By on October 27, 2010

Americans like big cars. Even when designing a small car for the American market, it’s important that the small car be as big as possible. Sound like an oxymoron? It should. In a country where big is beautiful, the small practical cars go largely unnoticed, and so it is with the Nissan Versa. If you read TTAC regularly, you might know the Versa outsells everything in its segment, but did you know it just got a mid-cycle refresh? Even in the midst of a downsizing and belt-tightening economy, that news hasn’t made much of a splash. To find out if the cheapest four door car in America is worthy of more attention, we took a week to live with a Versa 1.8.

First things first, the Versa may hold the title of  cheapest four-door car in America, but nobody actually buys the base model for good reason. Stripper doesn’t begin to describe the lack of features that $9,990 will buy you in 2011, and adding those features back into the Versa can more than double the price tag. Though the under-10K advertisement will get you in the door (of a decontented 1.6 sedan), merely selecting the hatchback will set you back $3,510 more (though the 1.8 liter engine comes standard on the five-door). Oh yes, and air conditioning, ABS brakes and an automatic transmissions are all extra. Clearly the Versa’s recession-ready reputation needs just a little adjustment.

From the outside, little has changed since the model was introduced, which is not a bad thing. Up front Nissan has lightly reworked the nose and headlamps, but they have left the car thankfully devoid of the awkward acid-trip styling that afflicts some small cars (I’m lookin at you Kia). The Versa’s side profile is plain-Jane in a a thoughtful, function-leads-form way; even the extra-large door openings in the rear are thoughtfully executed and entirely functional making ingress and egress a breeze. Of course if funky is more your bag, Nissan will be happy to sell you a Cube which is essentially a Versa  with the weird turned way up. Or, for the fans of true automotive outsider art, there’s the Juke, which offers straight-outta-Arkham Asylum looks on a widened Versa platform. In any case, Nissan had room for a quiet, well-adjusted subcompact, and the Versa fits that bill well.

Inside the Versa, Nissan has added a much needed center armrest, tweaked some options packages and added optional Bluetooth and navigation options to the list while keeping base prices in the basement. Our tester came with both Bluetooth and nav, which worked surprisingly well given the discount pricing. $650 buys you the keyless-go package with Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls and a leather steering wheel, and the navigation package with up-level audio commands a reasonable $610. For those willing to pay the monthly subscription, the Nav package also buys you an XM Satellite radio receiver and the Nav system has XM traffic built in.Also along for the ride in Nav package is a well-executed iPod interface. It’s obvious that Nissan had TomTom design the software for the nav system; it’s well laid out and as easy to use as an aftermarket unit. Oddly however you can’t type in an address while you are moving, but you can spend hours navigating thru your iPod on the same screen. What gives?

One excellent feature that is standard on all Versa models is an incredible 38 inches of rear leg room, a full two more inches than the recently inflated 2011 BMW 5 series sedan. Never before has small been this big. While the seats may be a touch firm for most adults, the ability to stretch out in the back will make up for some of it. As an aside, the Versa is quite possibly the cheapest vehicle on the market that can accommodate two rearward facing child seats with an average driver and passenger up front.

And when it comes to the Versa’s CVT transmission, I get the feeling that I’m going to part ways with the enthusiast-oriented review consensus. For some reason, reviewers tend to be critical of CVTs, complaining about feel or engine “buzz”  (the CVT will hold the engine at a particular speed for extended periods of time). This CVT whine committee has even caused manufacturers to design their CVTs to mimic shift points in a traditional slushbox. Crazy talk I say: the CVT is the perfect transmission for the Versa or almost any small car. Why? Simple: hills.

Let’s face it, compact cars with tiny engines and hills are a bad combo to start with. If you toss in a wide or uneven ratio manual, or an ever-so-popular cheap 4-speed automatic, hill climbing becomes an arduous task. Thankfully, Nissan’s CVT allows the diminutive 1.8L 122HP 4 banger operate at its peak RPM to help you up grades that would make a manual Fiesta a chore to drive. Yes, the Versa buzzes like a Las Vegas vibrating bed sans the “magic fingers,” and yes the transmission feels “unnatural,” but these are small prices to pay for the ease with which the Versa hops up hills. Would I want a CVT in all cars? No, but in a discount car like the Versa, it’s perfect.

