2014 Nissan Versa Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 22, 2014

As one of the lowest-priced new cars, the 2014 Nissan Versa and Versa Note are best matched up against a slightly upmarket late-model used car; while it's not sporty, it is roomy, with good packaging and lots of available technology.

If you want cheap transportation—and the benefits of having a new car (and a new-car warranty)—and you're okay forgoing some refinement, style, and technology in the name of that goal, then the 2014 Nissan Versa sedan and Versa Note do belong on your shopping list.

It is, certainly, a matter of managed expectations—of cars that can strike you as quite sophisticated for the money, provided you're not too tuned in to the details. The Versa Sedan gets your hopes up from some paces away, where its curvy roofline and flowing sheetmetal actually manage to look a little Infiniti-influenced from some angles. The proportions don't work out as well from the side or rear, where the Versa Sedan can be a bit awkward. As for the Versa Note, it gets a far more interesting design on the outside—with different sheetmetal, details (like sportier designs for the headlights and taillights), proportions that make it less homely than its sedan counterpart. Inside, the Note is much the same as the sedan, however. Essentially, it's back to small-car tradition, with an undeniably basic, almost parts-bin look to the collection of cues and switchgear.

Nissan has, with the its latest 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) managed to boost gas mileage by several mpg versus the last-generation Versa models, and now for 2014 the new Note takes advantage of that, too, with ratings of up to 40 mpg highway. 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 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. While the steering is reasonably well-weighted, it's just too light and requires too many small corrections at speed. Add it all up and you have a car that has no pretensions of being sporty or fun (and isn't).

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What the Versa Sedan and Versa Note do provide is impressive ride comfort. The soft suspension manages to soak up road imperfections without losing its composure—an impressive feat in this class. Few clunks or thunks make their way into the cabin; and with more sound deadening and better aerodynamics, it's reasonably quiet as long as you're not pressing the powertrain. Space efficiency is the other major strength; either of these models are very spacious considering the 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 in most Versa Sedans the rear seatbacks don't fold—not even as a single piece. The trunk is huge, though. Hatchbacks do better with versatility, of course, and they have a new Divide-N-Hide feature that lets you hide items in back while keeping a flat cargo floor.

The Versa's safety information 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 in recent model years the Sedan has earned just three stars for frontal impact from the federal government (with four stars for side impact and overall). It does include 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.

Base 2014 Nissan Versa S models come with manual wind-up windows, no power mirrors, and strictly the basics, but air conditioning is included in all trims. The S model is the only model offering either the manual transmission or a four-speed automatic transmission. Above that, there's a new Versa Sedan S Plus CVT model, replacing the S CVT and adding standard cruise control along with active grille shutters. Mid-level Versa SV models add Bluetooth, upgraded cloth seats with six-way adjustability for the driver, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and chrome and silver interior accents. And on the top SL, you can option up to things like fog lamps, heated seats, and a navigation system with NissanConnect (XM NavTraffic, app capability, and point-of-interest features) and an Around View Monitor.
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2014 Nissan Versa

Styling

The 2014 Nissan Versa sedan is like cheap suit -- impressive from a distance, disappointing up close. Versa Note hatchbacks have a better look, though.

If you expect your small cars to be smaller, scaled-down versions of bigger sedans, the 2014 Nissan Versa might be right on the mark design-wise. On the other hand, those who think small cars should be either a little sportier or fashion-forward might not even think of considering the Versa. 

With the introduction of a new Nissan Versa Note hatchback model for 2014, the Versa lineup includes two different models—Sedan and Note hatchback—that need to be taken individually from a styling standpoint. The Versa Sedan, with a somewhat curvier, lower roofline, and a quite different look overall compared to the boxier, more upright models they replaced a couple of years ago, visually seems to be aspiring to look more organic and flowing, like the mid-size Altima, or the latest Infinity-brand sedans. Add in its more European surfacing of the side sheetmetal, drawn-back grille, and neat taillamps, and it's a design that works well taken as individual details and cues. Yet Nissan doesn't quite manage to pull off the 'little big sedan' approach; what doesn't work as well is the Versa Sedan's proportions, which seem a little awkward from the side and rear.

As for the Versa Note, it gets a far more interesting design on the outside—with different sheetmetal, details (like sportier designs for the headlights and taillights), proportions that make it less homely than its sedan counterpart.

The Versa Note's short front and rear overhangs, aero-smoothed shape, and general proportions settle better than those of the Sedan from many paces back. not exciting, isn't as boring as the Toyota Yaris. The hatch gets completely different styling in back, with taillights that have similarities to the Juke and 370Z, with a swoosh-like design. Our favorite design element is the character line on the sides, which Nissan calls the squash line—which is supposed to emulate the movement of a squash player (not the vegetable).

Inside, both models have a little more in common—especially if you're talking about the area from the front seats forward. Essentially, it's back to small-car tradition, with an undeniably basic, almost parts-bin look to the collection of cues and switchgear. 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 like the dual-gloveboxes, but find it odd how Nissan gives these models round air vents on either side of the dashboard while the center stack gets rectangular ones. Furthermore, hard plastic is typical in this class, but the Versa has an abundance of it.

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2014 Nissan Versa

Performance

The 2014 Versa can merge and keep up with traffic, but save all your excitement for something sportier.

It's clear that Nissan prioritizes interior space and value over performance in the Versa. Provided you understand that, you're probably going to be okay with the idea that this is a model that doesn't even pretend to be all that fast or responsive. 

What powers the 2014 Nissan Versa is basic and economical. The 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine comes with a dual fuel-injection system plus twin continuously variable valve timing, and with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) can achieve 40 mpg on the highway. 

