2016 Nissan Versa Review

Consumer Reviews
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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 27, 2016

The 2016 Nissan Versa sedan and Versa Note hatchback are no-frills transportation with plenty of space, but poor safety and performance ratings.

It's possible to get a new car that offers a surprisingly good equipment list for less money than a lot of people pay for a used car. The 2016 Nissan Versa is that car, or one of them. It's comfortable, smooth, and remarkably large inside for its size. You will, however, sacrifice performance, driving fun, and any semblance of premium materials or controls to do so. That's a trade-off many people are willing to make.

The Versa sedan takes after its larger siblings, the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima sedans, with a strong family resemblance that was underscored by last year's front-end redesign. It's very obviously a Nissan when you look at it. While it can appear refined, with an arched roofline and sheet metal that have a few luxury Infiniti cues, the proportions don't work as smoothly at the front or rear. Up close and especially inside, the undeniably basic role of the car is immediately apparently, with trim, switches, and other controls still have a very simple, parts-bin look.

The 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 that's the Versa's sole powerplant is underpowered against many competitors, and to get the 35-mpg combined fuel economy, you have to specify the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is sluggish. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph takes 11.5 seconds, and the powertrain will howl and boom if you press it hard.

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The base Leaf S model comes standard with a 5-speed manual, and it has an optional 4-speed automatic, one of the few left in any car these days. Those are less expensive, but you pay for it in fuel efficiency, which falls to 30 mpg combined—below par for the segment.

While the Versa's steering is reasonably well-weighted, it's very light and requires far too many small corrections to stay on track at higher speeds. Add it all up and you have a car that is far from fun or sporty to drive—and isn't trying to be. What you do get is space efficiency and a comfortable ride, which both the Versa sedan and the Versa Note hatchback provide in spades. The soft suspension manages to soak up road imperfections without losing its composure, which is an impressive feat in this class.

The front seats are puzzling: well-bolstered in the backrests, but with short, flat, unsupportive bottom cushions. Four adults can fit into a Versa, though it's best if they're not among your very tallest friends. The rear seat is also a head-scratcher, with only upper trim levels getting the folding back rest that lets you double the space of the large trunk and use the Versa as a shopping hauler or moving van for flat-pack furniture. The Versa Note offers a new cargo management feature that lets you hide items in back while keeping a flat cargo floor.

With a focus on noise suppression and seemingly good build quality—no thunks or clunks—the Versa pair are reasonably quiet as long as you're not pressing the powertrain. Drive in a relaxed fashion and they'll be fine.

Safety, however, is not a strong spot. Both the Versa Sedan and the Versa Note hatchback have only the expected equipment, and their safety ratings are checkered. You get roof-mounted side airbags covering all outboard occupants, plus standard electronic stability control and front side-impact torso airbags. Federal testers give the Versa four stars out of five in all tests, and the IIHS gives it the worst rating of "Poor" on the new small-overlap front crash test.

The feature set is remarkably complete for a car base-priced under $13,000. All Versa models get air conditioning, power mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and hands-free calling. But you'd better be comfortable winding up your own windows. Mid-level Versa SV models are a significant step above that, adding upgraded cloth seats with six-way adjustability for the driver, chrome and silver interior accents, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The Versa SL brings a driver's seat armrest, Intelligent Key, an immobilizer system, and sun-visor extensions. You can add further options, like like fog lamps, heated seats, a navigation system with NissanConnect (XM NavTraffic, app capability, and point-of-interest features), and either a rearview camera or surround-view cameras. Finally, the Tech Package adds a 5.8-inch touchscreen, points-of-interest via Google, Bluetooth streaming audio, voice recognition, a hands-free text-messaging assistant, and heated side mirrors. 

The 2016 Nissan Versa sedan gets good fuel economy ratings if it's equipped with the CVT, at 31 mpg city, 40 highway, 35 combined. An ancient 4-speed automatic transmission is lower, 26/35/30 mpg—and the cheapest model, with a 5-speed manual gearbox comes 27/36/30 mpg.

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2016 Nissan Versa

Styling

The 2016 Nissan Versa has an attractive shape but is let down by its interior; the Versa Note hatchback is a bit better.

The 2016 Nissan Versa is very clearly the smallest sedan in a lineup that extends up through the Sentra, the Altima, and the Maxima. It shares exterior styling cues, although in an earlier iteration than the newer Maxima now that it's in its fifth model year. It was freshened up last year to make its front end slightly racier and give the grille more chrome.

