By on April 1, 2020

A few days ago, on the Official TTAC Slack Channel(TM), our bearded car reviewer was carping about the MSRP of a Nissan Versa he happened to be testing that week. “Too expensive!” he grumbled into his facial shrubbery, before extolling the virtues of several terrible French cars.

This got your author thinking: on sale now for the better part of a year, and recently refurbished from “Beirut taxi” to something resembling an actual car you’d want to drive, how does the base S model stack up against its bucks-deluxe brother which found itself on one of our doorsteps in Ohio?

We last visited this model about a year ago but, at the time, did not have the level of detail about equipment and trim that is available today. Like most other base Nissans, the Versa’s entry-level model is called S, which definitely does not stand for “sport.” It does, however, in a fit of driving practicality and maybe even a bit of fun, some standard with a five-speed manual transmission. This alone qualifies it for Ace of Base consideration.

Under the hood is a 1.6-liter inline-four with four valves per cylinder and 122 horsepower. This is more than it sounds, particularly when control of the thing is wielded through a stick instead of a soul-sucking CVT. Those 15-inch tires will keep a lid on costs come replacement time, though they do cover lowly drum brakes in the back. Nissan is not alone in this cost-cutting sin for this segment, though.

Despite bearing a sticker price of just $14,730, the Versa S incorporates a raft of driver assistance technologies that are surprising to find at this price. Automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and rear automatic braking are all standard equipment. As someone’s first car, it beats the hell out of the look-at-them-and-they’d-lock binders on your author’s clapped-out Ford Escort. Cruise control is included, too.

Air conditioning is standard, as it is in more and more rigs these days, but the push button ignition and tilt/telescope wheel can be chalked up to economies of scale. Windows and mirrors are powered, though the latter are painted black and will advertise your flinty ways to anyone paying attention. Jazzy shades including this Electric Blue Metallic are available at no charge.

Infotainment is handled by a 7-inch touchscreen which isn’t anything to write home about but at least includes some form of voice recognition. There are three USB ports, a feature worth noting in a segment where one lonely unit seems to be the norm. Don’t expect Apple CarPlay, so use the Bluetooth connectivity for your tunes instead.

This year’s base model Versa definitely wins the award for Most Improved. How about the rest of it? And do the addition of items like automatic temperature control and LED lights justify a price hike? You’ll have to wait for Chris’s review to find out.

[Images: Nissan]

Not every base model has aced it. The ones which have? They help make the automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you can think of, B&B? Let us know in the comments and feel free to eviscerate our selections.

The model above is shown with American options and priced in American Dollars. Your dealer may sell for less.

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40 Comments on “Ace of Base: 2020 Nissan Versa S Five-speed...”


  • avatar
    jack4x

    There’s something very 2020 about a vehicle with automatic braking being applied to rear drums.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is definitely an A-O-B, but I doubt you’ll be able to find one at the dealer. Instead, they’ll bait-and-switch you up to an $18-20k version.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The stick negates the major negative for the B&B, the CVT.
    15 inch tyres and rear drum brakes. Great. Cheap to maintain and replace and the ‘do the job’ well enough for a commuter or grocery getter or first new car.

    Compare the interior and equipment to base models of just 15 or 20 years ago. Many of those safety nannies were not even available on ‘luxury’ vehicles just a decade ago.

    So there are none on the lot? Order one. I doubt very much that any manufacturer or dealer will be turning down any orders for the next 5 or 6 months.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I actually like this a lot. The latest Accent is good competition, that little thing will scoot 0-60 is 7.5 seconds with a stick, same as my “hot” 150hp DOHC Neon R/T back in the day.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I agree, that ain’t bad at all, and this is a HUGE step up over the old base Versa (which I know you liked, but it was WAY too hairshirt for my tastes).

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’d drive this. Good tires available in 15 inches that are not expensive and shouldn’t be terribly difficult to get it to handle. The manual transmission really makes the most basic of cars perfectly livable.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    For 15 grand,I think I could live with this. Cruise, power locks/windows/mirrors, bluetooth, and a decent looking dash with actual knobs. Given how hard it’s getting to find anything with 3 pedals, you could do worse.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I think Nissan could sell a TON of these in the upcoming rough times.

    I’ve said it before, but I think Nissan has a huge opportunity here – a lot of new car buyers are going to be looking downmarket, and the brand has a good selection of lower-priced stuff (this, plus the Kicks, Sentra and Altima) that would probably fit the bill for a lot of folks who’d rather not overspend for a CUV right now.

    And I’d also keep making the Frontier as-is for a while – follow the Ram example and call it “Frontier Classic”. Let Ford and Chevy try to peddle $45,000 “compact” trucks in the upcoming months – good luck, guys. I’d keep the current Frontier around as long as it can be kept legal.

