A quality piece of work matched by a premium price
IntroductionNissan Versa Sedan – Review: Deceptively large. Two simple words that we use to describe things like houses and girls whose headshots we saw on the Internet. They also apply to the 2007 Nissan Versa Sedan, an all-new offering that takes on the subcompact Toyota Yaris, yet with its more spacious cabin, actually garners a midsize classification from the EPA. But more than dimensions, there are quality materials and features often reserved for vehicles in a more expensive segment, an area the Versa Sedan encroaches upon quickly. Considering its placement on the lower rungs of the market, the as-tested price of $18,045 had us scratching our heads, wondering how such a small car could offer so much room and carry such a lofty price.
For this review, we drove an up-level 2007 Nissan Versa Sedan SL, a pre-production unit loaned from Nissan, meaning it was an example built for testing and evaluation and not for retail sale. As such, we didn’t receive a window sticker, so had to estimate the price of our ride. Starting with the SL’s base price of $14,550, we added $615 for destination charges, $1,000 for the continuously-variable automatic transmission, another $700 for the Convenience Package, $600 for a power sunroof, $250 for antilock brakes, and $300 for Sirius satellite radio. Tally it up, and you’ve got a grand total of $18,045.
We’re admitted power junkies, and are therefore still coming to terms with the impressiveness of four-cylinder-powered cars like the Versa. Whether traveling around town or along challenging twisty roads, the power was sufficient, and when it came to highway driving, sufficient to the point of pulling us to triple-digit speeds, a fact we were unaware of until noticing how slow our fellow road warriors had become. If there was one thing we’d change it’d be the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s fine for casual driving, but when you want to punch it to merge with traffic, or when powering out of turns on a twisty road, the delay in power delivery can be annoying and nerve-wracking. We recorded 27.1 mpg.
Nissan will build you a capable handler if that’s what you want, but it’ll be carrying a Z badge. It will not be labeled the Versa Sedan. Just for curiosity and grins, we romped with the little Nissan four-door on one of our usual twisty road routes and found the suspension to be soft, the steering to be somewhat responsive yet uncommunicative through the steering wheel, and the Continental ContiPro Contact 185/65R15 tires to be serious squealers given the mildest of provocation. During normal driving, the soft suspension smoothes out rough roads, the steering’s light effort at slow speeds is a joy, and the brakes, always responsive and effective, are a selling point.
Sitting tall, the Versa Sedan features an expansive greenhouse with lots of side glass for safe merging, a large windshield for front viewing, and a rear window that when coupled with the retractable headrests makes it easy to see what’s going on behind you. Ample side mirrors and reasonable B- and C-pillars help, too. The only offenders are the A-pillars, which ironically feature small lower glass inserts meant to improve visibility. Simply put, they don’t help much. Due in part to the front doors’ shape, the base of the A-pillar is especially wide, and even with those small pieces of glass, the front three-quarter view is severely limited.
Fun to Drive
Fun is a day at Disney World, or playing basketball with your kids. Driving the Nissan Versa Sedan, on the other hand, is more like watching the evening news, or visiting your doctor once a year; it’s something you do because its part of the routine, just not a part that necessarily puts a smile on your face. For that, we’d swap out the CVT and put in the more enjoyable six-speed manual transmission, and the soft suspension and 15-inch tires would need to be dealt with if fun was the ultimate goal. The Versa Sedan may be comfortable and accommodating in every daily driver way, but smiles-per-mile is not one of the car’s attributes.
Nissan just may be the current leader when it comes to small car comfort. The Versa Sedan, like the Versa Hatchback, offers a very welcoming front seat area. Our SL tester featured a thickly-padded leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, padded armrests (on the doors and between the seats) and sills, and spacious buckets that are sure to accommodate the widest of keisters. Given the car’s shape, there’s plenty of head room with generous leg and shoulder room to match. Seat bolsters are insignificant on the lower sections, but the seatbacks are curved with decent side support. Large padded headrests, and a height-adjustment lever on the driver’s side, round out the package.
Little cars with spacious back seats – they’re one of life’s little hidden gems. Nissan has mined a great one in its Versa Sedan, offering copious amounts of leg and foot room, and generous head room. If, for some odd reason, the leg room measurements are not sufficient, the soft front seatbacks promise a friendly encounter with intruding knees. The bench seat, shaped much like the buckets up front but with a slightly flatter and narrower bottom section, is immensely comfortable and features a natural recline position. A padded fold-down center armrest and adjustable headrests ensure outboard passenger comfort, as do the padded door armrests and sills. Entry and exit are problem-free courtesy of the wide-opening doors.
En route to the NASCAR race at the California Speedway, my passenger commented on how quiet the Versa was at idle; we both compared it to the silent operation of a hybrid at a stop light. Part of that is a quiet engine, and part is due to sound insulation, as there’s not a lot of racket inside the cabin at higher speeds. With the CVT, the revs are often pushed up near redline for extended periods, so driver and passengers will hear the engine in those instances, but Nissan has designed the engine to be as refined as any other in the class, if not more so. There’s also some road noise, and while it’s not bothersome, the wind noise around the upper door sills is.
Like its hatchback sibling, the 2007 Nissan Versa Sedan isn’t shy about toting cargo. The trunk opens wide, is tall and wide if not terribly deep, and features a reasonable liftover height. Pluses include the full lining, even on the inside of the trunk lid, and the split rear seat that extends the load floor, albeit not a flat one. Minuses include the lid hinges that fold down on cargo, the lining material that is loose at the upper edges, and the flat, light silver paint on the inside of the lid and rain gutters, especially since our tester’s exterior was sprayed in a darker gray metallic.
