Times have changed, however. Whereas not so long ago buying cheap and small meant you got cheap and small, today it doesn't necessarily mean either. Former entry-level cars such as the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla have grown in size, and no longer truly represent the compact class. Plus, performance-tuned models of each have also been developed, and, while geared for the small-budgeted enthusiast, these models sacrifice economy for horsepower. These developments have pushed entry-level price tags to all-time highs, leaving few models in the under-$15,000 class to choose from.
Fortunately though, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota aren’t neglecting the demand for entry-level compacts, which currently represents nearly 2 million units, or 11 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales. For 2007, the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris are poised to capture a significant chunk of buyers looking to go small. Among this new crop of compacts, the all-new 2007 Nissan Versa is worth a closer look, and you can check it out for yourself in five-door hatchback form this July, and in four-door sedan configuration in January of 2007. Nissan describes the Versa as a “plus-sized model at the upper end of the subcompact class,” but it clearly has the interior volume that you would expect in a larger vehicle.
Exact pricing has not been announced, although Nissan marketers report the Versa lineup will start at $12,000 excluding destination, likely as a sedan with the base manual transmission. With EPA fuel economy ratings up to 30 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, the attractively-designed Versa delivers solid power with class-leading horsepower and torque ratings, a choice between three transmissions, comfortable accommodations with best-in-class interior space, and high-quality execution in a package that is both affordable and efficient.
The 2007 Nissan Versa arrives amid a flood of new entry-level cars from a wide range of competitors. Although impressive, prices at $12,000 will not leave the new Versa unchallenged in the market: credible alternatives include the Honda Fit, Ford Focus ZX5, Kia Rio5, and Toyota Yaris. Nevertheless, Nissan expects the five-passenger Versa to deliver strong sales as 16 to 20 million Echo Boomers (the off-spring of Baby Boomers) reach driving age between now and 2010, but also forecasts that this segment will broaden its appeal to a wider range of buyers. We expect that the Versa’s size, power, price, fuel economy, quality and long list of standard amenities including side-impact and side curtain airbags will bring a host of customers who will find that buying small can reap big rewards.
Two available body styles along with S and SL trim levels provide the 2007 Nissan Versa with model variation. First appearing in July will be the five-door hatchback, followed by a sedan version in January 2007. The Versa 1.8S is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission, along with standard air conditioning, a 120-watt single-CD audio system, a tilt steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring, dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, and front seat active head restraints. In place of the six-speed gearbox, an optional four-speed automatic will be offered later this year.
Stepping up to the Versa 1.8SL yields upgraded amenities including a 180-watt stereo with six speakers and an in-dash six-disc CD changer, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, a driver’s seat height adjuster, a rear seat center armrest with cup holders, rear door pockets, remote keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, and an overhead console with a map lamp. Replacing the conventional automatic on the options list is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This powertrain yields top fuel economy.
Two option packages bolster the Versa S lineup, but also inflate the bottom line. A Power Package may be applied to 1.8S models, adding keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; and a glove compartment light. The ABS Package adds antilock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. Six option packages supplement the Versa SL. The ABS Package is exactly like the one offered on the Versa S. The Convenience Package adds Intelligent Key locking and starting, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone technology, steering wheel audio controls, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A Sunroof Package bundles a power sunroof with illuminated vanity mirrors. With the Satellite Radio Package, buyers choose between XM or Sirius programming. Audio and Sport Packages are also exclusive to the Versa SL, with premium speakers and a Rockford-Fosgate subwoofer highlighting the Audio Package, and a rear roof-mounted spoiler, side sill extensions, front and rear chin spoilers, and fog lights included with the Sport Package.
Nuts and Bolts
All 2007 Nissan Versas arrive with a new 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine delivering 122 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. These are solid numbers in the subcompact class, as most econoboxes are just pennies over the horsepower and torque century marks. Honda’s Fit rates at 109 hp./105 lb.-ft.; Kia’s Rio5 delivers 110/107; and Toyota’s Yaris yields 106/103, though to be fair, those competitors displace less than 1.6 liters. The Ford Focus ZX5 unleashes 136 horses and 133 lb.-ft. of torque from its standard 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, which is also PZEV rated. The only way to burn cleaner than PZEV is to go purely electric.
The Versa shines in the transmission department, offering a standard six-speed manual, a late arriving conventional four-speed automatic, and a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT eliminates gear steps in favor of an infinitely variable gear ratio, thus keeping the engine revving at the most appropriate speed at all times. Nissan says that Versas equipped with the CVT should achieve 30 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. Compare that to ratings for the six-speed manual at 30 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, and 28 city/35 highway for the four-speed automatic. Our real-world fuel economy in a Versa SL equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission was 24 mpg under a heavy throttle foot, so consider that number a worst-case scenario.
Front-wheel-drive is the only available driveline configuration. Other Versa highlights include an independent MacPherson strut front suspension, a torsion beam rear suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, electric power steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, standard 15-inch steel wheels with 185/65 tires, and optional six-spoke alloy wheels.
The 2007 Nissan Versa clearly originated from this Japanese automaker’s current design template. The front clip features a Murano-inspired full-length grille that curves outward and upward from the centered Nissan logo. Large headlights slide rearward along the tops of the fenders, referencing the Maxima, Murano, Quest and even the sporty two-seater 350Z. Hatchback and sedan models look very similar in profile, as they share the same robust C-pillar, though the sedan adds 6.8 inches of length behind the rear axle to create a huge trunk. Fans of avant-garde styling should opt for the hatchback and its clever triangular rear lamps that slide around the quarter panels and help define the beltline. In contrast, the sedan makes do with everyday taillights and conventional styling cues.