Despite the similarly low 127lb-ft of twist on tap, the Versa felt somewhat lighter than its 2828lb curb weight would indicate. On downhill grades I love a car with good engine braking, and again the CVT shines in this area. Since it’s always adjusting the ratio, it can maintain a very even engine braking feel at a wide range of speeds. So why is there an O/D Off button? It would have been better if Nissan had just called the O/D Off mode and “L” position on the shifter “L2 and L1” or just “Low and Lower.” In my hometown of San Francisco, controlling your decent speed is critical so the fuzz doesn’t ruin your day, as a result I found “Low and Lower” a true gem. Ready for the rub? Nissan saddles all auto-Versa models except the 1.8SL hatch with their fun-hating 4 speed automatic. And you guessed it: the 1.8SL does not start at $9,990 but $16,470.

Going around corners, the econo-box DNA of the Versa shines through.. and not in the good way. The narrow tires, 3,000lb curb weight (with driver and fuel), and electric power steering conspire to suck the fun out of any windy mountain pass. The Versa may pack more cargo than a Fiesta or a Rio 5, but you can leave your driving excitement at home in your Mazda 3 hatch. Corners are met with minimum roll but maximum tire squeal, making it difficult to drive the Versa briskly and subtly at the same time.

Our Versa tester rang in at a not-so-cheap-anymore $19,840, only a couple bucks off the similarly equipped Honda Fit Sport ($19,850). Comparisons to the Yaris and Fiesta are inevitable so here we go: The Yaris is long in the tooth and without some decent discounts on the hood buyers should look elsewhere. The Euro-flair Fiesta marches to a different drummer than the Versa or Fit, its driving manners and parts quality are superior, but its price tag can be a hard pill to swallow. While it’s not possible to similarly equip a Fiesta hatch as Ford does not offer a Navigation option, at $20,335 sans-nav, the Fiesta is a touch spendy but offers far more refinement. If you need the extra cargo, passenger or child seat schlepping room, the Versa is king of the hill. If you value handling and performance, wait for the Ecoboost Fiesta to roll next year. If you’re just looking for America’s cheapest car, good luck finding one on Nissan’s lot.

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Versa, here are your answers: Brett W: Better in person than in pictures. Kevin M: The tweaks are actually welcome. Steven W: They are tiny, aren’t they? Megan B: CVT all the way baby. James M: No rubber what-so-ever. John L: The sedan Sentra is bigger than the Sedan Versa in just about every way. Tony J: My sound meter is on the fritz, but according to Nissan: Sound level @ idle is 40.4db, @ Full throttle 75.7db and @ 70 mph cruise 67.4db.Robert H: I had the opposite problem, I couldn’t find a stripper if my life depended on it. Make of that what you will.

Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review.

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55 Comments on “Review: 2011 Nissan Versa 1.8S...”

  • avatar

    $610 for NAV is the most reasonable I have seen yet, but why on Earth would you not just spend $100 on a portable TomTom that you can actually change the address on while moving. Your passenger would do this task of course…. And you can use the portable in a different car. Madness.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve asked this for years and years, especially back when Nav was a $1,500+ option, and aftermarket units were around $200.
      Some people are just obsessed with the OE look and feel.

    • 0 avatar

      The MotionX app on my iPhone works as well as any in car system I’ve ever used.  I too can’t see the point of an in car system.

      The only reason I could see to get one is that it makes the interior look better – and for $610 it may well be worth it.  But from a practical standpoint?   Just get a smartphone.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “The MotionX app on my iPhone works as well as any in car system I’ve ever used.  I too can’t see the point of an in car system.”
      Does that app keep working once you are out of 3G cell phone range? I spend a fair amount of time driving places where cell phones don’t work, and I want my nav to keep working!

    • 0 avatar

      There are a few apps that work without a WAN connection: for iPhone there’s TomTom, Navigon and CoPilot.  Windows Mobile has a few (TomTom, for sure) as does Android, and Nokia gives your Ovi Maps for free on new phones.
      The benefit to an in-dash system (other than cleanliness and, sometimes, integration with the ICE) is it’s less of a theft target.  The presence of a GPS, or even an empty cradle, is an invitation to have your window busted and your car rifled through.