    Seriously, if downmarket, basic, entry-level, cars become more popular – and I think that’s exactly what will happen very soon – Nissan and Hyundai/Kia have the best selection of them.

    If I were their CEO, I’d immediately change all their corporate marketing to emphasize affordability, introduce some kind of “just-in-case payment forgiveness” program, and up the warranty coverage. Nissan might just have the right lineup at the right time here.

    If the current product is good, they might gain some loyalty with those entry level shoppers.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I would add that, if, Nissan were to keep around the frontier, re-adding a 4 cylinder option should be priority.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No it is the cheap car market that will be hit the hardest in the upcoming rough times.

      The effects will not be felt equally across the population.

      Many people who work hourly, for tips or commission are seeing their income go to zero. Many of those people don’t have any savings. It will take a long time for many of those people to dig themselves out.

      Many white collar salaried people won’t see any impact to their incomes and if they do, they are much more likely to have some savings to fall back on.

      Which group do you thing has a higher percentage of people who actually buy new cars?

      Of those that do buy new which group do you think would be more likely to buy a entry level vehicle?

      Then you have people who are actually seeing their incomes go up thanks to the stay at home orders. If you aren’t eating at restaurants you still need to eat. If you can’t get it at the store there is always Amazon. So those hourly workers are now getting overtime, lots of overtime. Amazon and Costco are even giving some workers a $2 per hour bonus. Amazon and Kroger are running ads locally begging for employees.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I wasn’t limiting my argument to this particular model – I’d say it holds true of any passenger car in their lineup (well, maybe not the Maxima).

        You assume the only people buying affordable cars – and by this I mean “less car than they can afford” – are people with no money. I disagree. When times get tough, plenty of people who can afford to buy more expensive stuff choose to buy cheaper things, for frugality’s sake.

        I bet that in the next few months, there are going to be a LOT of people who want a new car and fit this description might just pass on that $30,000 CUV they can “swing,” and take a $24,000 sedan they can “swing comfortably” instead. And Nissan has a lot of product to fit that niche. I think they’ll come out of this smelling pretty good, and so will Hyundai.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          someone who is facing a tough financial position isn’t going to buy a car. PERIOD. I don’t know why you keep banging this drum. They’re not going to say “Well, I may not have a job in a month, so I’ll get a Versa instead of an Expedition.”

          and even if that unlikely scenario was to be reality, why do you think Nissan would be champing at the bit to sell a ton of these? So they can lose money a little bit slower?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Agreed, Jim, no one who simply can’t afford a car is going to buy one. But you’re being awfully hyperbolic here. There will be a lot of folks in the situation you’re talking about, but I think there will be a larger group of potential buyers who have the means to buy something but just won’t be able to buy something as expensive, or might just buy something less expensive to “get them by” for a while.

            Keep in mind there’s a large pool of this car buying market that’s leasing these days, which means they’ll be back in the market sooner versus later, and a lot of them might opt for something cheaper “this time around.”

            Put differently: auto sales didn’t simply go to zero during the last recession – they went down, and the sales winners tended to be smaller, less expensive vehicles. The market won’t disappear – it’ll just change.

            We’ll see how all this plays out, and I might be wrong. But I’ll make a gentlemen’s bet that the car market is about to trend towards cheaper stuff. That might mean cheaper crossovers as well, but I think the sedan end of the market also stands to gain.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            the point is, if they already have a car (which is likely) then they don’t need a new one to “get them by.” If they are in this situation and *do* need to replace the car they have, then it’s highly likely they’re going to get something USED.

            that’s what you keep ignoring. Cheap low-end cars like this are competing with a s**tload of not-that-old used cars which are either cheaper, or a lot nicer for the same price.

            and I still want to know why people think cheap, small cars will somehow “save” the car companies in a time like this. The margins on them ain’t gonna get any better than they are now, and right now they’re nonexistent or red.

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Mike, one anomaly to take in consideration is that in the last recession, we had Cash For Clunkers both shrink the used car supply, and specifically stimulate new car sales.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          “$30,000 CUV they can “swing,” and take a $24,000 sedan they can “swing comfortably” instead. ”

          Sad to say but I think it’ll be more like “I can’t afford the payments on this ROgue, I’ll buy this Kicks instead.”

          Also a neighbor replaced a well worn 1st gen Versa sedan with a new Kicks, if that’s any indication (before all this hit the fan).

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “I bet that in the next few months, there are going to be a LOT of people who want a new car and fit this description might just pass on that $30,000 CUV they can “swing,” and take a $24,000 sedan they can “swing comfortably” instead.”

          I’m not sure on the “months” or “sedan” part, but I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation. Infinitely more so if there is a credit slowdown.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Sure there will be people who are more conservative with their (delayed) purchase, but I see someone moving down a size segment or going for the ace of base or mid level trim instead of all of the bells and whistles.