The Versa tries to emulate the larger cars, but with fewer and less expressive swoops and flourishes—not surprising given its size. The large headlights, front-end sculpting, and full-chrome grille are echoed in the larger Nissans, but more gracefully. But it sits on small wheels and has fewer highlights in the side panels, giving it a slightly dumpy look against its crisper siblings.

We find the Versa Note hatchback, which joined the lineup in 2013, a more interesting design. Its proportions aren't as homely, and it actually shares no sheet metal at all with its sedan namesake. It too has sporty lines to its headlights, and swoosh-shaped taillights that evoke the Juke or 370Z and characterize the brand, plus shorter front and rear overhangs. Our favorite design element is the character line on the sides, which Nissan calls the "squash" line. Somehow its general proportions avoid the low-rent appearance of the sedan—which, admittedly, sells in far higher numbers.

Inside, there's more in common between the high-volume sedan and the rarer Versa Note hatchback, both sharing a dual-cockpit theme. While hard plastic is typical in this class, the Versa has an abundance of it. Last year's update made the sedan's center stack more like that of the Note, added a new and "more substantial" steering-wheel design, and switched instrument-panel lighting to white.

The effect remains undeniably basic, and it follows small-car tradition in offering a collection of cues and buttons that will be similar to those who've spent time in other smaller Nissan models. In either model, the climate controls are three simple, easy-to-use knobs. We like the dual glove boxes, but question why Nissan chose round air vents on either side of the dashboard but rectangular ones for the center stack.

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2016 Nissan Versa

Performance

The 2016 Nissan Versa is capable in traffic but not much more, with little power and sloppy suspension.

Driving excitement is largely absent from the 2016 Nissan Versa, though to be fair, it doesn't claim to be particularly fast or responsive. It delivers on its mission of delivering a lot of interior space and value—and performing adequately, while delivering good fuel economy. So "adequate" is probably the best adjective for what it's like to drive.

Its 1.6-liter inline-4 is rated at just 109 horsepower, one of the lowest outputs in the class. With the continuously variable transmission (CVT), it can achieve 35 mpg combined and 40 mpg on the highway. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph, however, takes 11.5 seconds, and the CVT is sluggish when you need to pass. Leisurely drivers will be content, but if you equate small with perky—think Mini Cooper—you should look elsewhere.

You can also get the base-model Versa S with a 5-speed manual gearbox or an ancient 4-speed automatic transmission. Either one delivers only 30 mpg combined, and those models can feel even more sluggish than the CVT. We don't recommend them, though they let Nissan offer a rock-bottom sticker price for the Versa—one of its big selling points is space for money.

On the road, the Versa is competent, but unremarkable. Its steering is nicely weighted, though we found it to be too finicky, demanding too many small adjustments in motion. The lightness does make the car easy to place on tight city streets, though. Anti-lock front disc and rear drum brakes do their jobs just fine.

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2016 Nissan Versa

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Nissan Versa offers a huge interior and rides comfortably, but its "no frills" theme prevails inside.

The 2016 Nissan Versa is a good value among small sedans and hatchbacks, representing a lot of space and comfort at a very low price. It's comfortable to ride in, far better than most budget cars, and it's one of very few competitors of its size that can truly seat four adults in comfort.

Beyond those virtues, buyers shouldn't look for an experience that's plush, cushy, or particularly supportive. The Versa's front seats are oddly constructed, with nicely contoured seat backs that wrap around and hold occupants in place—while they sit on flat, short cushions that allow their lower extremities to slide around. In the rear, the outboard positions are nicely contoured, but the third seat in the middle isn't, making it definitely part-time seating.

Compared to newer and pricier cars in its segment, the Versa all but screams "economy class." Its materials and trims are made of plastic that's hard, but hollow. The quality of some switches are among the worst we've tested, with a driver's door mirror switch that felt like a cheap Chinese toy and utterly resisted our fine adjustments.

As well as a surprisingly spacious cabin, the Versa's trunk space is huge for even a compact car. But many models don't offer a folding rear seat back, limiting its utility. The Versa Note hatchback, however, comes standard with a 60/40-split folding rear seat. It also has a so-called "Divide-n-Hide" system that offers recessed areas under a flat cargo floor to hold small items out of sight—or, with the floor lowered, accommodate taller, larger ones.

The Versa has a quiet cabin, offering a nice degree of refinement at speed for such a low-priced car. The suspension has been tuned to be soft and absorb bumps and irregularities, so the ride is good even on choppy freeways or potholed city streets. The Versa Note has been given special sound deadening as well as carefully tuned aerodynamics, to hush the tall hatchback whose interior is basically a huge open box.

