By Christopher Jensen, Special to Tribune newspapers
3:33 PM EDT, August 12, 2010
Shortly after man began walking he probably began dreaming of going places while sitting down, and the Nissan Versa fulfills that ancient goal with minimal fanfare and expense.
The Versa that Nissan lent me was the least expensive hatchback, the 1.8 S. It was a 2010 model but the 2011 Versa, which is basically a carryover, is now on sale.
The 2011 pricing on the model I tried is $13,520, excluding destination charge. Standard equipment included air conditioning, AM/FM radio and CD player, tilt steering wheel, rear wiper, air bags for frontal and side-impact protection, anti-lock brakes and "active" front head restraints.
The test vehicle had a Power Plus package for $980. It included power windows, power door and remote/keyless entry. Two other options were splash guards for $110 and $155 for a mat set. That brought the total to $14,765.
The front-wheel-drive Versa is a great example of the common-sense virtues of a hatchback. Four 6-foot adults could travel with only a bit of scrunching. Behind the second row there would still be 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space. Dump two passengers and fold down the rear seat, and the Versa becomes a small station wagon. Nissan says the cargo capacity is 50 cubic feet.
The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated at 122 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm.
The Versa isn't fast, but the four-cylinder is surprisingly flexible, providing reasonable power even from engine speeds as low as 2,000 rpm.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimate is 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. That's OK but not great.
For a small car the suspension does a good job of diminishing the impacts of a potholed or broken road surface.
There is a lot of body lean under cornering and at first that can undermine confidence. But have a little faith. The Versa stops leaning and hangs in there. It doesn't feel as tight and quick to respond as the Honda Fit, and its electric steering needs more weight and feel, but it offers low-level fun.
In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety the Versa got the top rating — "good" — in front-, side- and rear-impact crash tests.
In the end the Versa doesn't win one over with prestige or speed. It beguiles with an economical price and a well-rounded practicality.
Contact Christopher Jensen at email@example.com
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