          So a Lariat instead of a King Ranch, a Rav-4 instead of a Highlander, or a HR-V instead of a CR-V and not a Sentra instead of a Pathfinder.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        FreedMike and Scoutdude, you have a formidable debate going on here. TTAC, pick up on this and run a thread. We should all discuss, and then await as results trickle in during the months to come.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Good job Nissan!

  • avatar
    R Henry

    This is a car that can give the Koreans some real challenge. I have often viewed the rise of the Koreans as directly related to the decline of Nissan–that Nissan’s flailing essentially enabled H/K.

    This car makes the argument that Nissan may be down, but not out.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    There’s virtually nothing here to indicate the writer actually drove the car. Came looking for a road test, found a press release instead.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      This is Ace of Base, basically a recitation of the info on a car off the automaker’s website. It is NOT a test drive review, and never has been.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        I thought the Ace of Base was intended as an acknowledgment of stripper-trim cars that were nonetheless good values and pleasant to drive. That implies having driven it.

  • avatar
    vvk

    > Versa definitely wins the award for Most Improved

    I don’t know about that. For the first time in three generations we don’t have a humongous back seat. The tall rear doors that made entry so much easier for older passengers are gone, too.

    Rear leg room is down by SIX INCHES! Rear roof line is 2.3 inches lower.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Oldsters will use that as an excuse to buy the Avalon they really want. Honestly I wasn’t aware that the 3 pedal subcompact market was supposed to be geared towards seniors.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I didn’t notice that, and that’s a shame. That gargantuan space was actually very useful for people with rear-facing car seats. Many compact cars couldn’t fit a rear-facing seat with taller people in front as well as the Versa (and Sentra) could.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This would be the only Nissan I would buy because it has a manual transmission. I was considering a Frontier but without a manual it would be of no interest because of the crappy Jatco transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      What exactly is wrong with Jatco’s regular stepped automatics?

      • 0 avatar
        Yankee

        Nothing if you’re a mechanic like me. I’ve replaced tons of them! They have always been poor quality transmissions from the mechanical to the electrical components. It’s why Honda and Toyota refuse to use them.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Honda and Toyota (Aisin) have their own in-house transmission sources, why on Earth would they outsource to Nissan’s transmission arm? What models with regular stepped automatics have had a lot of replacements?

  • avatar
    haroldhill

    I have long legs; no telescoping steering wheel stops my show.

    I’ve done mods to three cars to bring the steering wheel within reach, and I’ve sworn that I won’t do it again.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      I’ve done the same and I share your concern. If the seat goes back far enough, you’re reaching for the wheel, and if it doesn’t, you’re driving in a yoga position. I would add that massive center consoles that my knees keep rubbing against are similarly a deal-breaker. But it’s getting hard to find a vehicle without one anymore.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    Drum brakes on the rear wheels is not a sin in this segment. It’s perfectly acceptable, and quite frankly, there are a lot of vehicle sold out there where the extra costs and shorter replacement cycle of the disc brakes doesn’t correlate to the performance increase of the brakes. A small vehicle that will be used as a primary transportation device will likely never get even close to the braking limits of the vehicle except in an emergency situations,and most buyers here don’t care, and if they do, will chose the more frugal option of drums anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      Absolutely agree. Everyone thinks they need four-wheel-discs (just like they think they need all-wheel-drive). The fact is most people couldn’t tell the difference in driving, they just don’t last as long as rear drums, and don’t work well for a parking brake (which is why many automakers have abandoned the caliper lever setup and are installing mini drum brakes inside the disc hat, or installing costly electronic calipers). Another thing adding to the cost is that most modern disc brake rotors (especially rears) simply do not have enough metal to machine and must be replaced each time the pads are replaced. True the prices have come way down for rotors, but I rarely have to replace a set of drums when doing shoes.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I don’t mind the rear disc brakes as much as I mind the CVTs. Nissan could offer a base radio with a USB port if the price is low and offer a plastic floor. This might be the only Nissan available with a manual even though the manuals might be hard to find. At $14,730 it is a good buy for a new car.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The oldest member of my extended family daily-drives a close-to-base 2000 Camry. I have the genuine pleasure this week of doing some cosmetic clean-up on it. It has been well-maintained mechanically and is really nice for what it is.

    If you took good care of this 2020 Versa S, it would have a better chance of still being on the road in 2040 than many of the other vehicles we see in these pages.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    I’m shocked at the value in this segment. This thing is a screaming deal. Apparently the Koreans will sell you something similar too, with more power in the bargain. And the king of this segment was the old-model strippo 1.4 turbo Jetta–a bargain, easy on gas, AND legitimately nice to drive–but I think that’s gone away now with the much-improved new Jetta, yes?

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