    • 0 avatar

      You tested an SL, not an S, so hopefully you’ll change the article heading to reflect that.  If you look at several of the other posts, you’ve created some confusion by titling the article an “S” in lieu of an “SL.”  Also you state that all auto-matic Versas except the SL have 4-speeds in lieu of the CVT, that was my trigger that you mis-titled the article.
      Also, yes NAV alone is “only” $610, if you don’t get a sunroof/moonroof with it.  If you want a sunroof/moonroof, you cannot get it as a stand-alone option, NAV is mandatory, and then you’re looking at over $1200 for both.
      Where’s the comparison test with the Fit?
      Otherwise, great review, and thank you!

  • avatar

    Test drove one a couple years ago. Sticker price was something like 14k. It was a penalty box if I ever drove one (my previous two cars being a 1998 saturn SC1, and a 1991 Corolla).
    Do yourself a real favor, ignore the Versa and the fit (unless you can find an otherworldly deal on one) and go buy yourself a lightly used Rabbit/Golf 4 door.
    Best decision I ever made.

  • avatar

    Does BMW even know this???

  • avatar

    Nissan makes a $19,000 fine-handling, quick Versa, but they call it Juke.  It’s down on space, but it’s your choice which is more important.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Rented one of these for a long weekend in Los Angeles (5-door) in July.  The car is acceptable in urban driving, but feels seriously underpowered at freeway speeds.  When you punch the “loud pedal” at 65, mostly what you get is more noise and very meager acceleration.  And that’s with me and one passenger aboard.  Driving this on a two-lane and expecting to be able to pass anyone at speeds of more than, say 50, is pure fantasy.  I did not attempt to calculate fuel economy, but it did not seem extraordinarily high.
    I have no complaints about CVTs; I’ve driven an Altima with one as well.  I can’t imagine this car with the base engine.  Nor can I imagine it with four passengers and their stuff on a freeway; although there’s certainly room enough.

    • 0 avatar

      I had one as a rental on Oahu this summer (hatchback version).  Agree that it isn’t that good on the freeway (buzzy, low power, wanders a bit), but I think it really shines as a city, congested suburban area runabout.  It’s quite comfortable for 4 adults.  The front seating position is high.  The front seats themselves are decent sized, and visibility out of it is good.  Instrumentation and controls are intuitive.  You can see all four corners.  The electric power steering is quick lock-to-lock, and parking is a breeze.  If Nissan was smart, they’d put rubber bumpers on it and sell it as a city car.

  • avatar

    Needs an SE-R version because, well, why not?

  • avatar

    One excellent feature that is standard on all Versa models is an incredible 38 inches of rear leg room, a full two more inches than the recently inflated 2011 BMW 5 series sedan

    I don’t think people fully appreciate this aspect of the Versa.  Unlike any number of full-size (snort!) sedans, SUVs and crossovers, four people of six-plus feet can fit in this car.  Or two six-footers and a rear-facing infant seat.

    Do you know which cars you cannot do this in?  Here’s a few: the Ford Taurus, Escape and Fusion, Chevy Impala and Malibu, Toyota Camry, RAV and Highlander, Honda Accord and CRV, Hyundai Sonata, VW Passat, Tiguan and Touareg, Nissan Altima, Rogue and Maxima, etc, etc.  The hits keep coming.

    Other compacts?  Please, don’t make me laugh.

    The Versa is incredibly well packaged.  That it rides well and gets decent mileage is icing on the cake.  Were it not more statistically reliable, I’d own one instead of the Honda Fit.  Nissan absolutely nailed this car.

    • 0 avatar

      Dude.  Dude.  DUDE?  Seriously?  You can so fit four six footers in an Impala, a Camry and especially an Accord.  You could do it in a Chevy Cruze for that matter (I’m 6’1″) and found I could adjust my front seat to a comfortable driving position and climb in behind the driver seat with leg/knee room to spare.  Admittedly my hair was brushing the roof so any hard bump would have negative conseequences.

