In Nissan’s world, the Versa name covers two separate, distinct vehicles. This report covers the conventional subcompact four-door sedan, with a trunk. Nissan also offers a Versa Note five-door hatchback with its own set of merits and demerits.

Pricing and Equipment

Starting at $11,990 (plus $815 destination charge) in S trim with manual shift, the Versa rises to $15,530 in popular SV trim and also comes in top SL form. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes 109 horsepower. SV and SL models use a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Standard equipment for the Versa SV includes:

  • Continuously variable transmission
  • Cruise Control
  • Power locks and windows
  • 60/40 split-folding rear seat
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • 15-inch wheels

An SV Technology Package adds a touchscreen, navigation, and rearview camera. SL trim adds an Intelligent Key, rearview camera, foglamps, and 16-inch wheels.

Performance Pros

Nissan Versa Sideview Mirror
  • CVT operation. Continuously variable transmissions tend to annoy enthusiast drivers. Typically, they complain -- with no shortage of snark -- that CVTs are sluggish and enable noisy engines. Nissan’s version blends blissful smoothness with wholly adequate response, emitting little excess engine sound. Spirited? Maybe not; but try a CVT, and you just might like it.
  • Ride comfort. Versa excels in ride comfort, even when tromping over potholes and choppy surfaces. A soft suspension absorbs most road flaws without fuss.
  • Gas mileage. Not record-setting, but not far off. With a CVT, the Versa gets an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 31 mpg on city streets and a thrifty 40 mpg on the highway (35 mpg in combined driving).

Performance Cons

  • Acceleration. Even fans of the CVT have to admit that acceleration to 60 mph is leisurely: by the numbers, it takes 11.5 seconds. That sounds like a performance figure from decades ago, but 109 horsepower only goes so far.
  • Highway handling. Light steering tends to demand small corrections of the wheel to stay on course at higher speeds, though it feels suitably weighted.
  • Lack of gears. Some folks just can't get used to a CVT, which contains a belt rather than gears.

Interior Pros

  • Materials. In addition to abundant hard plastic, the fabric headliner has a particularly tacky feel, more like cardboard than cloth. The basic-looking dashboard conveys a decidedly low-rent aura.
  • Rear-seat headroom. Considering all the space for legs in back, you’d think headroom would be abundant, too. Because of the headliner’s shape, though, an average-size passenger shouldn’t expect more than an inch or so of clearance.
  • Front-seat comfort. Front cushions are short (as in many cars), but also flat, lacking support.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Nissan Versa Rear Quarter

The roomy back seat has to be the stellar attraction. Total interior volume, too, is surprisingly large compared to the Versa’s exterior dimensions. It sure makes us wonder why so many cars, some considerably larger than Versa, stuff their reluctant back-seat riders into positions that only a contortionist is likely to enjoy.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Safety hasn't been top-notch, but this least pleasant surprise is less unpleasant thanks to an improvement in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) frontal-impact score—from three stars to four stars—that gives the Versa across-the-board four-star ratings for 2016. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety declared Versa to be Good on all tests except the small-overlap, which is more stringent. Standard safety features are meager, and you can’t even add any of the latest advanced safety technology.

The Bottom Line

Nissan’s no-frills Versa is a sensible small car for small budgets, easy to drive and park, but marred by those safety numbers. There’s nothing flashy or memorable about the sedan, while the Versa Note hatchback has more charm. Remember, too, that the advertised starting price buys a stripped-down S model, with manual shift and wind-up windows.