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2014 Nissan Versa Note: First Drive

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The Nissan Versa sedan was new for 2012, but for all kinds of global-product reasons, the company carried over the previous-generation Versa Hatchback for a couple of years.

At last, a new Versa hatchback is here, only its name has morphed into Versa Note. Will it eventually just become the Nissan Note, as it is around the world? Only Nissan's internals, and maybe their personal trainers, know.

On paper, the 2014 Versa Note makes a case as a strong rival to the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent. The Versa sedan is the cheapest car you can buy in the U.S., and the hatch is close, at $14,780 including destination. It's inexpensive, roomy, has lots of technology features available, and it's fuel-efficient.

But how does this all translate in the real world?

A tidy package

The Versa Note is a tidy package. With short front and rear overhangs, it has an aero-smoothed shape that while not exciting, isn't as boring as the Toyota Yaris. Drag is somewhat low, at 0.3, and the taillights have similarities to the Juke and 370Z with a swoosh-like design. The Versa Note's rear end most resembles the Hyundai Accent hatchback, which isn't bad company.

Our favorite design element is the character line on the sides, which Nissan calls the squash line. It's supposed to remind you of the power and movement of a squash player, not of the vegetable.

The interior is arranged around a dual-cockpit theme, with two sweeping lines on the dashboard. The climate controls consist of three easy-to-use knobs. We dig the dual-gloveboxes, but the air vents on the side of the dashboard are round while the ones on the center stack are square. It's inconsistent. The dashboard is all hard plastic, but that's typical in this car class.

The CVT's ultimate app?

Under the hood of all 2014 Versa Notes there's a 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission in the base car, or a CVT in upper trim models. This second-generation Nissan CVT is one of the better ones on the market, as it doesn't have that rubber-band like feeling when you wind it up. If you opt for the CVT, don't expect to get paddle shifters. Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to test the base Versa Note with a five-speed manual transmission.

With EPA ratings of 31 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined, the 2014 Versa Note has great fuel economy. Our Versa Note said we averaged 32 mpg combined after zeroing out, with the air conditioning blasting and a heavy foot on the accelerator, but we'll reserve judgement until we can fill the tank ourselves.

On the road the Versa Note has no pretensions of being sporty or fun, but it is rather refined. While we like the weight of the steering, but there's a distinct lack of communication as to what's going on with the tires on the road. Power comes on smoothly and things pick up a bit around 3,000 rpm. The soft suspension manages to soak up road imperfections without losing its composure, an impressive feat for this class.

While it's impressive that the new Versa Note is 302 pounds lighter than the previous generation, it's even more impressive how quiet and refined it is on the highway for a subcompact vehicle. Few clunks or thunks make their way into the cabin. Nissan went to great lengths to tweak the aerodynamics of the Versa Note, and there's quite a bit of sound deadening placed around the vehicle.


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