      I have a 6’8″ co-worker who drives a Honda Accord with no issue, and I fit behind the driver seat.

      Just for giggles, here is a comparo of a 2011 Versa S hatchback (most headroom) and a 2011 Honda Accord LX sedan. The Accord creams the Versa in every interior category, in some cases by as much as six inches. The Versa offers just 8/10 of an inch more rear legroom, it is the only category it even comes close to the Accord.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 6’9″ but don’t have very long legs (34-36″).  When I went car-shopping a good test to see if I could fit a rear-facing infant seat was to sit in the front and then try to sit in the back.  In the Accord I have knee and toe room.  In the Impala the entry is tight, the bench low and the low roof requires the front seat be leaned back.  In both cars the edge of the child-seat brushed the front passenger seat—a safety no-no.
      The Versa “just fit”.  No fiddling with the seat to deal with the idiot-low roof on most sedans, no stupidly high floor as you’d find in a crossover.

    • 0 avatar

      Since I own a Passat and am 5’11, I thought I’d check.

      I just climbed in the back seat of my 2008 Passat wagon behind my driver seat in its normal position adjusted for me. As you can see in the photo link below, I had a bit over half a dollar bill, or about 3 inches in the back seat. If I were 6′ even (and that extra height were all leg length), I’d have to move the front seat back an inch; and in the back seat, my legs would be an inch further out. That would leave me 3″ – 1″ – 1″ = 1″ or so of knee clearance in the back seat.

      So I’d have to disagree and say a Passat can fit four people of height 6’0″ with typical proportions. But if they’re taller or have long legs, probably not so much.

      Photo link:
      I’m sure the Versa is roomy in the back seat, which is great, but let’s keep it real.

  • avatar

    Small point – I was looking at the hatchback a few years ago and when the back seat was folded down it didn’t fold even remotely level with the cargo area floor. The seatback folds directly down on to the seat cushion. This leaves a big height difference between the cargo area and the top of the folded down rear seat.

    That seemed like a crazy design to me. Almost as though the folding back seat was an afterthought.

    • 0 avatar

      The cube is the same way. Possibly the new Juke as well.

    • 0 avatar

      Have a look at the Toyota Matrix (or any number of crossovers and hatches).  The flat load floor is accomplished by raising the trunk floor up to meet the edge of the seat, which actually hurts seats-up cargo room.**   The Matrix has less space than the Fit and Versa for this reason.
      There are a few ways around this: you can have the seat bottoms fold up and away before you fold the seatbacks (a la the Aveo, or many late-90s hatches), but it seems like no one really likes this option as it’s kind of awkward, or you can re-do the car to have a floor plan like the Honda Fit, which compromises fuel tank volume.
      If this matters, you can get a cargo tray that boosts the floor up to meet the edge.  Again, though, you lose cargo space.
      ** You see this in minivans versus crossovers: minivans have a deep well behind the third row that can fit a week’s worth of stuff: crossovers have a shelf that fits a single grocery run

    • 0 avatar

      This was another reason that we bought the Fit instead of the Versa.

    • 0 avatar

      The flat load floor of the Fit is a bonus.  I love ours.  I have not found the fuel tank to be too small.  Driven sanely, I can make it from Cleveland to Chicago (400 miles) on one tank of fuel.  That’s with what I believe is 10.9 gallon tank.
      I think the Versa is a cool car, and I think CVT’s are a great compromise between efficiency and performance.  As much as I like the Versa, and appreciate it’s design and basic goodness, I can’t help but miss the old, early 90’s Sentra.
      My first REAL car I bought on my own, with my own dough, was a Nissan Sentra SE.  It was an SE-R look-alike and an amazing car.  I rank it in the top five of all the cars I’ve owned.  That’s saying a lot.  The ergonomics were flawless, the seats were Recaro-like, the shifter sublime, the gauges perfect, and the engine a real revver.  Fast?  No.  But fun as all get out, with awesome economy and a cool wanna be a 2002 look to it.
      I will forever miss that car and I wish Nissan would give us another!
      That the Versa weighs over 2800 pounds, is a real shame….

