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The Nissan Versa takes the lighter approach to subcompact sedans; rather than focusing on style and technology, it chooses to target price and size on a budget. It's a simple effort, with a spacious cabin and gas mileage telling almost all of the story behind its low price.From a distance, the Versa Sedan looks to have upward aspirations. With its curvier, lower roofline, the latest Versa strays from its boxy predecessor and borrows some of the proportions from larger Nissan and Infiniti models (with a grille design that matches the new Sentra and Altima), along with some European influence in its flowing sheetmetal and details. Inside, it's back to small-car tradition, with an undeniably basic, almost parts-bin look to the collection of cues and switchgear.
With last year's redesign, Nissan managed to boost gas mileage by several mpg across the lineup, and for 2013 Versa Sedan models with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) manage to hit the lofty 40-mpg highway mark. Unfortunately, the Versa isn't very enjoyable to drive—especially with the CVT and its sluggish responses, in addition to 11.5-second 0-60 mph times. The 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine can also now be had with a traditional four-speed automatic transmission or five-speed manual, but both of those are only offered in base Versa S versions. Overall, the driving experience is barely enough to keep the pulse going, with light yet precise electric power steering system that feels right for urban driving but requires too many small adjustments at speed.
Inside, the Versa Sedan is comfortable, and it's very spacious considering its exterior size, but we wouldn't try to make four taller adults try to travel together here. The seats are short and flat and not all that comfortable, and in back it's surprising that rear seatbacks don't fold—not even as a single piece—on much of the lineup. The trunk is huge, though.
The Versa's suspension is soft and absorbent compared to many other small-car models, so ride quality is quite good, and the Versa soaks up urban potholes or freeway choppiness quite well. Materials and trims are no revelation here; the hard and hollow dash materials impress as every bit as cheap as the Versa's sub-$13,000 base price (including destination), and ever-present road and engine noise don't prove otherwise.
Value for the dollar is pretty much the main motivation for most shoppers considering the 2013 Nissan Versa, and this year Nissan has added value, with more standard features, on its mid-range SV and top-of-the-line SL models. Meanwhile, at a bottom-line price starting below $12,800 for the base Versa S, it's one of the most affordable models in the U.S. market—even if it does feel a bit bargain-basement.
Base S models come with manual wind-up windows, no power mirrors, and strictly the basics, but air conditioning is included in all trims. This year, in addition to the manual-transmission Versa S, Nissan has added an S model with a four-speed automatic transmission, and all S models now come with a cargo-area lamp. Above that, there's a new Versa Sedan S Plus CVT model, replacing the S CVT and adding standard cruise control. Mid-level Versa SV and top-level SL models also get some additional standard features. Options include Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio, and a navigation system with XM NavTraffic.