Well done Nissan Versa hatchback is no econobox
The Versa's cabin is spacious and equipped with plush, supportive seats, and it offers a list of available features that for a long time were only found in more high-end cars. Starting MSRP $9,990-$16,900. 2011 Nissan Versa review (December 7, 2010)
Versa comes as two basic models — a hatchback, tested here, and a four-door sedan, which is less expensive and, sadly, rather dowdy-looking. The Versa sedan with the weak-willed 1.6-liter 4-cylinder actually starts at $9,990 and was the cheapest car in America until Hyundai dropped the price of a base two-door Accent to $9,970. Both are Amish-level spartan, but can be upgraded if you are willing to spend more.
If you want a car you can live with, the Versa hatchback is worth the extra cost: The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is not exactly overpowered at 122 horsepower, but that's 15 more than the 1.6-liter in the sedan. The hatchback styling is contemporary, and there's plenty of headroom even in the rear seat and a surprising amount of legroom.
The SL model is more deluxe than the S: Our test SL listed for $18,015, including shipping, but look what you get: Side and curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, remote locking and a security system. Outside, there are 15-inch tires and alloy wheels, fog lights, a spoiler and lower body trim. Mechanically, you get a continuously variable transmission, which works like an automatic but in one continuous stream, rather than shifting from gear to gear, and front and rear stabilizer bars.
Inside, though, are the surprises: Yes, there are power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, electric power steering with tilt and cruise control, a nicely designed dashboard trimmed with fake wood, well placed instruments and controls, but there's also a color touch-screen navigation system and an upgraded, 180-watt sound system with XM satellite radio. The same equipment on a Honda Fit Sport would cost you nearly $2,000 more.
The navigation system and XM radio added $610, which is a steal. Our car also had $155 worth of carpeted floor mats, including in the trunk. Delete those features, and opt for the six-speed manual instead of the CVT, which means you'll drop to the 1.8 S model, and you have a very nice car, with the same safety features, for about $15,300.
And how does it all work on the road? Good. Not great, but good — less fun than the Fit Sport or Mazda3, but well above the penalty-box feel of a few other low-buck new cars. The CVT manages the 122 horses reasonably well, though I still prefer a conventional automatic. EPA-rated fuel mileage, at 28 mpg city, 34 highway, reflects what we saw in real-world driving.
Front seats could use a little more lateral padding, but they are still quite comfortable and adjustable enough to accommodate almost anyone. Otherwise, there's nothing in the cockpit that suggests cost-cutting, especially that navi. Handling is good on winding roads, and the highway ride is better than you'd expect. Construction quality of the Mexico-built car appeared above average.
The Versa SL hatchback is a car I could cheerfully live with for a long time.