ENCINITAS, Calif. -- On the narrow Del Dios Highway, Calif. S6 as it slithers around coastal hills of San Diego County, we're plying the go-pedal and pawing a padded steering wheel to test the limits of tire adhesion for the all-new 2014 Versa Note, a squirt-size 5-door hatch by Nissan priced from $13,990.
Itsy-bitsy subcompacts in the price-conscious economy club can be a pain to drive due to physical and fiscal restraints which may override concerns for car performance and passenger comfort.
That's not the way it works for this newest Nissan, however: Versa Note has a long wheelbase which makes room for a pair of doors on each flank and an arching roofline chopped behind the second door for a hatchback design.
Built on Nissan's global front-wheel-drive V platform, the small-scale Note hatch comes together at a Nissan assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
The expansive structure creates generous space for the passenger compartment with class-leading front-seat headroom, rear-seat legroom and cargo capacity.
Those riding up front do not feel so squeezed together in a tiny compartment, due to cabin dimensions, the ring of large windows and generous seats.
Body styling features taut skin stretched over muscular shoulders and shapely side panels. Sleek lines from the arching profile flow down to the stubby prow fixed with a gaping-mouth grille, broad air scoop and corner lamp clusters.
Note's windshield cocks back at an extreme angle and the arched roof tapers to a curt tail where large lamps define back corners in streaks of red.
Nissan pitches the Note as an entry-level vehicle (meaning a cheap set of wheels) with surprising cabin space plus a long list of on-board equipment, and the modest powertrain earns fuel economy scores as high as 40 miles per gallon (mpg) for cruising on a highway.
Mechanical hardware mounts on a stiff front-wheel-drive platform, such as the suspension which installs independent struts in front with coil springs and 22.0-mm stabilizer bar, and in back a torsion beam with 20.2-mm stabilizer bar.
The steering system adds electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of a modest engine.
Brakes utilize front ventilated discs and rear drums with electronic linkage to a four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), a traction control system (TCS) plus Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which automatically checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
For locomotion, Versa Note totes a dual-cam aluminum 4-in-line sequential multi-point injection engine that displaces 1.6 liters and adds continuously variable valve timing (CVVT). The 4-pack plant generates 109 hp at 6000 rpm and 107 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Standard gearbox for the price-leader Versa Note 1.6 S edition is an easy-shifting 5-speed manual transmission.
Other issues (S Plus and SV) employ Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Using the CVT, Versa Note achieves fuel consumption numbers of 31 miles per gallon for in-town driving and 40 mpg at speed on a highway. With the manual shifter, the fuel numbers tally to 27/36 mpg city/highway.
Nissan fills the cabin with air bags. There are dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for the front seats and curtain-style side air bags mounted in the roof above front and rear outboard seats.
The cabin has two bucket seats on the front row flanking a console and a second-row 60/40-split fold-down rear seat with space for two -- or three in a pinch.
An optional Divide-N-Hide Adjustable Floor system creates a flat cargo area with a hidden area underneath to stow valuables out of sight.
Price-leader Versa Note 1.6 S stocks the manual 5-speed transmission, 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, height-adjustable driver seat, a trip computer, power mirrors and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD with four speakers.
Note 1.6 S Plus trim adds the CVT and cruise control, plus Nissan's Active Grille Shutter (AGS) to boost fuel economy.
Top trim 1.6 SV with CVT and AGS also gets a keyless entry device, power controls for windows and door locks, upgraded cloth upholstery, 6-way adjustable driver seat, a leather-bound steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity.
Options include the SV Convenience Package, SL Package, SL Tech Package and Sport Value Package.
MSRP numbers for the 2014 Nissan Versa Note hatch run from $13,990 for the 1.6 S to $15,990 for the 1.6 SV.