Strengths and weaknesses:
- interior space
- nimble handling
- noisy CVT
- few instruments
Study in Versa-tility
Small on the outside, yet big on the inside, the Nissan Versa has been a solid sales success and continues to be available as a four-door sedan and hatchback for 2010.
Versa S, in sedan form, comes with a 1.6-litre engine and five-speed manual and starts at just $12,698. The S Hatchback gets the bigger 1.8-litre engine coupled to a six-speed manual, and starts at $14,198. Both S versions can be ordered with a four-speed automatic. Our test car is the Hatchback SL equipped with the optional Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Nissan says Versa is competing with the likes of the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. But with an overall length of 4,470 mm, it’s bigger than all those subcompacts and has interior space more in line with compact vehicles like Chev’s Cobalt, Honda’s Civic and Toyota’s Corolla. In fact, Versa’s 2,670 litres of interior space is almost as great as the 2,767 of the larger Nissan Sentra, and its front seating positions are even roomier than the midsize Nissan Maxima.
That alone makes Versa my pick in its segment, if I’m taking three adults along with me on a long trip. Indeed, those riding in the rear will have few complaints – airlines should give you this much leg and shoulder room when you fly economy class!
The ride is quite good thanks to its independent front strut and torsion beam rear suspension. Big dips and potholes are eaten up with ease, but it’s not too happy when it encounters washboard surfaces.
The suspension, plus front and rear anti-sway bars and electric power steering give Versa handling that’s quite nimble. Fifteen-inch wheels are standard in a segment where 14-inch wheels are the norm.
One feature that sets Versa apart is its “soft-touch” interior, where just about every surface that comes into contact with your body has a layer of padding underneath (know how your left elbow can get sore from the hard door-mounted armrests found even on some luxury cars? That won’t happen in the Versa).
The only sour note in an otherwise well thought-out cabin is the placement of the front cupholders, where it’s awkward for the driver to reach around the shift lever for the takeout cuppa joe.
Our test car is loaded with every available factory option – which isn’t saying much because even the base SL model is pretty well equipped with ABS, tilt steering, variable intermittent front wipers, air conditioning, a premium six-speaker audio system with in-dash CD changer, MP3/WMA playback capability and iPod connector, power doors/windows/mirrors, remote keyless entry and six airbags.
Coupled to the CVT is a 16-valve, DOHC 1.8-litre inline four with variable valve timing. This drive train allows Versa to scoot from 0-100 km/h in just a few ticks over10 seconds.
But at full throttle, the CVT howls like banshee – and the noise doesn’t abate until you reach cruising speed and ease your right foot off the gas pedal. But in normal driving on the highway or in town, the Versa is no noisier than any other car in its class.
There’s a certain amount of wind and tire noise, too – but nothing out of the ordinary for an entry-level vehicle.
I had a Versa sedan for a long-term test a couple of years ago equipped with the much quieter automatic transmission (a $1,000 extra). That’s what I’d want in the more versatile hatchback, even if it means buying the base S model and then upgrading with the $1,600 value option package (VOP), which includes power windows and locks, manual A/C, remote entry and the soft-touch materials.
Then again, if you can drive a stick, Versa Hatchback is even more fun with the slick-shifting six-speed manual.
The neat thing is, you’ve got a choice of three transmissions and can tailor Versa to your driving needs. And how many cars – entry level or otherwise – can boast about that kind of choice?