By Derek Price
It’s a remarkable upgrade for the plucky Versa, which until recently was noteworthy more for its low price than its driving experience. That changes with this third-generation design that looks and feels more like a premium product.
The superficial things are the easiest to notice, including fresh, modern styling on the outside and a completely revamped, feature-packed cabin inside.
The lower, wider, longer body looks more aggressive, especially up front where the current iteration of Nissan’s “V motion” grille seems fitting.
Inside, there’s a much more contemporary overall look, including a 7-inch touchscreen perched above the center console and push-button start. Soft materials and tight construction leave the impression of a more well-built, solid car than before.
The changes under the surface, though, are even more impressive, including a stiff-feeling chassis, compliant suspension tuning and good sound insulation to deliver a quiet, smooth ride for this price level.
It’s a lot of little changes that add up to a big difference for the Versa. The power steering shaft is 30 percent stiffer than before, for example, and changes in the thickness and design of body panels help it feel more rock-like. The wider, lower stance also contributes to better handling that can feel sporty at times.
Fortunately, Nissan is keeping the Versa’s manual transmission available. It’s a great option for people who want a more responsive, engaging drive than the continuously variable transmission (CVT) “upgrade” can provide.
My tester came with the CVT. While it continues to get better and will surely be the most popular choice with buyers, I’d stick with the manual. A CVT detracts from what could be a really fun experience on the road.
Power comes from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 122 horsepower. It feels adequate but never exciting from the driver’s seat, saving its wildest thrills for when you swipe your credit card at the gas pump.
The Versa is rated for 32 mpg in the city 40 on the highway with the CVT transmission. The five-speed manual drops those numbers to 27 and 35.
A suite of safety features called Nissan Safety Shield 360 is impressive in this class. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and rear automatic braking to prevent wrecks, lane departure warning, high beam assist, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Pricing starts at $14,980 for the base S grade with a manual transmission or $16,650 with the CVT. The mid-range SV Is priced from $17,790, while the top-end SR starts at $18,390.
At A Glance
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length: 177 in.
Width: 68.5 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter four cylinder (122 hp, 114 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 32 city, 40 highway
Why buy it?
It’s a lot of car for the money. It looks and feels more substantial after a complete redesign last year that makes it roomier and more refined.