The one caveat to the general quiet is under hard acceleration, when versions with the continuously variable transmission get boomy and can howl under maximum power. Drive gently, accept a pace no faster than average, and you'll avoid that.

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2016 Nissan Versa

Safety

The 2016 Nissan Versa leaves much to be desired, when it comes to safety

Safety isn't a particularly strong suit for the 2016 Nissan Versa, reflecting its age in a small-car field with newer competitors that do better. Both the Nissan Versa Sedan and the Versa Note hatchback have safety ratings that are a bit checkered.

The IIHS gives the Versa Sedan its top rating of "Good" in all areas of testing except the new and tougher small-overlap front crash test. The 2016 hasn't been rated, but the 2015 received its "Poor" rating—the lowest possible. Thats something that is decisively bettered by newer competitors.

Federal officials are also not kind to the Versa, giving the current 2016 Versa four stars in every respect, after a retest. Last year's Versa sedan earned just three stars for frontal impact, and four stars for side impact, rollover, and overall.

The Versa Note hatchback did only slightly better last year in the federal tests, with five stars for side impact but the same frontal and overall scores—although the federal government hasn't rated this model for 2016 after some slight structural changes. The IIHS hasn't rated the Versa Note at all.

Feature-wise, the Versa twins cover all the typical small-car safety bases, but don't offer any advanced electronic active-safety systems. 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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2016 Nissan Versa

Features

The 2016 Nissan Versa is very low-priced, and at that level, it is decently equipped if your expectations are low.

After a mild styling update and some new infotainment features last year, the 2016 Nissan Versa continues largely unchanged. Its sole new specifications are a pair of new paint colors—Cayenne Red and Gun Metallic—along with standard power mirrors in body color. The base Versa S sedan adds standard rear speakers, and the SL trim level gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

For the price, many models of the 2016 Versa offers a remarkably rich set of standard features for a car with a base price well under $13,000. The bottom-level Versa S trim (the one advertised at those low, low prices) includes air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, and even hands-free calling, but it hangs onto 1990s-style wind-up windows.

The more popular mid-level Versa SV adds upgraded cloth seats—the driver's includes six-way adjustment—and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Options for the SV include a Convenience Package, with upgraded audio and a 4.3-inch display that includes satellite radio, USB input with iPod control, a rearview camera, rear seat armrest with cupholders, and a cargo management adjustable floor that makes cargo stowage more flexible.

At the top of the range, the Versa SL adds keyless ignition, an immobilizer system, sun-visor extensions, and a driver's seat armrest. Beyond that, the SL Package bundles together things like heated seats, a navigation system with NissanConnect (XM NavTraffic, app capability, and point-of-interest features), plus fog lamps and surround-view cameras.

Finally, the SL Tech Package wraps in that collection of upgrades and substitutes a 5.8-inch touchscreen monitor, a hands-free text-messaging assistant, voice recognition, points-of-interest via Google, and heated side mirrors. 

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2016 Nissan Versa

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Nissan Versa prioritizes fuel economy over response; CVT models rate well, but aren't at the top of the rankings.

The 2016 Nissan Versa sedan gets good fuel economy ratings if it's equipped with the continuously variable transmission at 31 mpg city, 40 highway, 35 combined. That's within 1 mpg of the Honda Fit hatchback and 2 mpg of the new Scion iA sedan, which are both roughly the same size.

A cheaper version of the Versa with an ancient 4-speed automatic transmission is lower, 26/35/30 mpg—and the cheapest model, with a 5-speed manual gearbox comes 27/36/30 mpg. Neither of those cars is anything to write home about.

As for the Versa Note, it gets the same ratings, but there's no 4-speed automatic version offered.

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April 7, 2016
2016 Nissan Versa 4-Door Sedan Automatic 1.6 S

Do not buy a Nissan -- unless you want trouble

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We bought the Nissan Versa because it was inexpensive and Consumer Reports said the Versa was a good deal. We had trouble with the car from the beginning. It constantly required service. I never felt safe in... + More »
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October 13, 2015
2016 Nissan Versa 4-Door Sedan CVT 1.6 SV

Surprisingly nimble and quick with the best FWD steering yet.

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Surprisingly nimble and quick with the best FWD steering (I've not driven a 2015/16 Acura with 4WS though and the older Preludes with 4WS were exceptional). CVT transmission seems almost perfect, assuming it's... + More »
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6.2
Overall
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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 6
Features 7
Fuel Economy 9
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