Constantly escalating gas prices are causing more buyers than ever to consider small cars, and the latest Nissan Versa sedan is worth a look for its combination of size and value. Though priced like a subcompact, the Versa is actually classified as a compact according to government ratings and features rear-seat and trunk space that rivals midsize sedans.
After receiving a new four-speed automatic last year, the Versa sedan makes due with minor mechanical and content changes for the latest model year. The Versa lineup expands with a new Note hatchback model.
Outside, the Versa largely blends in with the rest of the automotive landscape - aside from a somewhat awkwardly elongated profile. Its length does pay dividends in interior space, with a 14.8 cubic foot trunk that is cavernous by class standards. The rear seats offer sufficient width for three adults and more legroom than the BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class and short-wheelbase Lexus LS.
Up front, the dashboard features easy-to-use controls but suffers from decidedly downmarket and unrefined materials.
Despite its size, the most basic Versa checks in with the lowest starting price of any new car in the U.S. More money can be saved thanks to its fuel economy, which is rated at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway (up from 38 from the 2012 model year) with an optional continuously variable transmission. The standard five-speed manual drops those figures to 27/36 mpg. The third gearbox option, an antiquated four-speed automatic, is a less expensive way to avoid operating a clutch pedal than the CVT, but it lowers mileage to 26/35 mpg.
Regardless of transmission choice, all Versas are motivated by a 1.6-liter inline-four that produces 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque. Power is adequate, but other cars in the class offer significantly more thrust either standard or optionally.
Nissan recently revised the Versa's steering and suspension for improved responsiveness.
Trim Level Breakdowns
The Versa comes in three distinct trim levels: S, SV and SL. All received a small amount of new features for the latest model year.
The value-leader S is equipped with the five-speed manual in addition to an AM/FM/CD stereo with two speakers and an auxiliary audio input jack, air conditioning and a trip computer. A tachometer and low rolling-resistance tires are recent additions to the standard features list. Concessions to the low price include 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, roll-up windows and manual locks.
The four-speed automatic is optional on the S, while the S Plus sub-trim includes the CVT in addition to a rear spoiler and cruise control.
The mid-level SV adds two speakers to the stereo, power windows and locks, an upgraded trip computer, higher-quality cloth seats and remote keyless entry. Other interior upgrades include cloth door trim, chrome interior door handles, a driver's seat armrest and a painted shift knob. New kit includes a standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat and a key fob trunk release button.
The best outfitted Versa is the SL, which includes SV features plus steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a radio-data system, Bluetooth phone integration and silver trim accents, an Intelligent Key with a remote trunk release and an immobilizer, sunvisor extensions, and a driver's seat armrest. New features include 16-inch alloy wheels, a 4.3-inch audio display, a "tri-cot" headliner and SiriusXM capability.
An optional SL Tech Package includes Nissan's RearView Monitor for aiding maneuvers in parking lots.
All Versa models come equipped with dual front, side and side-curtain airbags, along with stability and traction control systems, ABS, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Versa Sedan also received a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Nissan's Versa Sedan breaks the traditional mold of the compact sedan, opting for more room at the cost of content. As a result, it is larger than competitors like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus or Chevrolet Cruze, but less expensive and not quite as well appointed, either. The Hyundai Elantra and Kia Rio offer similar equations of value, albeit with less room and more content.