Since Nissan introduced the first Versa to the United States five years ago, 350,000 of the subcompact hatchbacks and sedans have been sold here. Its popularity has stemmed in large part from its placeholder in the auto market as one of the most affordable cars available. Indeed, the entirely redesigned sedan starts at a mere $10,990 and that includes a radio and air conditioning (although you’ll have to crank the windows by hand), making the Versa a front runner for the fiscally-conservative on both ends of the age spectrum.
In my opinion, styling changes in the all-new sedan result in a better-looking car compared to the former version. Nissan has shaved the Versa’s overall height with a curvier roofline and windows, added 2.7 inches to the rear overhang, beefed up the grille and included new PUREDRIVE badging to indicate the car is working to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, with fuel economy numbers at 30/38/33, the automatic transmission in the new Versa gets five mpg more than last year's model, a feat achieved in part by shedding a whopping 150 lbs with the redesign.
The Versa isn’t the sportiest-looking vehicle to grace American roadways, but just like some people are more comfortable sitting in the back of the room instead of performing on stage, or painting their walls beige instead of red, there's a place in automotive design for understatement. The Versa looks like a car that's not taking any chances and for some people, that's just fine.
The Versa's 4-cylinder engine only puts out 109hp, a good deal less than its nemesis, the Hyundai Accent GLS sedan, which boasts 138hp. While some people are going to knock the reduction, others aren't going to care. Remember, the car is getting five extra miles out of every gallon and for the thrifty people buying it, that's a pretty big deal when it comes to swiping their cards at the pump. While the Accent has better fuel economy at 40mpg on the highway, the Versa will cost a bit less upfront.
For me, driving the Versa was unremarkable, and that's not a slam. Nothing, from the feel of the steering to the gear changes in the transmission to its maneuverability on the road, gave me any kind of tactile cause for pause. For people who just need wheels, the Versa delivers.
It’s a subcompact so you’d expect to be cramped inside but the Versa actually leads its class in interior space. In fact, when I sat in the back seat I was thoroughly impressed with the car’s roominess, although that doesn’t say much considering I’m only 5’4”. A Kelly Blue Book editor who drove the car with me (a guy about 6 feet tall) had plenty of room in the back seat and his head just about touched the roof.
Compared with the cheap plastics you would have seen in this class five years ago, the dash and other plastics in the new Versa aren’t as shiny as they used to be. The seats are adequately comfortable and the interior comes off as functional and pragmatic.
For people who need wheels but want a small car payment, the Versa is definitely a car to test drive. The only question is whether the Hyundai Accent with its better fuel economy is a better bet in spite of a slightly higher price tag. Long-distance commuters might opt for paying more up front and saving at the gas pump later.