  • avatar

    I don’t know where Nissan sells all of these, but it isn’t in the midwest.  I looked at one of these when it came out, but was happy to pay more money for a Fit Sport.  It has always seemed to me that the Versa sells on price.  If you want to spend $10-15k for something that is not very enjoyable to drive, then get a used Chrysler minivan.  Really, there are LOTS of cars I would rather spend $15K on than one of these.

  • avatar

    The Fit still owns this segment, particularly when you are paying for features. There may be an argument for a $12,000 car instead of a Fit, but there isn’t one for a $10,000 box with $10,000 of options. The only Versa that makes sense is the 1.6 sedan with A/C and ABS for less than $12,000.

    What is Ford serving at Fiesta press events? The reality is Aveo by UAW.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you serious? The Fiesta may not be as practical as the Versa or Fit but calling it an “Aveo by UAW” is laughable, and not just because the Fiesta isn’t UAW-built.

      Last I checked the Fiesta is actually refined, fun to drive, and gets stellar gas mileage, none of which can be said of the Aveo. The only place where the Ford loses out to its competitors is rear seat room – which will certainly be a problem for many buyers – but that doesn’t in any way place it on the same level as the automotive excrement that is Chevy’s offering.

      I don’t think you’re giving the Versa enough credit either. It’s essentially a C-segment car at (more or less) B-segment prices, if you stay sane with the options. Even optioned-up at $20,000 you’ve got a car that will do what most people will ask of it just as well as cars in the next class up. No enthusiast appeal though.

  • avatar

    The 2010 Mazda3 S hatch can be gotten in sport for 20 grand.
    True, it is not loaded.
    One with a few thousand on it much lower!
    So I simply don’t understand why people would get the Fit, Versa or any of these smaller cars that don’t offer the driving experience as well as the function.

    And it smiles!

    The Elantra touring is priced at 16K only.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2010 Mazda3 S hatch can be gotten in sport for 20 grand.

      So I simply don’t understand why people would get the Fit, Versa or any of these smaller cars that don’t offer the driving experience as well as the function.

      In the case of the both the Fit and the Versa, they “fit” more people and stuff.  You have to step to the Mazda5 to get the space they offer.

      And, frankly, most people don’t care about the driving experience.  The Versa rides very well, in the American sense of the word, and that’s what people seem to want.

    • 0 avatar


      I see these cars.
      They don’t fit more people.
      I own a 3 and it holds my family of five well. Perhaps not for a trip across country, but easily.
      I don’t know the cargo comparisons of all of these, but the 3 holds a ton.

      I guess I am confused about this whole TTAC thing. Driving enthusiast is what I thought we are/were/wanted to be.
      Maybe that’s a little narrow, since this is the truth about CARS, not just the performance of.

      But I want performance as the most important spend of my money, with reliability, design and affordability following right behind.
      Maybe in that order even.
      I simply don’t accept function as the main draw…or I might as well give it up.

      Life is a dead-end journey filled in with survival and a few lucky joyful moments thrown in…again, if you are lucky.
      I need to battle with this as hard as possible and still stay within the confines of civility…and my wallet.

      I just want people to get a little fun with their car along with the function. 

    • 0 avatar

      Trailer: with all due respect: you’ve defined your version of “fun”. Don’t worry about other people.
      No offense meant, but personally I can’t get past the “acid trip styling” [I’m lookin at YOU Mazda] of the 3 and can’t imagine myself driving such an eyesore no matter what the driving experience.

      I like the fact someone is actually offering a car where you can get the options you want rather than having them all shoved package style down your throat . Additionally all of that fancy electronic crap is just waiting to die once the last payment is made. Since I like to keep em forever, that’s a major concern for me.

      The Versa is roomy, economical, cheap and apparently rides like a much larger automobile. That’s it’s point. You have your fun I’ll have mine okay ?
      Best of the day to ya, regardless

  • avatar

    Thorough price and feature comparisons can be run here:

    The Versa had some glitches early on, especially with the TPMS and the remote releases detaching, but has since been reliable:

  • avatar

    I think every small car begins as a design mule with the same spacious dimensions as the Versa.
    Then the stylists roll off the edges, slant this and bevel that, alter the tumble home and add ‘verve’ and ‘passion’…and then you’re left with a cramped interior with poor sight lines.
    I can understand that for an Audi TT, but on an economy car aimed at budget buyers, it’s a cruel hoax to give them a car that is neither roomy or authentically sporty.
    Fortunately, the Versa put practicality first.

