When it’s time to haul luggage, this Nissan’s trunk offers about 15 cubic feet of space and is both broad and long. For added versatility, the 60/40 split rear backrest folds down for extra capaciousness.
The Versa’s only engine is a 1.6-liter inline-4. Without the aid of any forced induction, its output is modest, just 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. As you might imagine, it sounds a bit taxed when laboring, but otherwise feels pretty smooth for what it is. The acceleration this engine provides is adequate, but in certain situations, like when passing dawdling tractor-trailers or merging onto the highway, you’ll pine for more gusto. Despite those lackluster numbers, the Versa feels feisty off the line, its throttle tip-in is tuned to be borderline jumpy, but whether you’re one-third of the way into the accelerator or flat out, the Versa doesn’t accelerate any quicker, plus its vigor lags at speeds beyond about 50 mph. Plan your overtaking maneuvers accordingly.
A quick-witted continuously variable transmission is standard on the midrange SV and top-shelf SR models. It responds smoothly and promptly to driver inputs, making the most of the Versa’s available horses. Nissan’s D-Step Logic causes the CVT to “shift” like a conventional automatic when driven in anger, which reduces droning sounds and that annoying rubber-band feeling endemic to these transmissions. Providing a welcome bit of choice, the base S grade is available with a five-speed manual gearbox. It may be more affordable up front, but this three-pedal arrangement sure eats into the Versa’s fuel economy, costing you a whopping 5 miles per gallon across the board. Models fitted with the CVT are rated at 32 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. In mixed use, I’m averaging about 38 mpg, which is pretty stellar considering how liberal I am with the gas.
Other aspects of the Versa’s dynamics are mostly likable. The ride quality is taut yet forgiving, which makes the car feel a segment or two larger than it actually is. No tinniness or fragility is detectable while driving over ravaged pavement or rough dirt roads, though it does feel a bit top-heavy in corners, with a wisp of body roll when pushed. Also, wind noise is pronounced at freeway speeds, though I wouldn’t consider it loud inside. Pronounced, yes. Raucous, no.
This Nissan’s biggest dynamic weakness is unquestionably the steering. Light and laughably limp, it’s about the most lifeless you’ll find in any new car available today. There’s so little feedback, it almost seems like you’re driving a car in some video game rather than on real roads, which is unfortunate.
A frills-free Versa with a five-speed manual can be had for a skosh less than $16,000 including destination fees, which are $950. That total makes this Nissan sedan one of the most-affordable new cars you can buy today, yet despite the bargain buff’s price tag it still comes with a surprising amount of driver aids and other creature comforts. Of course, the pinnacle SR model I’m reviewing here is a bit steeper than that, though not as much as you might expect. Including $395 for Monarch Orange Metallic paint, a Nissan signature hue, and a sprinkle of other options, it checks out for $21,155, about half of what the average new vehicle goes for these days. And even though this Versa is a few grand richer, it’s more comfortable than either an entry-level Chevy Spark and roundly superior to the Mitsubishi Mirage. A Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent or Kia Rio might give this Nissan a run for its money, but that doesn’t detract from the Versa’s long list of virtues. It’s a good little car for a great price.