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2011 Nissan Versa Sedan

Tim Odell October 6, 2010 Nissan Reviews, Reviews, Road Test Reviews 33 Comments

Nissan Versa Exterior Cemetary (8)
In 1968 Car and Driver made history by excoriating the Opel Kadett. They were new and needed attention, so they used the public slaughter of an innocent, if underwhelming car to do so. Coming off of a solid decade of increasing horsepower, the 50-something horsepower 1.9L powered car made an easy target. GM thought the car could offer a sensible, affordable alternative to the fulsome muscle of the day, but C/D pummeled it like a chess club member with too much milk money, going so far as to shoot it in a junkyard. They caught hell for it from GM, but it kicked off a golden era for C/D.

…which brings us to the 2011 Nissan Versa Sedan 1.8. After a week in “The Dorkmobile”, I desperately wish I could unload on it in Yatesian fashion. The problem is, the Versa’s actually a good little car.

Versa Exterior (8)Versa Exterior (5)

In a sign of just how far the subcompact car has come in recent years, our Versa came equipped with power everything, cruise control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio and touchscreen navigation. It rode on good looking 15″ alloys wrapped in 186/65 series all-seasons. Aside from having a screen that’s “value-oriented” in both size and display quality, the navigation system works as well as any other. The keyless start feels a bit tacked on, as the car’s still started by cranking the thing on the column, just without inserting a key. Normally “wood” trim isn’t attractive, but the Versa’s manages to look so fake it wraps back around and actually looks good in an Ikea wallpaper kind of way. For what it’s worth, the leather on the wheel slightly better than the Camaro’s. For bargain units, the seats feel robust, supportive and comfortable. Despite its small size, the Versa offers ample room for rear seat passengers. The trunk will easily hold four people worth of booze luggage.

Versa Seats (1)Versa Seats (2)

Under the hood, a nest of squirrels the 1.8L motor makes 122 horsepower and a foot-pound of torque. Alas, our tester was equipped with a four speed automatic which killed a lot of the potential for fun. Over a few days of high-speed freeway commuting and an afternoon in the canyons, we’d burned an average of 26mpg. The lack of a fifth or sixth gear combined with meager horsepower and higher freeway speeds really do a number on the mileage. We suspect a (stereo)typical Versa owner might get closer to the 24/32 EPA figures.

Versa Door PanelVersa Wheel and Gauges (3)Versa Console (2)

Visually, the Versa has an awkwardly tall, narrow shape. It corners about like it looks. There’s hope that slightly better rubber and a manual transmission could improve things, but if budget hoonage is your goal, you’d best look elsewhere. Accelerating in the Versa gives the sense that you’re pushing against something, like winding up the spring in a toy car. We’ve regularly described cars as “adequately” powered and “not slow”. Anywhere above 30mph, the Versa is slow. Not painfully, dangerously slow, but well, slow. Stuck in traffic or around town it’s got no problem keeping up, but neither does a Slant-Six Dart.

Versa Exterior (3)Versa Exterior (9)Versa Exterior (14)

You might’ve noticed the absence of the price in the standard post-jump Paragraph of Facts. That’s because we wanted to save the punchline for the end: $18,685 on the sticker. Nearly $19 grand for a vehicle that sells for $9,990 in its most base form. It’s important to remember that media fleet vehicles tend to be optioned to the max just to show what’s available, and we know a car like this will never sell for what’s on the sticker. But still, it’s hard not to launch into a tirade wondering who buys a car like this new, knowing how much better a slightly used car you could get for the money. Actually, forget used. You can get a better new car for this kind of money, too.

Versa Exterior Cemetary (6)

De-optioned or rebated down to the low teens, there’s a case to be made for the Versa for your friends and co-workers who want a decent, no-hassle bargain of a car. In that scenario, we certainly can’t recommend against the Versa for any specific shortcoming. Unfortunately, beyond basic commuter appliance duties, it’s hard not to think of the Versa as a car for people who’ve given up on life, at least in a vehicular sense.

  • Deartháir

    Someone page Number_Six…

    • Number_Six

      Shut it.

      OK, Mr D is getting at the fact that I drive a Versa SL hatchback. I ought to have confessed it yesterday during our frenzy of round-wheeled religiosity. Some observations as an owner (never mind the circumstances that put me in this position):
      1) Why does the sedan exist? As if the hatch isn't fugly but functional enough
      2) I am 6'2" and I can sit comfortably in the back with the driver's seat adjusted for me
      3) It doesn't have fake wood trim
      4) Mine has a 6-speed and if you're not going to get that, for god's sake get the CVT
      5) It's got a beam rear axle, so it loses composure quite badly in bumpy corners. I see this as vastly entertaining and reminiscent of my Fox Mustangs

      • Number_Six

        6) The engine reluctantly hands over its 122HP with all the verve of a rotting turnip
        7) Decreasing-radius downhill corners with left-foot braking techniques in the Rockies will assplode the brakes
        8) The overall feeling of solidity, quietness, and ride comfort beat the Fit and the Koreans
        9) You will never get laid if you pick up a woman with this car
        10) On a two-week roadtrip from Calgary, through mountains, desert, and the wilds of Portland, OR, I never once felt uncomfortable or sick of the car. It's fine as a vehicle, it's just not a fine car

  • joshuman

    All else excluded, why do they need a sedan version?

    • UDman

      I like the sedan version of any car better than a hatchback. I'm one of those people that equate "hatchback" with "cheap". I like the Jetta over the Golf, the Imprezza sedan over the hatch, the Mazda 3 Sedan over the Hatch…. you catch my drift.