  • avatar

    From what I’ve seen, the 1.8 liter CVT-equipped Versa gets the same or worse mpg than the 2.5 liter CVT equipped Altima.  You can get a pretty-well equipped Altima for about $23,000.  In other words, if you are financing, you can get an Altima for the same payment as the Versa, just stick another year on the note.  If you don’t want to pay an extra year, buy a lightly used Altima and actually save money versus the Versa.

  • avatar

    “This CVT whine committee has even caused manufacturers to design their CVTs to mimic shift points in a traditional slushbox.”
    So now instead of automatics that pretend to be manuals (Tiptronic and the like), we have CVTs pretending to be automatics? Ugh. All I know is that the CVT on my girlfriend’s Sentra is dreadful.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what Alex meant about shift points like traditional automatics, but the Nissan Xtronic CVT allows the engine to rev a bit instead of holding rpm and making the engine drone.

  • avatar

    When I try to build a Versa w/CVT on Nissan’s Web site, it doesn’t seem to be available. Is it a ZIP code thing? I tried a coupla different ones with the same result. Or do they just refer to the CVT as a 4-speed automatic?

    • 0 avatar

      CVT – Highest level only.
      I regard the Versa as Nissan’s most competitive product.  I suspect older people would love the Renault-compliant ride.

  • avatar

    Most of the “nay-sayers” have never been in this vehicle. We bought an S model in 2007 for the same reasons mentioned – rear seat leg room. At the time, we had two small children 15 months apart. This was the only non-minivan vehicle we found that EASILY accepted two forward facing child safety seats. Apart from chronic TPMS issues, it has been a great vehicle. No, it is not a GTI nor did I expect it to be. It was bought as a reasonable commuter car and it has served its time well.
    And to the “the rear seats don’t fold flat” crowd – do you really use the magic seating in the Fit that often? I have owned hatchbacks since 1978 and can only think of three or four times when I needed to put the seats down. Is not having a perfectly flat cargo floor really a make or break item? I guess I am at a loss on how much this really helps compared to the benefits of thicker, more comfortable rear seats and a larger gas tank. To each their own…..

    • 0 avatar

      And to the “the rear seats don’t fold flat” crowd – do you really use the magic seating in the Fit that often?

      When you do it’s a lifesaver (such as when I put four 7U servers in the back of mine) but the Fit is really a car with a different mission, and the magic seats compromise fuel tank space more than anything else: at best you can get 35L of fuel into the car.

      The choice between Fit and Versa really comes down to Cargo or People**.  Once you make that choice, either is the best of breed, and certainly better than most wagons, hatches and compact crossovers at that task.

      ** (if you carry neither people nor stuff you can make an argument for the Fiesta, but then again you can make an argument for the Smart)

    • 0 avatar

      I guess when it comes to the “rear seats fold flat”, it is important to me. I probably have the seats folded down in my hatch at least once a month, sometimes more and the flat floor has been a lifesaver. I guess it isn’t a problem for many who buy this car. I haven’t driven one so I can’t comment on its driveability but there are lots of them around so there must be something about them that is attractive to many people.
      I can see how it is a problem for designers to come up with a workable solution that maximizes cargo area, back seat room, safety etc.
      One older style solution I haven’t seen lately is the fold-and-tumble back seat. My 92 VW Golf had this and it was terrific. The only drawback was having to pull the seatbelt buckles back through when I turned it back into a seat.

    • 0 avatar

      One older style solution I haven’t seen lately is the fold-and-tumble back seat. My 92 VW Golf had this and it was terrific. The only drawback was having to pull the seatbelt buckles back through when I turned it back into a seat.

      VWs still do this, as does the Aveo.  Both my Saab 9-3 and the Protege5 I had before it did it as well.  It works, but it’s an inconvenience, especially if the seat cushion is a one-piece affair.

