The last time we noticed any publicity for the Nissan Versa was a few years ago when a character on the TV series Heroes demanded one as a rental car. Then there's the fact that the base sedan has the industry's lowest starting price ($9,990). That's about it for claims to fame. But its low profile doesn't mean you should overlook the Versa.
Appearance: Can you say utilitarian? The four-door hatchback has a high roofline that slopes ever so slightly to the rear hatch. The Versa has large headlights and a pronounced hood, where its appearance definitely puts its best face forward.
Performance: Having a six-speed manual added a little fun to the driving experience. In a car that lists for about $15,000 that's a bonus. The 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower four-cylinder is willing and mostly able. Both the clutch and the shifting are light. (Peter thought the clutch was maybe a little too light.) In highway driving, you'll definitely get buffeted by the big rigs, but that's to be expected from a small car.
Interior: Thanks to the optional Power Plus package, our tester came with most of the creature comforts you expect in a slightly more expensive car. That includes AC; power windows, door locks and mirrors; intermittent wipers; remote keyless entry and even cruise control. The three-gauge dash and other controls are simple and clear. Elsewhere, the center dash console is plasticky and somewhat barren — but this is an economy car after all. We both would have liked a center armrest, but the open design is part of the roomy interior. Peter was surprised by the ample headroom (score one for the high roofline). The cloth seats are comfortable, and even the rear seats have enough room for two adults or three kids. The rear hatch is light and easy to lift, but the doorway is more narrow than the body, and there's a lip to the cargo area. The cargo mat is flimsy and doesn't stay flat. The rear seats fold down 60/40, but not flat to the floor. The lever to recline the front seat is on the inside, not the outside, which is inconvenient.
Our 3 favorites
Safety: Full compliment of airbags and curtains, plus ABS.
Grocery getter: It nicely held our cart full of Publix bags without folding down the rear seat.
Roomy: It's a subcompact. Really?
Bright and airy: The triangular window opening in the front of the car adds extra light.
Visibility: You can see and be seen better with large head- and taillights.
Features: Power windows and mirrors, and intermittent wipers.
The bottom line: The Versa doesn't win on looks or wow-me features like some of the others in its class. But it's roomy inside and the gas mileage of 26/31 is attractive. We'd go for the six-speed manual over the automatic for the fun factor.