By sheer coincidence, last year was the second time The Garage had a Nissan in its stable for the Christmas holiday. While the popular crossover Murano seemed like a logical choice when some travel and hauling Santa’s loot were factors, friends and family howled at the prospect of me repeating the same feat in Nissan’s smallest, entry level car, the Versa. Turns out the joke was on them, so let’s hope they don’t end up with coal in their stocking next Christmas.
While it was once fair to toss around terms like “bottom feeder” when describing an automaker’s most inexpensive offering, such derogatory terms do not apply when discussing the Versa. The Versa has been around since 2007, with some refreshing in 2010 in four door sedan and hatchback forms. In 2010, the Versa outsold the long-tenured Sentra, making it Nissan’s second best selling car behind the Altima. So, you ask, what make the Versa a hit? Read on.
Style-wise, the Versa sports a clean, smart appearance. Our top-spec 1.8 SL hatchback with the Premium Package was dressed up with 16″ alloy wheels, rear spoiler, fog lights and side sills for a slightly upscale look. Some see some of Renault’s influence on the hatchback version of the Versa, which I think is a bit of a stretch, but our test car presented itself well, if not exactly memorable. While the Versa doesn’t offend at all, before you start howling that the car is on the bland side, allow me to remind you the Versa-based cube is anything but bland.
Inside, the Versa provides a well built, roomy, quality cabin. All controls are simple and straightforward, and if there is any complaint, it is a lack of style or design detail. The enormous swath of plastic the front seat passenger faces is a bit dreary. Our Versa was equipped with some features not normally expected on an entry level car, especially touch screen navigation and XM Satellite Radio, as well as keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth. and iPod interface.
Our Versa was powered by a 1.8L four, rated at 122hp, and paired with a CVT transmission. As a car guy, I cannot get excited about a CVT, but I will concede that Nissan is best in the business here. Versa buyers want good fuel economy, and the EPA figures of 28/34MPG city/highway are decent figures in this class. The Versa has no trouble scooting around town, and even on the highway passing was never a problem. Nissan tuned the suspension more for comfort than sport, but the car never felt sloppy when the road got twisty.
So, while everyone laughed at the prospect of me driving the tiny Versa for Christmas, again, the joke was on them. I managed to stuff enough toys to sink a ship, a 40″ Hi-Def TV Ã‚Â and my wife and son into the car without breaking a sweat. And while listening to Christmas carols on the stereo, the Versa cruised effortlessly at 80mph without so much as making a stir.
Buyers seeking a sportier driving experience in a sub-compact would be well directed to the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta or Mazda2. Still, Nissan has managed to build a small entry level car that behaves like a larger one. Our fully optioned Versa rang in at $19,995USD. At first glance, that may seem like a lot, but considering the equipment our test car came with, the Versa is a reasonable buy. Ã‚Â The trend for premium features in small cars has been present in Asian and European markets for years, and Nissan is wise to offer North American buyers these features in a small practical car as well.