Test Drive: Versa is functional but underpowered

The Nissan Versa.

The Nissan Versa.

Some cars are fun, and others are functional. The Nissan Versa is uber-functional — it contains all of the virtues an Uber driver looks for.

That is, the Versa is inexpensive to buy and operate, and it’s exceptionally roomy front and back, more like a midsize sedan than a subcompact. But it delivers subcompact-style fuel economy, reaching 40 mpg on the highway when the 1.6-liter-inline Four is paired with Nissan’s continuously variable automatic transmission. It also has a trunk that compares favorably, in terms of cubic footage, with many midsize and even full-sized cars.

In SV trim, the split rear seat folds down, too, a feature that proved helpful in transporting 80-inch-tall bifold closet doors.

The 2016 Versa SV starts at about $16,000. The base Versa S has a very low $11,990 base price. For drivers who want a little more functionality than the sedan offers, Nissan builds a hatchback version of the Versa, called the Note. It costs more than the sedan, but the base Note still undercuts the Ford Fiesta S, Honda Fit LX and Chevrolet Sonic LS on the bottom line.

Our Versa SV was better equipped than the S, though not lavishly so. Standard equipment includes power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, driver’s information center, tilt steering wheel, driver’s right arm rest, cruise control, and audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel.

What we liked best about the Versa was its easy access and egress. This is a rather tall vehicle, standing about 5 feet from pavement to roof, so no contortions are required of drivers and passengers. Our 6-foot-tall driver wouldn’t have minded a little more legroom and a telescoping steering wheel, neither of which is available in any Versa model.

We also liked the Versa’s fuel efficiency and smooth, quiet ride — though the engine made itself heard during hard acceleration.

The Versa’s major weak spots are handling and power. The little four-banger produces just 109 horsepower, and the CVT does not bring out the best in this engine. Also available in the Versa are a 5-speed stick shift and 4-speed conventional automatic, either of which would have a positive effect on engine performance. Both, however, exact a fuel-economy penalty, compared with the CVT.

While roomy, the interior is not particularly inviting because of the predominance of cheap plastic components. Mitigating this deficiency somewhat, the controls are simple and straightforward.

The Versa handles competently but does not truly engage the driver. Rivals from Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai/Kia, Honda and Mazda are more fun to drive than the Versa but tend to compress drivers, passengers and luggage into smaller spaces.

The Versa’s predicted reliability is average, according to U.S. News & World Report. Its safety record is mixed; the 2015 Versa received the top rating of “Good” in every crash-test category except the small-overlap test, in which it was rated “Poor” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

 

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

 

2016 Nissan Versa SV

Price: $16,415

Engine: 1.6-liter inline Four, 109 horsepower, 107 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Curb weight: 2,468 lb.

Wheels: 15×5.5-in. steel with full wheel covers

Tires:  P185/65R15 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 10.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city, 40 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

 

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