Given that our Versa SL Sedan was technically a pre-production car (one of the not-quite-ready-for-primetime players built for evaluation purposes and not public sale), the misaligned left dash panel has to be taken with a big grain of salt. Simply put, any glaring issues we might see on this car should be rectified before the Versa Sedan is cleared for retail sale. But just in case, you might check the examples on your dealer’s lot for irregular gaps around the hood and trunk, and numerous interior panels that pop off with little effort (plastic sill covers and rear upper door panels).
Nice going, Nissan. For the most part, the 2007 Versa Sedan provides the level of materials quality that’s surprising for this class. Overhead is an upscale mesh headliner with matching fabric on the visors and sunshade; doors are decorated with padded surfaces and fabric matching what’s on the seats, and the steering wheel is wrapped with soft black leather. All good stuff, as are padded areas of the dash. What we’re not as crazy about are the hard plastic pieces of the dash and lower console, though they do coordinate with the other bits in pieces in terms of grain and color.
Does everything always have to be about looks? No, but just try selling a homely car. Thankfully, for its sake, the Versa Sedan is short of homely, though it isn’t the prettiest kid in the class, either. Its tall, narrow shape gives the Versa Sedan a Toyota ECHO-like stance, which is good for the interior but takes a bit of adjustment on the eye’s part. The exterior lines and light treatments are rather generic. Inside, some of our editors found the numerous textures and surface breaks to be negatives, while others gave thumbs up for attempting to offer contemporary style in a class not known for such endeavors. That being said, the obviously painted silver bits and faux carbon fiber could go.
One’s perspective on Versa Sedan storage largely depends on seating position. If you’re the driver or front passenger, you might rave about the large door slots (including cupholders), the extremely deep glovebox (that unfortunately drops its lid on the passenger’s knees), the overhead sunglass holder, the nicely lined center armrest, the deep covered cubby atop the radio, or the two cupholders forward of the shifter. However, if you’re seated out back, you might feel slighted with your relatively tiny door slots (without cupholders), the total absence of seatback pockets, or the center fold-down armrest with its two cupholders and zero storage. That’s especially interesting since the rear seat is otherwise very inviting.
Nissan’s rendition of stereo controls varies from the norm a bit, but with clear markings and big buttons there’s nothing to complain about. Central to the whole deal is a silver-trimmed volume dial, in the center of which is a smaller power button. Moving outward, there are preset buttons, equalizer and auxiliary function buttons, and an input jack for your iPod. Large buttons on the outer edges of the radio face take care of scanning and tuning, while smaller buttons above work the mode and CD functions. It’s a setup that works, and is supported by controls on the left spoke of the steering wheel. These buttons are easy to use, though we’d prefer them to be illuminated for nighttime use.
The 2007 Nissan Versa Sedan’s climate controls are right up our alley. Three no-brainer dials; one for mode, one for temperature settings, and one for fan speed. If you can’t figure that out, you deserve those numb fingertips in January. The dials offer a good dose of resistance, a point that when coupled with the solid plastic parts, suggests that these controls are worthy of years of use and abuse. After sitting for hours outside on an unusually cool Southern California day, we hopped in the Versa and were pleased to find heat delivered quickly. Proving that it was indeed an odd weather day, we’d required the use of the a/c earlier in the day, and found it to be equally efficient.
Placement of the Versa’s secondary controls is mostly laudable, with one or two possible exceptions. Among the positives are power door lock and power window switches on the driver’s door armrests; the power windows include one-touch up and down operation for the driver’s window. Same goes for the power sunroof; one touch opens and one touch closes. There’s one button for the roof overhead which operates the tinted glass sunroof, including its tilt feature. Power mirror buttons are on the lower left dash, but the fuel door and hood release levers are even closer to the floor. That’s unusual placement for the fuel door release, but at least it’s visible – we couldn’t find a trunk release.
The Nissan Versa Sedan is typically considered a competitor to the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris. Those rides are categorized by the EPA as subcompacts and compacts, while the Versa Sedan joins the Hyundai Elantra and others as a midsize based on interior passenger volume. However, with only 122 horsepower, the Versa falls far short of the power output of most midsizers, though it’s a monster compared to 109-horsepower Fit and 106-horsepower Yaris. Take all this into consideration, and the Versa Sedan can be viewed as being in a class by itself.
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
Nissan Versa Sedan – Buglewicz’s Opinion:
What a weird little car. First, there’s the styling, a mishmash of lines that fails to produce a single flattering angle. Then there’s the interior, which features a busy array of horizontal and vertical cutlines in the many panels that make up the dash, doors and center console. It’s comfortable to drive, the 1.8-liter engine makes good power, and the transmission gets its job done smoothly. But I’d rather Nissan skip the keyless ignition and Bluetooth cell phone integration for tires that don’t track in freeway grooves, or maybe spend a little more time quelling the engine’s drone under acceleration. The final indignity is the Versa’s price; at $18,000 there are larger, quieter and more enjoyable cars available.
– Keith Buglewicz
2nd Opinion – Chee
Nissan Versa Sedan – Chee’s Opinion:
Add in tax and license when you buy a Nissan Versa Sedan and you could be spending $20,000 – or more – for a car that competes with the likes of the Toyota Yaris. But it’s large inside, with durable and comfortable materials. It drives nicely, too, with capable power from the four-cylinder engine, acceptable handling character for a vehicle of its ilk and a cabin that is by and large a comfortable, quiet place to spend a commute. The CVT transmission takes a little getting used to, but for what this car’s purpose is, it’s a smart add-on. Hmmm. About that purpose. As a small car, the main point of the Versa is to be affordable and efficient transportation. Looks to me like it nailed efficient, but what about affordable?
– Brian Chee
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry