Worthy of Note
Nissan hatchback provides good value for the money
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.