Unfortunately, the Versa isn't very enjoyable to drive—especially with the CVT and its hesitant responses (think 11.5-second 0-60 mph times and sluggish passing). The engine can also 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. Steering is reasonably well-weighted, but it's just too light and requires too many small corrections at speed. Add it all up and you have a car that has no pretensions of being sporty or fun (and isn't).

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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2014 Nissan Versa

Comfort & Quality

Cabins in either the Versa sedan or Versa Note hatchback are spacious and comfortable but unabashedly low-frills.

If you want to get the most comfortable new car for the least money, the 2014 Nissa Versa is one of the better picks; among compact sedans and hatches, it excels in passenger space and ride comfort.

Nissan boasts that the Versa Sedan has the cabin space of a mid-size sedan; that might be a stretch (and a stretch of the numbers), but the Versa Sedan can accommodate four average-sized adults surprisingly well. 

Just don't expect to absolute comfort of a larger sedan. 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. The middle position in the back seat, whether you go with the Versa Note hatchback or the Versa Sedan, is tight as well as not as comfortably contoured as the outboard positions.

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. In hatchbacks, however, all rear seats are 60/40-split and fold forward, with a special Divide-N-Hide system that creates a flat cargo floor, yet with recessed areas underneath to either hide smaller items or accommodate larger, taller ones.

With the standard 60/40-split fold-down rear seat folded down, a large flat cargo area is created. With the rear seats folded down, the Divide-N-Hide® system creates a flat cargo area. Lifting up the cargo floor board reveals a hidden area underneath to keep valuables out of sight. When more space is needed for carrying taller or bulkier items, lowering the floor board creates a deeper cargo well.

For such an inexpensive vehicle, it is exceptionally refined, however. 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 (although we;ve heard a lot of engine noise in prior drives of Versa Sedans and CVT models seem especially boomy). The Versa's suspension is soft and absorbent compared to many other small-car models, so ride quality is quite good, and the Versa does well in soaking up urban potholes or freeway choppiness.

One criticism—especially if you're cross-shopping mid-market models from even a few model years ago—is that the Versa's cabin appointments feel decidedly economy class, and never anything above that. Materials and trims are hard and hollow.

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2014 Nissan Versa

Safety

If safety is your priority, you could do better than the 2014 Versa.

The 2014 Nissan Versa lineup is at last all-new, with the introduction of the new Nissan Note hatchback alongside the current-generation Versa Sedan, which was redesigned two model years ago. But that's not entirely great news; while these models are built on an all-new body structure, they haven't done much better than the previous models in crash-test ratings.

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; although it hasn't been tested in the tougher new IIHS small overlap frontal test. Ratings from the federal government aren't nearly as good; it earns just three stars for frontal impact from the federal government (with four stars for side impact and overall). Versa Note hatchbacks do only slightly better in the federal tests, with five stars for side impact but the same frontal and overall scores.

Across the lineup for the Versa or Versa Note, all the typical small-car safety bases are covered. You get roof-mounted side airbags covering all outboard occupants, plus standard electronic stability control and front side-impact torso airbags.

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2014 Nissan Versa

Features

The Versa remains a price and value leader for the U.S. auto market.

Of course, the base features set in the 2014 Nissan Versa is completely different than the feature set you'll find in a mid-size sedan, or in a luxury sedan—but that's to be expected for a vehicle that starts at just $12,780. Yes it's bargain-basement, but you do get quite a lot of features for the money.

Base 2014 Nissan Versa S models come with manual wind-up windows, no power mirrors, and strictly the basics, but air conditioning is included in all trims. The S model is the only model offering either the manual transmission or a four-speed automatic transmission. Above that, there's a new Versa Sedan S Plus CVT model, replacing the S CVT and adding standard cruise control along with active grille shutters.

Mid-level Versa SV models are a significant step above that, adding Bluetooth, upgraded cloth seats with six-way adjustability for the driver, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and chrome and silver interior accents.

To the SV, you can add the Convenience Package, with its upgraded audio and 4.3-inch display, including SiriusXM Satellite Radio (SiriusXM subscription required, sold separately), USB input with iPod control, RearView Monitor, rear seat armrest with cupholders, and a Divide-N-Hide® Adjustable Floor that helps with cargo stowage.

Add the SL package, and you get Intelligent Key, an immobilizer system, sun-visor extensions, and a driver's seat armrest. And you can step up to the SL Package with things like fog lamps, heated seats, and a navigation system with NissanConnect (XM NavTraffic, app capability, and point-of-interest features) and a a rearview monitor and Around View Monitor.

An SL Tech Package brings all of those upgrades, with a 5.8-inch color touch screen, voice recognition, points-of-interest via Google, Bluetooth streaming audio, a hands-free text-messaging assistant, and heated side mirrors. 

Any of the Versa Note models can also be optioned up with a Sport Value Package, adding a rear spoiler and 15-inch alloy wheels.

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2014 Nissan Versa

Fuel Economy

The highest mpg numbers are reserved for the more expensive CVT models in the lineup.

The current-generation Nissan Versa models get strong fuel economy—especially if you get a model with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Last year, Nissan managed to improve highway ratings on all of its CVT models—S Plus CVT, SV, and SL—by 2 mpg, to 40 mpg (and 31 mpg city). Those numbers carry through to all the 2014 models, including the Versa Note hatchback—although the Note isn't offered with the four-speed automatic transmission.

EPA ratings for the entire lineup stand at 27/36 mpg for the five-speed manual or 26/35 with the conventional automatic.

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Styling 6
Performance 6
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