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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.