The Nissan Versa offers affordable, basic transportation in sedan and Versa Note five-door hatchback body styles. Surprisingly spacious in the back seat, especially in Versa Note hatchback form, the subcompact Versa received a modest freshening for 2015.
Little has changed for the 2018 model year, including the Versa’s price structure. Versa sedans gain standard adjustable front headrests, map lights, and variable wipers. A Special Edition package, added during 2017, is the sole option.
Sedans come in S, S Plus, and SV trim levels.
Versa Note hatchbacks are offered in S, SV, and SR guise. In SR trim, the Versa Note hatchback now includes pushbutton start, an immobilizer, and Easy Fill Tire Alert.
Each version contains a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 109 horsepower. We found that performance is not swift.
Versa S sedans come with 5-speed manual gearbox or continuously variable transmission (CVT). One of the lowest-priced cars on the market, the Versa S sedan also ranks among the most modestly equipped.
S Plus trim replaces the manual gearbox with Nissan’s CVT, which improves gas mileage considerably. The SV sedan adds such features as power windows/locks and a split-folding rear seat. An SV Special Edition package adds popular items, such as a 5.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, and alloy wheels.
All Versa Note hatchbacks get the CVT. Versa SR, the sportier top model, adds enhanced body details, a spoiler, and suede-like seat upholstery.
Neither federal regulators nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has put a Versa sedan or Note hatchback through a complete testing procedure. The IIHS gave the 2018 sedan Good scores in most tests, except for the small-overlap crash. That one earned a Poor rating for the driver, and no score for the front passenger. The Versa Note was tested only for moderate overlap, earning a Good rating.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2017 sedan a four-star score for frontal crash protection, but the 2018 hatchback suffered a rare (and worrisome) three-star score in the frontal crash. No ratings were given overall or for side-impact.
Advanced safety equipment is not available. A rearview camera is available on upper trim levels.
The Nissan Versa S sedan ($12,110) comes with a manual transmission, manual windows and door locks, four-speaker CD audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone, and 15-inch steel wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.) Versa S Plus sedan ($14,250) substitutes a CVT for the manual gearbox, adding cruise control and a rear spoiler.
Versa SV sedan ($15,840) adds upgraded fabric upholstery, a split-folding rear seat, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, and a lighted USB port. A Special Edition package ($500) for the SV sedan includes a 5.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, foglamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome front-end accents, and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Versa Note S hatchback ($15,480) is equipped similar to S Plus sedan, with CVT. Versa Note SV hatchback ($16,380) is comparable to SV sedan, but also includes rearview camera and 5.0-inch display, plus Divide-N-Hide adjustable floor.
Versa Note SR hatchback ($17,980) gets sporty exterior and interior enhancements, including foglamps, a rear spoiler, suede-like seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, body-color side sills, and mirror-integrated turn-signal indicator.
Unlike some models that come in twin body styles, the Versa looks impressively well-proportioned as a hatchback, but less appealing and more humdrum in sedan form. In fact, the two versions share no sheetmetal.
Either way, the Versa has fallen behind the times in design, compared to more stylish rivals it its price category. Other subcompacts have evolved, while the Versa essentially stood still.
Body components are familiar from other Nissan models, including the grille, large headlights, and bumpers. Most versions ride on 15-inch wheels, which look too small for the sizable wheelwells.
Inside, the two body styles are more closely aligned, falling short on styling. Except for its center stack, the dual-cockpit layout is hardly adventurous or enticing. Broad stretches of hard black plastic weaken its appeal even further.
Most adults will be satisfied up front, though not entirely comfortable over long distances. Leg space is bountiful out back. Rear-seat riders get 37 inches of legroom in the sedan, or 38.3 inches in the Note hatchback. Six-foot passengers can actually ride behind other six-footers without cramping.
Sedan trunk space is sizable for the subcompact class, at 14.9 cubic feet. The Versa Note boasts even greater space. With rear seatbacks upright, its hatch provides a hefty 18.8 cubic feet, expanding to 38.3 with the seatbacks folded. The available Divide-N-Hide adjustable floor holds small items underneath.
Base-model upholstery is indeed basic. Upgraded fabric in SV-trimmed Versas raises the quality level. Switches and buttons tend to feel hollow, even unsubstantial, failing to inspire confidence.
The sedan is quiet. Little road noise can be heard. And, thanks to more sound-deadening material, the hatchback is even quieter than the sedan.
Versas deliver a satisfying ride, though no better than expected. Handling is predictable but nicely composed, not as good as the Honda. A tight turning radius blends with comfortably weighted steering, to make each body style easily maneuverable around town.
The low-powered engine and continuously variable transmission often feel overwhelmed when striving to bring the Versa up to highway speed. Reaching 60 mph takes more than 11 seconds, sluggish performance. Passing on the highway can be challenging for the overburdened engine.
The base-model sedan’s standard 5-speed manual transmission doesn’t yield much improvement. Even worse, it extracts a substantial penalty in fuel economy.
Most Versa models are comparatively frugal in the subcompact category, at least with the CVT, though the engine must work hard to keep pace with traffic. With the CVT, the 2018 Versa is EPA-rated at 31/39 mpg City/Highway, or 34 mpg Combined. The manual-shift sedan is EPA-rated at a less-tempting 27/36/30 mpg. Bigger sedans, like Nissan’s own four-cylinder Altima, offer nearly comparable highway fuel economy while providing more interior room.
Affordable pricing is the foremost attraction, along with impressive back-seat space. The sedan is among the least-costly new cars, though Nissan’s CVT is a better choice than the S sedan’s manual gearbox. Most buyers are likely to consider the Versa Note more comfortable and versatile, though also more costly. Several good small cars are available, including the Chevrolet Sonic and Honda Fit, but the aging Versa is more about being affordable than being good.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.