June 24, 2018

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The last time we strapped our testing equipment to a Nissan Versa sedan was nearly half-a-dozen years ago, when Nissan’s subcompact four-door finished last in a six-car comparison test. Since then, the Versa underwent a mid-cycle update for the 2015 model year that brought a fresh front-end design, a reworked center stack, and a new three-spoke steering wheel to the pint-sized 175.4-inch long subcompact. Model-year 2017 Versas see a mildly revised center console that includes a new design for the front cupholders, an additional 12-volt outlet, and the relocation of the car’s standard auxiliary input and available USB port to the area ahead of the shift lever.

These improvements address customer complaints but, regrettably, none does much to elevate the Versa when compared with alternatives such as the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic. The Nissan’s homely styling carries over, the interior remains a depressing haven of cheap plastics and parts-bin pieces, and its dynamic abilities are no better than before.

a Scion iA (now Toyota Yaris iA) with an automatic transmission, though the iA did click past the quarter-mile at 82 mph. While more power would be appreciated, Nissan’s subcompact sedan easily outruns the Mitsubishi Mirage G4, which needed 12.8 seconds to reach 60 mph, thanks mostly to having only three cylinders to work with against everyone else’s four.

Regardless, accelerating in the Versa is a noisy affair, with 78 decibels of the inline-four’s gritty song entering the cabin at wide-open throttle, 6 decibels more than we recorded in the automatic iA. Blame the Versa’s CVT, which—despite its best attempts to simulate gearshifts—tends to hold the engine at high revs when heavy throttle is applied.

Even so, CVT-equipped Versas are able to eke out an EPA-rated 31 mpg in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway, besting the stick-shift Versa S’s 27/36 figures. Self-shifting Versas also benefit from the additions of a rear spoiler and rear-wheel air deflectors that trim the sedan’s coefficient of drag from 0.32 to 0.29. We averaged 34 mpg in our Brilliant Silver Versa SV test car throughout its stay with us, matching the EPA’s combined figure. The Versa couldn’t top 34 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy run, however, which is 5 mpg below the EPA highway rating.

Speaking of the highway, that’s where crosswinds tend to toss this slab-sided sedan about in its lane like a cat batting a dead mouse. We’d recommend staying clear of twisty tarmac, too, as the Versa SV’s narrow, 15-inch Continental ContiProContact E low-rolling resistance tires keel over at the first hint of lateral acceleration, limited to 0.78 g as measured on our skidpad. Prominent body roll and an overboosted, lifeless electrically assisted tiller salt the Versa’s dynamic wounds. A set of front disc and rear drum brakes brought the Versa to a halt from 70 mph in a class-competitive 176 feet.

Still, those wanting basic comfort and convenience features such as power windows and door locks, an integrated driver’s seat armrest, a USB port, front map lights, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, and a remote keyless entry system will need to spring for this $16,605 SV trim. At that price the Versa is just $255 cheaper than a similarly equipped and dynamically superior Ford Fiesta SE sedan.

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While an ample rear seat and generous trunk are noteworthy features, this model’s subpar interior and dynamic faults are much too great to let a few hundred dollars in savings convince us to choose the Versa SV over its competitors. Sadly, in this segment the price rules to such a degree that the Versa has been America’s best-selling subcompact for years, giving Nissan little incentive to invest in a better contender.


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