Nissan Versa Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker
nissan versa review
Years ago, I found myself killing time in a London wine bar. An English gentleman and I were busy amusing ourselves with fine wine and, um, English food when a pair of extremely attractive unattached ladies strolled into the bar. Uninhibited by the best Bordeaux, we enticed these French beauties to join us at the bar. The women eventually escaped our charms to establish base camp at their own table. I continued to stare longingly at our lost companions– until one of them stretched her arms above her head to reveal unshaven underarms. The Nissan Versa was like that.

When I first saw the Versa, I was immediately smitten by its Gallic flair. Its obvious Renault roots (it's the Clio's sibling) bless the model with style and grace in a chi-chi shape. From the front, the Versa's broad grin offers welcome relief from the Honda Fit’s angry eyes and the Toyota Yaris’ fish-face. The little Nissan’s profile is sporty and elegant; the rear light’s angular slash adding the perfect touch of modern aggression. The rear makes the car look narrow and tall (in the grand French tradition) and the 15” wheels are straight out of Toon Town but hey, you can't expect a baguette to look like a loaf of Wonder bread.

With an overall length under 170 inches and a starting price below $15k, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Versa serves-up an econobox interior. Au contraire. The Versa’s large greenhouse gives the car’s cabin an incredibly spacious feeling, only slight marred by the large pillars at the rear quarters. The rear seating area is huge; I can think of few mid sized cars offering more spacious accommodation. My 1.8 SL tester came dressed in a light colored checked interior: the automotive equivalent of cut-price couture. The dash materials were sufficiently well formed and assembled to make the Versa’s chump change sticker seem like the deal of the century. That same low cost of entry buys some tres chic high-tech: Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio prep, keyless ignition and steering wheel controls.

Fire up the little nipper and you soon discover that the throttle response is programmed to delude you into thinking you that there’s more than a 1.8 liter mill up front. Hell, I even chirped the tires when I started out. Once underway, the Versa's erstwhile powerplant sounds as wheezy as 65-year-old pack-a-day man. Needless to say, the 122hp Versa is only quick for the first 25 feet. After that, the four-banger runs out of desire faster than a Viagra-deprived Hefner. I understand why we need to suffer the slings and rubber bands of CVT transmissions in hybrid cars, but I’m not sure why Nissan chose one for this application. The Xtronic slushbox gives slush a bad name, while the over-sized stalk controlling its activation is a particularly unattractive interior accoutrement.

The Versa’s uncomfortable seating makes a bad situation worse. The front chairs sit too high. With no compensatory telescoping steering wheel, I felt like a herniated bus driver. The deeply unsporting seating position is mirrored by the sub-compact's ride quality, which makes a down pillow seem like a block of concrete. In fact, the Versa’s feather-filled feel made me scared to corner. When I could no longer avoid the need for lateral progress, body roll was less than expected– considering the Versa’s tall, boxy architecture, tiny-tot tires and over-supple suspension. Unfortunately, despite the Figgie pudding ride, the Versa reacts to rough roads with sharp reports, translated without delay or filtration to the car’s occupants. Torsion bar? Torture bar is more like it.

In an attempt to distract myself from the mechanical miscues, I turned my attention to Versa’s sound system. While the head unit looked impressive enough, in a multi-button LCD sort of way, the tunes were as weak and unbalanced as an anorexic greyhound. My tester also lacked [optional] ABS braking The omission was hardly reassuring; the left pedal somehow managed to feel both soft and wooden. That said, the Versa’s combination of front discs and rear drums are class standard, and effective enough given the speeds involved…

I really wanted to like the Nissan Versa. The exterior has panache, the interior’s spacious and friendly, the price is outstanding and the fuel economy beyond reproach (30/36). Ultimately, I couldn’t get past the engine drone, soft suspension and awkward driving position. While I suppose there are American consumers who will accept these foibles as part of the car’s “charm,” I’m sure pistonheads would enjoy any number of better groomed machines. For those who ignore this advice, well, vive la difference!
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  • Davejay Davejay on Nov 01, 2008

    Quick note on the fuel economy of this car: I bought a 2008 6-speed SL, and at first was underwhelmed (I was getting around 24-25, strictly city driving.) I had read that the mileage would improve after the break-in period, but it didn't seem to. Well, after the first oil change, things have perked up significantly; suddenly I'm getting 27-29 on the same city commute, and on a nearly full-tank two-way commute on the 5 in CA (including long stretches of 80+mph and total-standstill traffic), I got 31 (which is the EPA highway estimate.) So yes the interior is awesome and the exterior endearing (with the headlights, taillights and pinched hood, it looks kind of like a French take on a stretched VW Beetle) and the handling is mediocre, but now that I'm getting good economy and I've learned how to have fun driving it (wasn't used to the low torque at first), I'm calling it a win. Just for snicks and grins, though, I checked to see how much it was worth at CarMax, and it's worth a tad more than I owe on it (with very little put down) -- so no complaints from me whether I keep it or not.

  • Daddyof2 Daddyof2 on Apr 20, 2009

    I always subscribe to the notion that its fun to drive a slow car fast. I had a chance to test drive the 6 speed sedan version of this car and I was pleasantly suprised with the room, power and amenities it offered for only 15k. I stepped into the cabin not expecting VW tactile pleasures, Lexus refinement, nor BMW driving dynamics. I was however suprised by the fact that I could put a rear facing child seat behind me, still have room to row the shifter and break traction in first gear. It has everything a person needs to get back and forth to work, and has a fun 6 speed manual to at least make you feel your driving fast.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.