2013 Nissan Versa Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 21, 2013

The 2013 Nissan Versa is at its best up against used cars: If you can overlook some cheap-feeling details, it's a reasonably comfortable, well-equipped new car, for used-car money.

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.

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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.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Styling

Like a bargain-basement suit, the 2013 Nissan Versa impresses as contemporary and upscale from across the lot, but the impression doesn't entirely hold up close.

The Nissan Versa Sedan models were redesigned last year, with a curvier, lower roofline, and a quite different look overall compared to the more upright models they replaced. Meanwhile the previous-generation Versa Hatchbacks remain for sale, as 2012 models, through the 2012 calendar year.

Simply put, the Versa has some of the proportions and design elements of larger Nissan and Infiniti sedans—including the new 2013 Nissan Altima and the latest Infiniti M sedans. More European surfacing of the side sheetmetal, an all-new grille design, and tail lamps that flow more neatly from the sides are part of this design.

Does Nissan manage to pull off this 'little big sedan' approach? From the side, the curvier, lower roofline looks quite attractive, with the flowing side creases adding interest. At the same time, the Versa can look awkward and ungainly from some other angles, and the swept-back, shorter-hood, longer-trunk look (Nissan reapportioned some space with last year's redesign) can seem out of place in a small sedan.

The redesign of the Versa inside is less controversial, and while it's cohesive and impressive overall for being one of the most affordable sedans in the U.S. market, it can feel more as a collection of cues and switchgear from other Nissan vehicles. We like the round, aimable vents, but oddly there's no wrap-around continuity between the dash and doors, and there's just as much hard plastic.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Performance

You'll find the 2013 Nissan Versa just able to merge safely and keep up with traffic alright, but there's nothing to get excited about.

It's clear that interior space and value were priorities over performance when Nissan worked to redesign the Versa. Many subcompacts have been given more behind-the-wheel verve, but the Versa isn't one of them. 

A 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine powers all Nissan Versa models; there's no direct injection here, but it does have a dual fuel-injection system plus twin continuously variable valve timing. Base S Sedans include either a notchy five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission (new this year), while most of the model lineup includes a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

While we haven't spend enough time with either the manual or the automatic, the new-generation version of the CVT has a wider span of ratios; while that helps it achieve better mileage. But with slow 0-60-mph times of around 11.5 seconds and especially sluggish response for quick bursts of passing or merging power, the Versa remains among the slowest small sedans on the market.

There's not much else to add enthusiasm. The electric power steering system is light and precise, as well as easy to place on tight city streets, but it stays too light at highway speeds and requires constant small adjustments. All models come with anti-lock front disc and rear drum brakes.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Comfort & Quality

If you're okay with a no-frills feel throughout, the Versa Sedan is quite spacious and comfortable.

Nissan boasts that the Versa Sedan has the cabin space of a mid-size sedan. If you go strictly by the numbers that may be true; but we wouldn't call it upscale in any way, or capable of making a car full of average or taller adults truly comfortable.

The front seats in the Versa have an odd construction that contours around your back and holds you in place; yet the bottom cushions let you slide around, and they're quite short. Trunk space is huge for a subcompact or compact sedan, but it's odd that rear seatbacks don't fold forward—not even as a single piece—on many of the models. Chalk it up to cost-cutting.

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).

In CVT versions especially, there's quite a lot of engine noise when accelerating; road coarseness is also an issue inside, especially on the highway, even though you'd think the soft suspension would soak up some of it. You won't mistake the Versa's interior for anything much above its price point.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Safety

Simply put, you could do better than the 2013 Versa if safety if your priority.

The Versa Sedan was just redesigned this past year, with an all-new body structure. Yet it hasn't returned safety ratings that are much better than those of the previous model.

Looking at the Nissan Versa's safety ratings from the two U.S. test agencies is confusing, to say the least. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Versa Sedan top ratings in all categories, as well as the Top Safety Pick designation. Meanwhile it earns just three stars for frontal impact from the federal government (with four stars for side impact and overall).

With roof-mounted side airbags covering all outboard occupants, plus standard electronic stability control and front side-impact torso airbags, all the basic small-car safety bases are covered.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Features

At a bottom-line price below $12,800 for a base S model, the Versa is a price and value leader for the U.S. auto market; well-equipped Versas cost thousands more though.

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.

Versa SV models have a much better feature set; they get cruise control; power windows and locks; keyless entry; chromed door handles; plus numerous trim and visual upgrades. Cloth door trim, chromed interior door handles, and a driver's seat armrest are among the features added for 2013.

Several popular features like a split-folding rear seat, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and fog lamps, are only standard on the top SL. For 2013, Nissan has broadened SL standard equipment to include Intelligent Key, a remote keyfob trunk release, an immobilizer, sin-visor extensions, and a driver's seat armrest. 

Top options, all in simplified packages, include Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio, a navigation system with XM NavTraffic, and USB/iPod controls.

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2013 Nissan Versa

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Nissan Versa is quite fuel-efficient; and the best mileage is reserved for the more expensive CVT models.

With improved aerodynamics and new powertrains, the redesigned Versa Sedan models that were introduced last year had much-improved gas mileage.

Much of those gains were attributed to models with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which got the best mileage of the lineup. And for 2013, Nissan has managed to improve highway ratings on all of its CVT models—S Plus CVT, SV, and SL—by 2 mpg, to 40 mpg.

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For those who loathe the way CVTs drive, there's the 2013 Nissan Versa S Sedan, offered with either a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Neither of these choices are as fuel-efficient as the CVT, though some may prefer their drivability. EPA ratings stand at 27/36 mpg for the manual or 26/35 with the conventional automatic.
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July 19, 2015
2013 Nissan Versa 4-Door Sedan Manual 1.6 S

No Frills Great car for the price

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I have 45000 miles on my versa. No problems so far. I average 40.3 mpg since new. Not fast not exciting but gets you where you need to go while only sipping fuel. Looked at other options when I was buying no... + More »
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