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2018 Nissan Versa Review

2018 Nissan Versa Review
The Nissan Versa is affordable transportation that has an appealing price—especially for students. It’s not quick but it is spacious, especially in hatchback form.

The 2018 Nissan Versa sedan and hatchback are all about a number, and it’s not our overall score. Basic, affordable transportation starts on the back foot in our ratings system because those cars prioritize price—usually at a cost paid by lagging comfort, performance, and style.

At just $12,875 to start, the Nissan Versa sedan is one of the most affordable new cars on the market today and we’re guessing that matters more than our 3.7 overall rating. Only fuel economy buoys a sinking ranking.

We don’t have to look far to find a Versa we like, however. The Versa Note hatchback, which doesn’t share any sheet metal with the sedan, looks better, is more practical for most drivers, and has more rear leg room. Opting for the hatchback tacks on hundreds to the final price of what’s likely going to be a budget-driven decision for many shoppers, so we acquiesce that many buyers will pick the sedan over the hatchback.

This year, the sedan carries on with few changes from last year. The price stays the same, as does the modest content in base S trims that have an inline-4 mated to a 5-speed manual. We’re guessing many buyers will consider the S Plus, which swaps the manual for a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that offers much better gas mileage, but the value proposition isn’t there for us: it costs thousands more for an autobox and cruise control.

We’d advise buyers to scrounge for more change and look at the SV model that offers upgraded cloth and an optional popular equipment package that plugs in a 5.0-inch touchscreen, alloy wheels, and rearview camera.

The hatchback doesn’t offer a manual, but it doesn’t need it. Starting with S, the hatchback ascends to SV, and SL trim levels that offer increasing features.

Versa Note hatchback models look the best, but the Versa lacks any style that its competitors now offer at nearly the same price.

Time and evolved styling have left the 2018 Nissan Versa behind the program, in our eyes. The Versa Note was updated last year with a better look, and it wears the small-car proportions better, but the sedan is likely to be more popular with buyers.

Starting from an average of 5, we docked two points for the sedan’s homely exterior and one more point for a lack of enthusiasm on the inside. Our styling score of 2 comes with a bright side: paying for top trims nets better looking cars, including the Versa Note hatchback.

Before yelling at us about price and expectations like an episode of “House Hunters,” we’ve seen good-looking, affordable transportation before. Take a Chevy Sonic and Honda Fit and call us in the morning.

The proportions of the Versa sedan don’t exactly appeal to us. It’s been force-fed corporate elements such as its grille, headlights, lower fascia, and bumpers that look too large—especially the headlights. Along the sides, the Versa sedan manages to wear its shape a little better but small, 15-inch wheels don’t fit the oversized wheel arches on most versions.

The sedan’s taillights reach across a fairly large rear overhang, and a decklid-mounted spoiler adds a hint of flair to an otherwise nondescript tail.

The Versa Note wears the small-car look better, according to us, and Nissan has paid more attention to that model. The Versa Note wears a different face than the sedan, an adapted version of Nissan’s V-motion grille. The boomerang is bookended by headlights that sit relatively high up on the Versa Note’s maw, with big jowls to fill the space ahead of the front tires. In profile, the Versa Note has a pair of distinctive character lines that reach up toward a tall rear end, punctuated with a roof-mounted spoiler on some models. The Versa Note plants its rear tires closer toward the tail, which helps tidy up around the hatchback.

Inside, the Versa doesn’t attempt much by way of style. The Versa Note and Versa sedan are more aligned inside, with a dual-cockpit look that doesn’t take many risks aside from the center stack. Large swathes of hard black plastic are visible, and the look isn’t improved much by spending more.

The Nissan Versa will be comfortable for many buyers, but not necessarily quick.

Speed usually isn’t a priority when building one of the lowest-priced new cars on the market today, so the Nissan Versa starts on the back foot for performance.

Its 1.6-liter inline-4 produces 109 horsepower and is mated to a 5-speed manual, or more often, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). We’re not enamored with any of the above and dock one point for each. The Versa has a well-sorted ride, but it’s not beyond our expectations, so we land at a 3 out of 10 for performance. 

The Versa’s better qualities are attributed to its ride and handling, which are predictable and well composed for small a small car. Its small turning radius and comfortably weighted steering make both body styles easily maneuverable around town. We’ve noticed that the steering can feel twitchy at highway speeds, requiring small adjustments to keep it tracking straight down the road on long interstate jogs.

The engine and transmission often feel burdened to bring the Versa up to speed. Sprinting up to 60 mph takes more than 11 seconds from a stop, which is slow, but highway passes proved to be particularly onerous for the overmatched engine.

Opting for the 5-speed manual doesn’t make it much better, we’ve discovered. Its steep fuel-economy penalty and wide spread don’t help acceleration in the sedan—it’s purely there for a lower starting price.

We accept that every car doesn’t need to be sporty or quick, but there are choices in the class that manage to inject a modicum of fun behind the wheel without dramatically inflating the price tag including the Honda Fit and Chevy Sonic.

Comfort & Quality
The Versa offers a surprising amount of rear-seat room, and hatchback models can be versatile runabouts.

