The Nissan Versa was one of a trio of all-new subcompact cars that arrived in 2007, the others being the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. Each has had sales success, but the Versa has been the stellar seller. In 2010 Versa sales were just short of 100,000 units, making it the top-selling subcompact car in America.
For 2011, the Versa is a visual copy of the 2010 model, though anti-lock brakes become standard instead of optional on more models.
Versa comes in two body styles, a four-door sedan and four-door hatchback, which accounts for 75 percent of sales. The sedan offers four different trim levels: 1.6 Base, 1.6, 1.8S and 1.8SL, and two different four-cylinder engines, a 1.6-liter and a 1.8-liter. There are two trims for the hatchback: 1.8S and 1.8SL, both powered by the 1.8-liter four. The Versa has the distinction of the only subcompact car with four different transmissions: a five- and six-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
If you’re thinking about buying a Nissan Versa, you might also consider a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris. Compare these vehicles.
When it comes to the Versa’s fuel economy, the EPA gives the nod to the top-of-the-line 1.8SL hatchback with the CVT: 28 city/34 highway and a combined 30 mpg. The sedan with the 1.6-liter engine matched to the five-speed manual is next with 26 city/34 highway and 29 mpg combined. The additional two-engine/transmission combinations both have a combined average of 28 mpg. Those numbers place the Versa behind the Honda Fit’s 31 combined mpg and the Toyota Yaris’s 32 mpg.
Exterior And Interior
While styling is subjective, reviewers are pretty much in agreement that the Versa sedan’s looks are nondescript. If there is a statement, it says, “promotion-rate rental car” or “cars are appliances.” It has a monotone exterior sans body side moldings, mesh grilles or front air dams. The grille has a familial likeness to the larger Nissan Altima and Maxima sedan. Angular, oversized headlights do provide a little styling finesse.
The Versa hatchback isn’t ultimately unique in its basic image, but it is well executed with a dynamic overall form. It has a tall arched roof—helps make it uncommonly roomy for a subcompact—with clean, sharp cut lines that are pleasing to the eye. Furthermore, the hatchback’s wedge-like shape, short overhangs, and wide stance, give the car an athletic appearance. Up front are large jewel-like headlights and Nissan’s signature grille. In back, distinctive triangular taillights call to mind Nissan’s Murano SUV.
The versatile interior of this car is where the Versa ultimately gets its name. Above all else, its spacious and roomy packaging makes it a very practical and appealing vehicle. The cabin stretches six feet from front to back, according to Nissan, and front leg- and headroom best both the Fit and Yaris. Rear seating is especially roomy for this class; legroom considerably beats the Yaris and Fit, and headroom is trumped slightly by the Fit. Total passenger volume is unmatched in the class.
Sedan buyers will find a trunk that is tall and large for the class with 13.8 cubic feet of space. A split folding rear seat is available only on the top trim level sedan. For more cargo versatility, the hatchback version offers a folding rear seat that allows for 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in use. Fold them down and there’re 50.4 cubic feet. But, the seatbacks don’t fold flat like the Yaris and Fit, and there is an annoying six-inch ledge to contend with.
The cabin, itself, is clean and simple. Materials, along with fit and finish are definitely economy car, like other cars in the class, but are vastly improved from just a few short years ago. The dashboard slopes downward, and a trio of interlocked circles place the instruments in an easy view position for the driver. To the right, in ergonomic fashion, are easy-to-reach audio and climate controls. A nitpick is cup holders placed under the dash are difficult to reach behind the gearshift lever.
No complaints about the Versa’s seating. Large front seats are roomy and comfortable, and the good news continues to the rear where a generous width allows room for two large adults to sit in comfort. As for a third adult in the middle position, hey, it’s a subcompact.
On The Road
In 2009, Nissan introduced a cheaper Versa to boost sales. Rather than the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine used in the first two years, the two new sedan models, 1.6 Base and 1.6, were fitted with a less powerful 1-6-liter four. Its output of 107 horsepower and 111 pounds-feet of torque are slightly more than the Toyota Yaris’s 1.5-liter engine. And, like the Yaris, the engine mated to a five-speed manual is a great around town grocery-getter but struggles a bit and gets noisy when merging with fast moving freeway traffic. The 1.6 engine and manual shifter muster a passing grade—power is adequate—but you probably won’t see any Versa 1.6s anywhere near a drag strip.
Versa’s 1.8-liter four is atop the subcompact class in engine output. The 122 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet of torque even exceed the recently introduced, and highly acclaimed, Ford Fiesta. (Think of torque as the main ingredient in acceleration and horsepower as the energy that maintains momentum.) Depending on model choice, this powerplant is connected to a six-speed manual transmission, a four-speed automatic or a CVT.
The six-speed gearbox wrings the most fun out of the engine, but the CVT is the most fuel-efficient. I‘m not a fan of CVTs, but this is a good one. Acceleration is brisk, and the CVT doesn’t wind out to high revs like most of its kind. Unfortunately, the CVT/1.8-liter engine combo is only available on the top-level trim.
Versa is fun-to-drive in a back-to-basics sort of way. Suspension design is typical of that found on subcompact cars—independent struts up front, a semi-independent torsion beam in the rear. Yet smart chassis tuning provides road manners that are above the norm, accomplishing quick lane changes and tight corners at speed with just a slight body lean and negligible nose plow. The suspension is compliant enough to smooth out most ripples in the road surface, yet stiff enough to maintain handling control. A nod to the steering, which is responsive and precise. The bottom line is the Versa provides a comfortable and pleasant ride with no unwanted surprises.
Priced at $9,990, the Versa 1.6 Base sedan competes for the title of “America’s least-expensive new car.” Note that the word “Base” is right there in its name and that’s exactly what it is. It graciously includes power windows but there is no air conditioning, no radio, no remote entry or power door locks and, anti-lock brakes (ABS) are a $250 option. The step-up 1.6 sedan model with an MSRP of $11,420 does add air, remote entry with power locks and ABS, but again nada on the radio. This pricing/feature structure is common practice for economy cars; check out the Toyota Yaris, Chevy Aver, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent.
The Versa 1.8 S and 1.8 SL models come in both sedan and hatchback form. Prices for the both the sedan and hatch are the same for each model; the 1.8S has a sticker of $14,100, the 1.8SL is $16,650. The pricing is just above the comparable Yaris sedan and hatchback and slightly below the Fit, which is a hatchback only.
The 1.8 SL model can be equipped with some features not common in its price range. For example, the optional power moonroof is an exclusive for the 1.8 SL hatchback. And 1.8 SL models in both body styles have an optional navigation/satellite package, which includes a 5-inch LCD touch screen monitor and XM satellite radio with real-time traffic information.
Versa doesn’t offer the same level of standard features as the Fit, or the fuel efficiency of the Yaris, but it does grant more room, more power, and greater ride comfort than both. If these things are of highest importance to a buyer, then the Versa is hands-down the best choice.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.