2009 Nissan Versa Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 19, 2009

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.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the new 2009 Nissan Versa—and checked out the new, budget-priced 1.6-liter version—in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com's auto experts have also researched road tests on the Versa to help you make the most informed purchase.

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.

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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.

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2009 Nissan Versa

Styling

Whether as hatchback or sedan, the jury is still out on the 2009 Nissan Versa’s styling. TheCarConnection.com thinks the hatchback is considerably better-looking.

Although bland both inside and out, the 2009 Nissan Versa is designed to offer maximum space and practicality, and it delivers.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show mixed reactions, but they tend to agree with Motor Trend's opinion that the hatchback is "the more distinct-looking sibling." Kelley Blue Book reviewers don't mind the exterior styling, contending that "the tidy Versa succeeds at not being boxy or bland," and they note the car's proportions make it "exceptionally easy to enter." Car and Driver says the style is "hardly a recipe to whet the collective American appetite." Edmunds states that "both body styles come in base 1.8 S and more upscale 1.8 SL trim levels," though the only external differences are "alloy wheels" on the 1.8 SL. The exterior of the Nissan Versa certainly isn't exciting, but it is practical and a bit of an optical illusion. Cars.com reviewers comment that "at first glance, you might think the Nissan Versa sedan is a subcompact," but in reality, it's "less than an inch shorter than a Honda Civic and just two inches shorter than a Mazda3." The reason for the subcompact appearance is the "funky front end, tall roofline and squished rear," which Cars.com considers a "look that's common to Japanese subcompacts," although on the 2009 Nissan Versa, those elements "don't flow together well."

ConsumerGuide gives the interior high marks for the "logically placed and, for the most part, clearly marked" controls. MotherProof reports that the interior is "far bigger" than it appears from the outside, while Cars.com describes it as "cavernous." Those same Cars.com reviewers also approve of the dash inside the Nissan Versa, finding that it "appears more like its big brother, the Sentra," a slightly more expensive vehicle in Nissan's 2009 lineup. The 2009 Nissan Versa is designed to maximize the space afforded by its small dimensions, and the Nissan designers have done an incredible job in that regard.

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2009 Nissan Versa

Performance

The 2009 Nissan Versa’s performance is leisurely and pedestrian, and it doesn’t pay off at the pump as well as it should.

The 2009 Nissan Versa has adequate power, but the sporty reflexes of other Nissans are absent.

According to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the new 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine provides both the fuel economy and the performance you’d expect from an engine producing 107 horsepower.

“The engine is buzzy, the ride at 80 mph is choppy and the car was all over the road on regular commutes,” says AutoWeek, adding, “Keeping the car going straight required constant sawing of the steering wheel.” The positive aspect from the same reviewer is that the Versa “is frugal on gas and will help owners feel like they are reducing our country's dependency on foreign oil. And it comes with a factory warranty.” Automotive.com reports that the Versa “has plenty of zip and there's no problem merging into traffic on a fast free-flowing freeway.” Regarding the 1.6 Sedan, AutoMedia.com comments, “When coupled with the five-speed manual and a skilled driver, it provides peppy acceleration. No downshifting was required to easily keep pace with interstate-highway traffic.”

According to Edmunds, the 1.8-liter engine delivers "122 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque," which they assert is good enough for "adequate" acceleration. However, ConsumerGuide says that "manual- and four-speed-automatic transmission versions feel labored and weak at low speed," although "hatchbacks with the CVT" are "livelier from a stop." In ConsumerGuide testing, a Nissan Versa 1.8 S with manual transmission "did 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds."

Reviews of the transmissions read by TheCarConnection.com show mixed impressions, but the CVT scores well across the board. Cars.com reviewers say "the Versa's CVT is seamless; most buyers probably won't even notice they're not driving a regular automatic." However, Edmunds recommends the "six-speed manual," provided "you don't mind shifting your own gears." They also note that the standard "four-speed automatic" is the weakest transmission choice, as the CVT "has an edge over the automatic in both performance and fuel economy." Automotive.com reports, “When you stomp on the gas pedal the sound of the engine revving instantly before the car accelerates, a phenomenon of the CVT, can be a bit disconcerting at first. We found it not unpleasant, in fact it sounds kind of fun. In regular stop-and-go traffic under slow acceleration there is no sensation other than the car moving forward smoothly with no sound or feel of shifting gears.”

The soft suspension on the 2009 Nissan Versa hurts handling, but it does make "average highway commuting comfortable," according to Car and Driver; ConsumerGuide adds that "it imparts a comfortable and controlled ride on most surfaces." Car and Driver also finds that "steering is modestly communicative," but the braking on the 2009 Nissan Versa "is well behind the competition, as is pedal feel." Edmunds comments that "the car feels tall and out of its element when going around corners, a quality accentuated by the Versa's considerable body roll and slow steering."

ConsumerGuide reviewers states that, during testing, "an SL sedan with the CVT averaged 24.5 mpg in mostly city driving," while a "test S hatchback with the 4-speed automatic averaged 24.8 mpg." EPA estimates for Nissan's 2009 Versa are somewhat disappointing, and reviewers observe even fewer miles per gallon. For the 2009 Nissan Versa, the EPA estimates that CVT-equipped vehicles will return 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, while automatics should achieve 24/32 mpg, and manuals 26/31 mpg.

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2009 Nissan Versa

Comfort & Quality

For an entry-level car, the 2009 Nissan Versa genuinely surprises in terms of comfort, room, and overall quality, especially in SL trim.