Interior materials are soft to the touch and in no way imply this vehicle is a bottom-of-the-line econocar. The Versa’s seats are good-sized, well padded and double-stitched. The dashboard is substantial in volume and includes an intuitively designed symmetrical center stack. A three-gauge cluster resides behind a three-spoke, height-adjustable steering wheel, with Nissan’s signature aluminum accenting brightening things up. Small triangular windows ahead of the side-view mirrors break up the mass of the A-pillars and provide more interior illumination.
Special attention has been paid to passenger volume with the intention that rear seat occupants will ride in comfort without sacrificing front seat space. The Versa offers 38 inches of rear legroom, compared to 33.7 inches in the Honda Fit, 33.8 inches in the Toyota Yaris hatchback, 35.6 inches in the Toyota Yaris sedan, 34.3 inches in the Kia Rio5, and 37.6 inches in the Ford Focus ZX5. Headroom is generous, too, though the Fit and Focus offer slightly more than the Versa.
As both a hatchback and sedan, Versa is a larger vehicle than you might expect and would best be described as class-straddling. Stretching 169.1 inches as a five-door and 175.9 inches as a sedan, Versa compares closely to Ford’s Focus, which measures 168.5 inches in ZX5 hatchback form and 175.2 inches as a sedan. Compared to the competition, the Versa is substantially bigger, though Nissan assures that it legitimately competes against vehicles classified as “subcompact” by the EPA. There’s nothing subcompact about the Versa’s ability to carry cargo, however. Hatchback versions yield 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up, and sedans deliver 13.8 cubic feet of trunk space.
We drove two pre-production versions of the 2007 Nissan Versa hatchback during a 130-mile drive, traveling from the urban landscape of Nashville, Tenn., the home of Nissan’s new headquarters, to the nearby rural countryside, where the Versa got a great workout on curvy roads. Despite a few complaints, our overall impression of the Versa is favorable when compared to others in its economy-priced class.
Motoring in the six-speed manual, the transmission’s gearing and response is pleasing at 60 mph in top gear, and the engine generates ample torque to pass without downshifting while heading to speeds upwards of 80 mph with no strain. We also enjoyed a drive in a Versa equipped with Nissan’s next-generation CVT, which also gave us plenty of get up and go. On the other side of the coin, we found the exhaust note harsh when driving aggressively with both transmissions and found the Renault-sourced manual gearbox notchy and imprecise in higher gears.
Thanks to a suspension that has been tuned to reduce “jitters” over rough or uneven pavement, the Versa delivers a stiff and responsive yet comfortable ride quality. But one of our other complaints centers on the Versa’s electric steering, which is tight and responsive at speeds up to 50 mph, but develops a nagging on-center dead spot at higher speeds.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the Versa’s quiet and upscale cockpit. Getting in and out of the Versa is easy, without the scrunching that is required to enter and exit some small cars. Once inside and seated in the bright and airy cabin’s full-sized chairs, you’ll feel like you’re in a larger vehicle, as even tall testers found ample room in each seating position. However, though the Versa is marketed as a five-seater, we would recommend four only as the center rear seat works best as extra hip and leg room, and is the only location for the rear cupholders. We also appreciated the side windows in front of the A-pillars and the large glove box.
Our test models were upfitted with Nissan’s optional ABS Package, and we found the Versa’s brakes responded with good modulation and pedal feel during our stop-and-go driving in city traffic and under hard braking evaluations out in the country. Even on a split-traction surface, with pavement on one side of the vehicle and dirt on the other, the Versa maintained its straight-line stability and stopped in a confidence-inspiring manner. Gauges and controls are cleanly designed and arrayed in a way that makes them easy to use. Of note, the steering wheel adjusts for height but doesn’t telescope, putting shorter people very close to the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals, especially the clutch, with its long pedal travel. Flipping and folding the rear seats is simple, and the rear liftover height is comfortably low allowing bags and goods to be loaded with ease.
FAQs and Specs
When does the new 2007 Nissan Versa go on sale and at what price?
Hatchback versions of the 2007 Nissan Versa go on sale in July of 2006, while sedans will be delayed until January of 2007. The four-speed automatic transmission for the Versa S will also be delayed until later this year. Nissan says pricing will start at around $12,000 for a Versa 1.8S with a six-speed manual transmission.
What are the fuel economy figures for the 2007 Nissan Versa and how large is its fuel tank?
The 2007 Nissan Versa has a fuel capacity of 13.2 gallons, and Nissan claims EPA estimated figures as follows:
What are the horsepower and torque figures for the 2007 Nissan Versa?
Nissan’s new 1.8-liter aluminum engine is rated to generate 122 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL Hatchback
Base Price: $14,000 (estimated)
Engine Size and Type: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 122 at 5,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 127 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy Range (city/highway): 30/34 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 24 mpg
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Width: 66.7 inches
Height: 60.4 inches
Head room (front/rear): 40.6 inches (without sunroof); 38.3 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 41.4 inches; 38 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Cargo volume: 17.8 cubic feet
Competitors: Chevrolet Aveo, Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus ZX5, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Pontiac Vibe, Scion xA, Scion xB, Suzuki SX4, Toyota Matrix, Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Rabbit
Photos courtesy of Nissan