      • Charles_Barrett

        I feel the same way. With hatchbacks, it's kind of like you're riding in the trunk with your stuff. In a sedan, human cargo has their place, and groceries/golf bags/Costco purchases have theirs. A proper, stratified hierarchy.
        Yeah, I know, that argument would also apply to station wagons…

  • P161911

    I always thought this kicked off the Golden Era at Car and Driver. It was published in 1964.
    <img src="http://www.automotivetraveler.com/images/stories/blogs/richt/2009/090706-02–_Car_and_Driver_March_1964_cover.jpg"width=500&gt;

  • You know, there are some cars that really don't need reviewing, so clearly do they wear their heart on their sleeve. The Versa screams adequacy. Sufficiency, nothing more. Nice review, though. I read it just to make sure I'd draw to the right conclusion without R-ing TFA.

    Are those holes in the front air-dam where the fog-lamps should be, or are they actually in there somewhere?

    • No fogs on this one, just fog-lamp shaped plastic bumps. One of the few options this one didn't have.

      I'll be honest to say I struggled to come up with much to write on this one. The important takeaways are: it's not terrible (as some subcompacts are), and it lacks whatever it takes to earn "slow car fast" cred. Also, it can be optioned up to a pretty ridiculous price.

      • But one of the few cars nowadays that comes without air conditioning standard.

        • Well it has "that" going for it.

        • Yeah, the stripper 1.6L sedan at $9990 is like a reverse-halo car.

          It's there to get attention and get people into dealships, thinking they want a very cheap new car for less than the price of a used one. Once there, they'll be helped to see that they really don't want such a stripped out car and for "just an extra $35/month" they can get this other one over here with more options.

      • I thought that might be the case, just like the blanking panel you have on the dash where, you just know, if you had ponied up an extra two hundred quid you'd have heated seats. That blanking panel will irk you every time you see it.

        If anything ever happened between my parents this is the precise kind of dishwater-o-car my Mum would end up in, without my Dad's guidance. This is why it is paramount that my folks stay together.

        • BlackIce_GTS

          Irksomeness depends on what the panel is blanking. I have a button-shaped black dot on my dashboard where the traction control isn't. I am not irked.

  • SSurfer321

    Are we supposed to draw some sort of correlation between the car and the mausoleum it's photographed in front of?

  • Need's Zoomies sticking out of the hood. Then it would be kinda cool.

    • Paul_y

      In all fairness, you can say that about nearly any wheeled vehicle.

  • Alan

    I like the part were you describe how the car feels to drive beyond how much power it has.

  • So, it would seem that "Versa" is a rather duplicitous badge to hang on this contraption? It may purvey base competence, but hardly seems to brandish versatility while doing so. Also, Sedan != Versatile (counterpoint, see "Hatch").

    • Number_Six

      That's the same joke some hunters made when they came across me digging my car out of snow 8000 feet up in Hells Canyon National Park.

    • I guess that, say one were to avail onself of artillery-grade imported pornography while within said conveyance, one could name it the "Vice Versa"?

      • Ooooh. And if one proposed to make the conveyance a bit of titillating art itself, one could dub the conversion process with a cheeky nod to dialect, as "Vice-a-Versa".

  • CJinSD

    I believe the Opel Kadett L Station Wagon that Car and Driver mocked was a 1500 rather than a 1.9 liter. I’ve read the complete article, but can’t find it online.

    The price of this Versa verges on the absurd. Even if test fleet cars are usually loaded, one must wonder at the quality of thought that results in rolling out a car with a pricetag almost double the advertised price. On the other hand, how does the fact that Ford actually seems to think that this will be the transaction price for the Fiesta make any more sense?

  • Paul_y

    One of my sisters bought a Versa hatch about a year ago, and she loves it. I haven't driven it myself (I don't know how to drive an automatic), but it's a pleasant, comfortable car that doesn't drive into your skull every time you sit down or use a control that you're in a car that stickered in the low teens.

    …and the sedan is proportioned all kinds of stupid. The hatch isn't a lot better, but the rear third of the sedan looks like a hastily-slapped together afterthought that was conceived when someone decided that the Versa should enter the US market.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      It looks to me as though it was conceived for Southeast Asia, and brought here as, well, an afterthought.

      Not knowing how to drive an automatic? That's actually an interesting dilemma. I suppose it's easily remedied, though.

    • You got it.

      Like, aside from being totally unlikeable, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

      • Paul_y

        It's not totally hateable, either. As was already stated, it's adequate.

        For the money, there are better cars out there, new or used.

  • Maymar

    I've driven the Versa hatch with the stick, and find it sort of charming. It might be my mind convincing me I can feel the Renault underneath. On the other hand, I have absolutely no interest in the sedan.

  • sidecar57

    I’m led to believe that it’s a Renault Megan in drag.Renault owning Nissan that kind of makes sense,explains the odd proportions too.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      The Versa seems to have the same problem as the Volvo 740 – the doors are shared with the five-door wagons, and so the proportions are a bit weird. It doesn't have to be that way – the Volvo 244 and 245 (sedan and wagon) share doors without much weirdness, aside from a slight vestigial black triangle above the rear door on wagons.

      Okay, so I just wrote that and it doesn't seem to be the case. There's no excuse, then, Nissan. Shame!

    • Number_Six

      The weird styling makes people think it's related to the Megane, but it isn't; the Megane is considerably more sophisticated. The Versa shares some dirty bits with the Clio and something else.

  • Being in the market for a nice hatch and being stymied by my local VW dealer’s idiocy I say, BRING IT HERE. Damn we need some better selection than what we put up with.

  • nilda

    How is it on snow?