- Fashionable hatchback style
- Nice, simple instrument panel
- Smooth ride and lack of road noise
- Spacious cabin and comfy seats
- Noisy engine under acceleration with CVT/auto
- Not as fuel-efficient as it should be
- Overly light steering feel
- Isn’t very agile
The 2009 Nissan Versa hits the mark in offering shoppers with the tightest of budgets a comfortable, economical, and roomy small car that’s, in hatchback form, also quite good-looking.
The Nissan Versa hatchback and sedan were completely new for 2007; for 2009, the model lineup expands with the introduction of a new 1.6-liter model. While last year’s entry model started just short of $13,000, the new Base 1.6-liter model starts at just $9,990, making it one of the cheapest vehicles in the U.S. market.
Those bargain-priced models—the 2009 Nissan Versa and Versa Base—include a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine delivering 107 horsepower. The appropriately named Base model can be paired only with a five-speed manual. The other 1.6-liter model offers either the manual or a four-speed automatic. Fuel economy ratings with the 1.6-liter and manual transmission are 26 mpg city, 34 highway. Oddly, the 1.6-liter is only offered in the sedan body style. The 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine that was previously standard is now offered on the rest of the line and comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while Nissan's continuously variable Xtronic transmission is available on the top SL, with other models offering an optional four-speed automatic. Despite having more power on tap, fuel economy for the 1.8-liter is about the same in the city, at 26 mpg, but it has a lower 31-mpg highway rating.
The new 1.6-liter engine provides only adequate performance with the optional four-speed automatic transmission; it feels winded at highway speeds and doesn’t deal well with the wide ratios. The manual gearbox in the Versa is light and precise, making the little Base sedan feel surprisingly perky. The manual is our recommendation with either engine, as the automatics bring more engine noise. Between the two automatics, TheCarConnection.com slightly prefers the conventional four-speed to the Xtronic CVT in the Versa, although we’re told that plenty of shoppers like the CVT for its unobtrusive feel. A sport mode on the Xtronic allows it to hold higher revs (an unappealing drone, admittedly) for improved performance.
The Versa rides very comfortably compared to other small cars, but it doesn't handle as nimbly as expected because of its nearly 2,800-pound weight in top trims. The power steering is also a bit too light at times. Otherwise, at cruising speeds, the Versa has a relatively quiet interior with little road noise.
As either a hatchback or a sedan, the 2009 Versa is exceptionally roomy. The hatchback has a generous 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the backseat up, trunk space is vast for such a small car in the sedan, and Nissan says the amount of interior space approaches that of mid-size cars. Although it’s obviously narrower, legroom and headroom are plentiful. Overall, the dash, instrument panel, and switchgear feel like they were lifted from Nissan's more expensive offerings. The seats in the 2009 Nissan Versa are among the most comfortable of any small car, and the wide-opening doors in back provide for refreshingly easy entry and exit.
Though they start at around $10,000, base-model Versas don’t come with much. There’s no air conditioning and no sound system, and neither is offered as a factory option. Windows and locks are manual, plus side mirrors and some of the interior trim use a downgraded black plastic—with lots of cheap plastic spacers where things like the A/C button would be. The non-base 1.6-liter does come with A/C but not much more. The 2009 Nissan 1.8-liter Versa S is much better equipped, with plenty of standard features, such as a 120-watt AM/FM/CD sound system with four speakers, a rear defroster, and air conditioning with filtration. The SL upgrades to a 180-watt system with a built-in six-disc changer, six speakers, and an auxiliary input, plus cruise control, alloy wheels, height-adjustable seats, a rear center armrest with cup holders, keyless entry, an overhead console, and power locks, windows, and mirrors.
A Sport Package adds a host of appearance extras to the 2009 Nissan Versa SL, including a rear roof spoiler, chin and side sill spoilers, and fog lights. The Sedans with Sport packages get a new chin spoiler, while Hatchbacks get new front and rear-end treatments. Other options on the Versa include Intelligent Key, Bluetooth compatibility, a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, an MP3 player input jack, and XM Satellite Radio.
The 2009 Nissan Versa provides front seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain bags are standard, but electronic stability control isn't offered, and anti-lock brakes are optional for $250. The Versa earns four-star ratings from the federal government in both frontal and side impact but got top Good ratings from the insurance-affiliated IIHS in frontal, side, and rear impact tests, making it one of the safest cars its size.