Wor­thy of Note

Nis­san hatch­back pro­vides good value for the money

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Zack Spencer

THINK back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Cana­di­ans were deal­ing with a low Cana­dian dol­lar and the high­est fuel prices we had seen to date.

The trend then was to buy an in­ex­pen­sive, easy to op­er­ate com­pact or sub­com­pact car that could ful­fil the needs of most fam­i­lies. The Honda Civic, Toy­ota Corolla and Nis­san Sen­tra were seg­ment lead­ers.

As the years went by, Nis­san in­tro­duced the Versa sedan and hatch­back, based on the same plat­form as the Sen­tra. Ba­si­cally, the Versa strad­dled two seg­ments — the com­pact and sub­com­pact class of ve­hi­cles — and it quickly be­came a good seller, leav­ing the Sen­tra be­hind.

There was good rea­son for the Versa’s suc­cess: It was the big­gest of the sub­com­pact cars and came equipped with fea­tures never seen be­fore in a car of its class. I can clearly re­mem­ber driv­ing the 2007 model that fea­tured Blue­tooth hands-free con­nec­tiv­ity when this type of fea­ture was only avail­able in more ex­pen­sive cars.

Move ahead to 2014, and Nis­san has ex­panded on the suc­cess of the last Versa hatch­back and in­tro­duced more equip­ment for an at­trac­tive price. Back in 2007, the Versa hatch­back started at $14,495, but this new 2014 is avail­able from $13,348. (If you have ever doubted the ef­fect of our stronger dol­lar, you just need to com­pare car prices from a half-decade ago.)

The 2014 model is built on a new plat­form that has shed 136 kilo­grams to im­prove fuel econ­omy yet pro­vide more room for pas­sen­gers. The wheel­base is 260 cen­time­tres long, for a sur­pris­ing amount of in­te­rior space and a sup­ple ride.

The back seat has leg room one might be­lieve ex­ists only in a mid-sized sedan. This is es­pe­cially help­ful for young fam­i­lies that need to put rear-fac­ing child seats into place. The front passen- gers get class-lead­ing head­room and the over­all cabin feels open and airy.

The base S model is rather sparsely equipped, with tilt steer­ing, aux­il­iary jack into the four-speaker sound sys­tem and four-way ad­justable cloth seats. The mid­dle SV trim ($14,998) will be the vol­ume seller, thanks to stan­dard air-con­di­tion­ing, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, power doors and win­dows and re­mote en­try.

The Con­ve­nience Pack­age, at $680, is a must-have be­cause of the ad­di­tion of a 4.3-inch ra­dio screen that dou­bles as a backup cam­era and makes it easy to ac­cess the satel­lite ra­dio and USB con­nec­tions. Other ben­e­fits in­clude a driver’s arm­rest and a handy stor­age cover in the rear cargo area. This fea­ture al­lows the owner the abil­ity to lower the floor for car­ry­ing tall ob­jects or hide smaller items out of view.

The top model is the $16,998 SL, and this trim is also avail­able with a tech­nol­ogy pack­age that in­cludes a 5.8-inch touch­screen sys­tem for nav­i­ga­tion con­trol, Blue­tooth stream­ing au­dio and ac­cess to a four-cam­era Around View Mon­i­tor sys­tem that pro­vides a vir­tual bird’s-eye view of the car. This brings the Versa’s price up to $19,018, which is why most peo­ple will opt for the less ex­pen­sive SV trim.

Pow­er­ing the Versa is a 1.6-litre four­cylin­der en­gine with 109 horse­power. The base trans­mis­sion is a five-speed man­ual, and there is an op­tional con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT) for bet­ter fuel econ­omy.

The re­al­ity is Nis­san has one of the best CVTs on the mar­ket and the ex­ten­sive gear ra­tio helps to get this small car away from a light with ease and then lets the en­gine set­tle into a re­laxed pace for sur­pris­ingly good high­way ca­pa­bil­ity. When cruis­ing in the city, there are times the CVT can take a while to re­spond to a quick ac­cel­er­a­tion at­tempt, but over­all it does a good job.

To be hon­est, I en­joyed my two weeks with this lit­tle car and I found long com­mutes on the high­way the high­light of its lit­tle bag of tricks. There are a few nit­picks, but they have to be tem­pered by the low price. First, there is a bit too much hard, shiny plas­tic on the dash and doors. Sec­ond, the driver’s op­tional arm­rest on the SV trim is higher than the door arm­rest. This seems rather sim­plis­tic but be­ing off-kil­ter is frus­trat­ing.

The last item is the lack of tele­scop­ing move­ment with the steer­ing wheel; I couldn’t find just the right seat­ing po­si­tion; I was ei­ther too close or too far away from the dash.

Back in 2007, when the Versa hatch­back was first in­tro­duced, there was less com­pe­ti­tion from the Korean cars, such as the Kia Rio or Hyundai Ac­cent. To­day th­ese mod­els rep­re­sent the most bang for the buck.

What the Versa Note brings to the ta­ble is a very use­ful de­sign with am­ple in­te­rior and cargo space at a rea­son­able price. The buyer can equip it to their bud­get, if they choose. I think this is a great over­all com­muter car that is re­lax­ing to drive. Take Note.

The 2014 Nis­san Versa Note is built on a new plat­form.

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