      Most new cars just raise the trunk floor to meet the seat edge, which is worse (and not a little dishonest) because you lose trunk space.  The Cube, I think, offers a tray to raise the trunk floor to meet the seat edge; I’d be surprised if the Versa doesn’t.

  • avatar

    I test drove a Versa SL last year and was actually pleasantly surprised. The room, as already mentioned, is unbelievable for this class of car. Granted, it was winter at the time so I couldn’t push things, but I thought the engine had enough pickup for what the car is. I, too, was impressed by the CVT; I had negative preconceptions, but it actually seems to work very well.

    The interior seemed very nice for this type of car, and to me did have a bit of a European feel to it. Seats were (manually) adjustable for height, which I liked. Stereo seemed to work well enough, and the controls were nicely laid out.

    One feature that no one has mentioned yet is the stability control. With all season tires on an empty, snowy parking lot, I got it up to around 30 MPH, pulled the handbrake and made abrupt steering inputs, and as soon as I released the brake, I was amazed at how quickly the car recovered its composure. I don’t know how the systems on more upscale cars compare, but I came away impressed with what this could do for ham-fisted drivers. I don’t know of any other cars at this price point which offer it.

    Would I buy one of these? No. But I did recommend it to the non-enthusiast friend I was shopping for. She wound up choosing a Corolla, though.

  • avatar

    I thought I’d chime in since I bought my wife a new Versa 1.8SL in 2007.  Her Camry was getting long in the tooth and she thought the Versa was cute and wanted to look at them.  Our local Nissan dealer had one loaded SL with the sport package and she was sold.  I was amazed at the level of kit in the car – intelligent key, voice activated bluetooth, seven speaker stereo – but of course nav wasn’t yet an option.  The pre-facelift SL’s had the center armrest, too.

    3.5 years and 45k miles of problem-free ownership later and my wife still loves her Versa.  I’m pretty demanding of quality and reliability, even in the low-price segment in which this car resides.  My wife is far more forgiving.  The dash has occasional hard plastic on hard plastic rattles that come and go with temperature, actually getting worse as things heat up and expand in our Tulsa summer.  On the other hand, the door armrests are some of the most plush faux-leather armrests I’ve encountered.  The leather steering wheel and solid switchgear also add to the quality feel.  We normally achieve 27 to 29 MPG in urban driving and our highest highway mileage recorded is 35 MPG.

    The CVT is a love/hate feature for me.  I love that it keeps revs (relatively) low at highway speeds (cruising on the turnpike at 75 MPH @ 2700ish RPM) and the aforementioned hill-climbing ease – but the monotone engine noise at high-rpm (such as a highway onramp) is a bit annoying.  The CVT most definitely provides better mileage, as the 4-speed automatic models have lower EPA ratings.

    One last thought.  I’ve spent plenty of time in my friend’s second-gen Fit Sport (driving and riding) and have a hard time finding it to be the far-away winner as most of the car mags would suggest.  The interior is 10x louder, there’s not a single soft-touch surface in the entire car (what’s with the hard as a rock, fabric-covered-plastic armrests that aren’t even shaped for ergonomic use?), the engine is not terribly refined, the dash is polarizingly weird, and there’s less rear seat legroom.  It’s not a bad car at all and does handle more assuredly, but it’s easy to see why the Versa sells so well – it offers a modicum of refinement (especially road noise at cruising speeds) and tons of space.

  • avatar

    This is a hatchback, so considering that, two things that are must-haves for me killed this car when my wife and I shopped for one last year.
    a) The back hatch door is extremely narrow at the bottom, so loading a wide box into the back requires you to lift it up, over, and down into the car.  Why design this so stupidly?
    b) The back cargo area, as noted above in comments, isn’t flat with the rear seats when they’re folded down.  Hence, when you have the car in “cargo mode” there’s no increase in “floor space” so I don’t see the point of having this as a hatch at all.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I can’t think of any car that offers a manual transmission where an automatic is not an extra-cost option.  Pretty standard for this segment of the market.
    As for the folding rear seat debate, put me on the flat-floor side.  Makes it easier to slide gear in and out, and my car has a usable storage compartment under the raised rear floor, very handy for stowing smaller items, jumper cables, etc., so it’s not wasted space.
    Good catch by Jason about the narrow bottom of the hatch opening, an odd feature for a car that otherwise emphasizes function over form.

