the back seat doesn’t even fold forward or include a pass-through, and the trunk looks unfinished. On the outside, you get mirrors trimmed in dull black plastic and door handles of the same, and 14-inch tires with Pep Boys-caliber wheel covers. But it’s a new car, with six airbags, out the door for $10,710 including destination. With one of many incentives at the dealership, you can probably be out the door for $10k…or less.
And unlike some of these base models I’ve driven in the past, I didn’t notice any real difference in noise or refinement compared to our 1.8 S. The 107-horsepower, 1.6-liter comes with a five-speed manual, rather than a six-speed, but we liked the nice, neat linkage and smooth clutch takeup better than we remember the six-speed to be, and the smaller 14-inch wheels, although they don’t look as nice, seemed to offer a better ride at no detriment to handling. I didn't even expect a tach, but you get one. For a bit more than the 1.6 Base, there’s a 1.6 model that’s offered with a four-speed automatic, but we’d recommend the stick with the lesser engine, as the 1.8-liter doesn’t even deal that well with the auto’s wide ratios and can become boomy at higher speeds.
Of course, while many shoppers would much rather have a better-equipped car that’s a few years old for the same price, people have their reasons for looking at these models. Some people want the new-car warranty (now met with some certified used programs), but others simply want a car that no one else has had their grubby hands on. The salesperson volunteered that these base cars attract an odd bunch and are often bought (sometimes with cash) by people who can afford much more but for some reason or another want to keep it basic.
And when it leaves money leftover for other things, such as a bigger vacation budget or a sports car, no-frills has newfound allure.
Once a week Bengt Halvorson will be posting a column under this Frugal Shopper tag. Watching every penny of your motoring budget? Want to know when, where, and how to save the most when shopping, maintaining, and upgrading? You’ve found the right place—check back at TheCarConnection.com.