Small and affordable, the Nissan Versa is meant to be comfortable for wallets. That it’s also comfortable for rear-seat passengers is a pleasant surprise.

We give the Versa one point above average for its plentiful rear-seat space while dialing one back for its chintzy interior trim and land on a 5 out of 10. We think the Versa Note would be more flexible, comfortable, and suitable for many buyers, but its extra cost could stretch budgets too far.

The sedan is fitted with an outsized trunk for its class, 14.9 cubic feet, but a split-folding rear seat isn’t available until the top SV trim, which limits its practicality for some. The Versa Note’s rear hatch opens up to 18.8 cubes with the rear seats up, or 38.3 cubes with the seats down. A “Divide-N-Hide” adjustable floor opens for small items below the load floor, or gets out of the way to help store tall items within the hatch.
The front seats will be suitable for most adults, although not entirely comfortable for long distances. Rear-seat riders get 37 inches of leg room in the sedan, or 38.3 inches in the hatchback, which is enough for 6-footers to ride behind other 6-footers.

The upgraded cloth fabric in SV-trimmed Versas offers a little more quality to the comfort, but the Versa’s switches and buttons don’t inspire much confidence. We’ve found them to be hollow and unsubstantial feeling, which isn’t necessarily true for the Versa’s competitors such as the Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit.

On the road, the Versa is surprisingly quiet with little road noise filtering into the cabin once you’re underway. The Versa Note is even quieter than the sedan thanks to more sound-deadening material.

The 2018 Nissan Versa lacks modern safety tech and crash scores.

The Nissan Versa shows its age in crash scores. Federal regulators and the IIHS don't have many good things to say. We give .

The IIHS gave the Versa sedan “Good” scores in most crash tests, but rate the sedan "Poor" in small overlap front crash protection. Federal testers gave this year’s sedan a four-star score for front crash safety, and a rare three-star score to the hatchback for front crash safety. Low scores like those are worrisome and rare, even for inexpensive cars.

All versions of the Versa come with the standard complement of traction and stability control systems and front-, side-, and side-curtain airbags.

Nissan doesn’t offer advanced safety equipment including blind-spot monitors, forward collision warning, or automatic emergency braking on any model.

A rearview camera is available on SV models equipped with a popular equipment package, and a rearview camera is available on SV- and SL-trimmed hatchbacks.

The base version of the Nissan Versa is among the lowest-priced new cars on sale today, but it’s also among the most modestly equipped too.

The most attractive part of the Nissan Versa for some buyers may be its low entry price of $12,875 for a manual-equipped sedan.

For that relatively small sum Nissan doesn’t offer much in the way of conveniences. The Nissan Versa S is equipped with a manual transmission, manual windows, a four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth connectivity, manual door locks, manual cruise control (aka only your right foot), and 15-inch wheels.

That’s not particularly impressive standard equipment, although we acknowledge that those models will be relatively hard to find. The Versa doesn’t offer many optional extras outside packages that can add thousands to the starting price. An SV Special Edition package adds popular equipment such as a 5.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, and alloy wheels, but that’s not enough to rescue the Versa from earning a 3 out of 10 for features.

We expect that many shoppers will start at S Plus models that only adds a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and cruise control, but it’s hardly a value at $15,015.

The better deal is in SV-equipped models that offer more features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded cloth upholstery, a split-folding rear seat, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, a USB port, and upgraded stereo. The SV Special Edition package on that trim offers popular equipment for $500.

For 2018, Nissan shelved the top-trim sedan, the Versa SL, that included 16-inch wheels and navigation.

The Versa Note hatchback is available in S, SV, and SR trim levels that added more features including 16-inch wheels, sporty appearance add-ons, navigation, and a rearview camera. Top-trim SL hatchbacks start north of $19,500.

Opting for the versatile hatchback over a comparably equipped sedan can add $600 to $1,300 to the bottom line, depending on trim level.

Fuel Economy
Most Nissan Versa models are fuel-efficient, but its busy engine has to work relatively hard to move its mass.

The 2018 Nissan Versa isn’t about fuel-efficiency first, but its small size certainly helps.

The affordability-focused sedan and hatchback are relatively frugal compared to other small sedans and hatchbacks, provided they don’t have battery packs helping their engines along.

The Nissan Versa is rated by the EPA at 31 mpg city, 39 highway, 34 combined in its most efficient form, with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That’s good enough for an 8 on our fuel-economy scale.

Base sedans offer a 5-speed manual transmission that helps cut costs at the dealership, but not necessarily at the pump. Sedans equipped with a manual are rated by the EPA at 27/36/30 mpg, which is a fairly significant drop from the more popular CVT models.

Among small hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonic, the Nissan Versa is near the top of the pile for fuel efficiency. Doing any better would require a smaller engine (Ford Fiesta’s turbo-3) or hybrid power (Toyota Prius C).

But other models that are bigger, including the Nissan Altima, offer the nearly same highway fuel economy with more interior room. The Altima doesn’t need to work as hard to move its mass, which impacts fuel economy.

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