  • avatar

    ‘ help you up grades that would make a manual Fiesta a chore to drive’
    Funny, years ago I had a rental Fiesta while travelling in Spain.  I was driving out of some seaside village on what might be called a road with absolutely the steepest grade I have ever seen.  Seeing what was coming, I matted it; despite making diligent use of momentum and the gearbox, the Fiesta ran out of puff 3/4s of the way up and I had to go back down in this narrow winding road all the way to the bottom, find a slightly less steep grade to back down and then descend that road to get enpugh momentum for the second attempt.  I managed, but only just.  Now I know why you still see a lot of donkeys in Spain.

  • avatar
    Mr. Gray

    In my mind, the Versa is kind of an abomination. I mean, trying to make the biggest sub-compact possible? This thing is 194 pounds heavier than my Mazda3. They can’t correctly refer to the Versa as a sub-compact.

    I thought that buying a compact meant that you were willing to sacrifice some comfort and luxury in favor of a lower price. Only the $9900 stripped down model fits this description, but it’s still huge. Like with most other newer cars, Nissan has tried to create a car that does everything, and in so doing, has created a car that does nothing.

    But who am I to criticise? They obviously know what they’re doing. After all, it’s the best selling car in its class, and I’d be willing to bet that only a tiny fraction of those purchased were the stripped down model.

    In my opinion, the Mazda2 is the only real modern compact in America.

  • avatar

    I rented an older hatch in South Florida recently. I’m not sure if that model had the CVT but I don’t think it did. For people who view driving as the safe, logical & low exertion alternative to walking/cycling who don’t need power, it’s a great car. My girlfriend loved it, especially after having had to deal with my old temperamental Accord. For a complete non enthusiast looking for A-B transportation, it’s a great choice, especially with that incredibly roomy interior. Me personally; I’d rather contort myself into something like an old Prelude or blow gas money to hear the sweet engine note of an aftermarket exhaust equipped Maxima, but the Versa was good enough at its intended purpose to enable me to have the revelation of seeing the beauty of a reliable, quiet no-frills A-B machine.
    If I had any reasonable gripes, it would be to make a low pressure turbo version for people who want to take advantage of the people and stuff hauling capacity these things provide. Nothing performance oriented- this car has no hope in that regard. But a 1.8 wheezer pushing a 2800lb car + 5 adults + some stuff would get scary fast with any kind of hills.

  • avatar

    I drive an ’08 and it’s a decent car, but it doesn’t really excel anywhere. It has a lot of room for people, but the seats are uncomfortable; it has good cargo space, but the layout is poorly done; etc. My main complaint would be the weird visibility, the rear pillars block a good deal of your rear visibility and the front pillars make you take every gentle left turn blind. It’s also surprisingly thirsty for the class; I get an average of about 31 mpg in my 1100 mile drive from NC to MO that I take 4x a year. The drivetrain is fairly buzzy, and it is a very jumpy; both the throttle and break are very sensitive.
    On the positive you can finagle a lot of stuff into the car, such everything I needed for university. Plus it does very well at staying steady on the highway; I can set the cruise control and it will get up hills without much speed loss (just a lot of noise).

  • avatar

    Versa got downgraded recently by NHSTA from 4 to 2. The CVT comes with Nissan’s standard 10 year warranty. Early Versa are easily spotted – they have no S/SL badges and are prone to warping passenger airbag covers, popping front ends and a ‘peeling wear,’ on the steering rim. These were factory quality start-up issues back in 06.

    The Fit has the edge.

  • avatar

    Through Zipcar I’ve driven Matrix, Civic, Mini, Mazda 3.  And the Versa, once.  It’s absolute crap.  Aweful. The noise from the engine, the electric steering, the noise from the tires. Seriously, this made me miss my Stanza.

  • avatar

    I think this is a completely different car with the 6 speed manual.  I got it up to 80 with no problems, I found the shifter and clutch solid and the car is much tidier than the other cars I was test driving.

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