The 2009 Nissan Versa sports very impressive interior space, but engine noise and some unimpressive trim pieces detract.

TheCarConnection.com finds that "the Nissan Versa's interior is notable for its spaciousness," as Edmunds reviewers put it. There is seating for five, but squeezing an adult into the middle rear seat can be a challenge. "Tall roof makes headroom a non-issue, and its expansive legroom lets 6-foot-plus passengers sit comfortably in either the front or rear,” says Edmunds. Cars.com adds that "the backseat actually has a ton of room, more than in a lot of midsize sedans," and "the seats are reclined a bit, which helps with headroom." However, despite the admirable overall comfort in the Nissan Versa, some reviewers, such as those at MotherProof, find the rear seats aren't "that comfortable, so longer drives could start to wear on your back." Most reviewers think the seats are comfortable, though.

Inside the cabin, MotherProof reviewers are impressed by the "six cupholders." Other reviewers also approve of the practicality of the interior on Nissan's 2009 Versa, with ConsumerGuide pointing out "plenty of interior storage, including front and rear map pockets." At the back of the car, reviewers at The Auto Channel find "excellent trunk room (17.8 cubic feet)" during their drive, even with the rear seats in place, but if they need to, they could have folded those seats "to create the maximum carrying capacity of 50.4 cubic feet."

Car and Driver reviewers blast the "budget" interior and the fact that "hard plastics are omnipresent." ConsumerGuide feels that the "interior is highlighted by lots of soft-touch materials and classy looking gauges—uncommon at this price point." Cars.com testers also love the "high-quality feel of the controls and dashboard materials" on their Nissan 2009 Versa.

ConsumerGuide spotlights the intrusive noise levels of the 2009 Versa, saying, "the quiet highway ride is disturbed by modest wind noise from the mirrors and some coarse-surface tire thrum." Edmunds also notes that the CVT "results in a raucous cabin environment" characterized by "noisy and gruff" engine sounds.

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2009 Nissan Versa

Safety

Positive crash-test ratings for the 2009 Nissan Versa are slightly overshadowed by the lack of stability control and the fact that ABS is an option.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) bestows its highest rating of "good" in both frontal offset and side-impact tests on the 2009 Nissan Versa. Meanwhile, the government's testing agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), subjects the 2009 Nissan Versa to its full battery of tests and, in the end, awards four out of a possible five stars to the Versa in every category. Those categories include front impact protection and side impact protection, for both the passenger and driver sides. The ratings from these agencies apply to both the sedan and hatchback versions of Nissan's 2009 Versa.

Edmunds reports that "the 2009 Nissan Versa comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a tire-pressure monitor," but it's the conspicuously absent standard features that draw criticism. Cars.com states that "antilock brakes are optional, but an electronic stability system is not" offered at all on the Nissan's 2009 Versa. Both of these are disappointing, with MotherProof chiming in that, as far as ABS is concerned, "for the $250 it costs to add it, couldn't Nissan have just made it standard?" In terms of the absent stability system, Cars.com says that since "the government will require it be standard in all models by 2009," they would "like to see automakers add it to even their most affordable models now."

Visibility in the 2009 Nissan Versa is a trait most reviewers take note of in a positive way. ConsumerGuide contends that visibility is "good in all directions." MotherProof adds that perhaps their "favorite feature on the Versa was the small triangular windows up front where the front doors and windshield intersect," as they "help visibility a lot."

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2009 Nissan Versa

Features

The higher-trim 2009 Nissan Versa breaks the bargain mold, in its long list of standard features and its nifty options. But the Base model is a true stripper with limited appeal.

With the right options, the 2009 Nissan Versa can be outfitted like a larger, more luxurious car.

The new 1.6-liter model, however, is a budget vehicle and appropriately accessorized as one. Standard features include a rear-window defroster, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, intermittent windshield wipers, and full-length side-curtain airbags. “Driving without a radio definitely makes you easily realize you are slogging around on budget wheels,” says AutoWeek.

“At a starting price of less than $10,000 the Versa 1.6 Sedan provides everything you need and almost nothing you don’t,” says Automedia.com. “Many will enjoy the simplicity of a manual transmission, hand-cranked windows and finger-operated door locks. No reference book is needed to understand the purpose of every feature on the vehicle.”

Automedia.com continues, “The Versa is equipped with four speakers even though they’re not connected to anything. An innovative teenager with $150 and craigslist.com should be able to install a chest-thumping sound system. The Versa 1.6 Sedan offers only two options: floor mats and anti-lock brakes. At $250, ABS is an excellent choice.”

Edmunds reports "the 1.8 S starts you out with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, a four-speaker CD stereo, power mirrors, [and] a split-folding rear seat" that helps aid cargo space. The Nissan Versa 1.8 SL "adds alloy wheels; upgraded cloth upholstery; power windows and locks; cruise control," and "a six-speaker stereo with MP3 playback and an auxiliary input jack.” MotherProof thinks either model is "pretty pimped-out" for "such an economical car."

Among other available features on Nissan's 2009 Versa, you'll find "an Audio Package for SL hatchbacks" that "includes a Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer," according to Kelley Blue Book, and "a choice of XM or SIRIUS Satellite Radio, and a moonroof, are linked together as available options on the SL trim level." The 2009 Nissan Versa typically offers its features in packages, but they do allow for a decent amount of personalization. ConsumerGuide reports that the available Power Package on the Nissan Versa 1.8 S adds "power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry," and several other features that are standard on the 1.8 SL, while the SL's available Convenience Package includes a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls" and "wireless cell phone link."

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