Since 2011, the American-market Nissan Versa has been something of a Jekyll and Hyde: the Versa sedan is a relatively new model based on the international-market Sunny, whereas the Versa hatchback is an aging, lackluster-looking five-door based on the old Nissan Tiida. However, now that Nissan has taken the wraps off a new Versa hatchback -- named the Versa Note, after the international-market Nissan Note -- it appears that a newer, fresher Versa five-door was just running fashionably late.
The Versa Note is closely based on the Nissan Note, but when we say "based on," we really mean "nearly identical to." Compare the front ends of the Note -- which made its debut last year at the Geneva Motor Show as the Invitation concept -- and the Versa Note, and there's no discernible difference. The anonymous, aging looks of the old Versa hatchback are out in favor of a slightly more curvaceous, extroverted design. Still, we do think the trapezoidal cooling aperture, the placement of the foglights, and the upturned grille and headlights make the Versa Note look quite a bit like the current-generation Honda Fit.
The Versa Note, it should be mentioned, looks basically nothing like the Versa sedan. There's a reason for this: the Versa Note and the Versa sedan both ride the Nissan V platform but are technically different cars (as previously mentioned, the hatchback is based on the Nissan Note; the sedan on the Nissan Sunny).
The Versa Note starts at $14,780 (assuming it has the same $790 destination fee as the sedan). That's important for two reasons: on one hand, it's $680 less than the current-generation Versa hatchback; on the other hand, such a low price dictates a comparatively low level of content.
That $14,780 will buy the base-model Note S, powered by a 1.6-liter I-4 featuring variable valve timing and an upgraded fuel injection system that promises greater efficiencies. The little powerplant makes 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque, which is sent through a five-speed manual transmission. The S model has fifteen-inch steel wheels with covers at all four corners, and you'll have to lock your own doors and manually roll the windows up and down. To sample just about all of the Versa Note's new technology and comfort features, you'll want to upgrade to either the S Plus or SV trim levels.
One of those uplevel features is a new generation of Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission. With a ratio spread of 7.3:1 (which Nissan says is wider than some seven-speed automatics), the Xtronic promises improved fuel economy, to the tune of 31 mpg city, 35 mpg combined, and 40 mpg highway. The economy is likely helped by a few fuel-saving tweaks, including electric power steering and active grille shutters, which reduce drag at speeds (standard on CVT models).
On the inside, the Versa Note continues the old hatchback's tradition of offering plenty of interior room. Nissan says that total interior volume is 115.5 cubic feet, including 21.4 cubic feet in the cargo area. To add a bit more space, engineers added something called Divide-N-Hide, which is basically a scaled-down version of Chrysler/Dodge's Stow'n Go seating. Passengers can raise the floorboard and hide items underneath it or lower the floorboard to carry taller items. The rear seats have a 60/40 split and fold flat.
Elsewhere around the car, Nissan will gladly stuff most of its marquee technological features into the dash...for a price. All Versa Note hatchbacks come standard with the ingenious Easy Tire Fill Alert, which activates as someone refills the tires and gently honks the horn when each tire reaches its recommended pressure.
Customers who opt for the Versa Note SV can also add the SL Technology package, which adds heated side mirrors and a full GPS navigation system. The system -- identical to the ones we've seen from Nissan before -- includes SiriusXM with traffic and weather reports (subscription sold separately) and a 5.8-inch color display. That display also houses controls for Bluetooth phone and audio, hands-free text messaging (which can read text messages and respond without the driver touching his/her phone), Pandora internet radio, and Google Maps POI search/send-to-car capability. Finally, the SL tech package includes Nissan's ubiquitous Around View Monitor, which links cameras mounted in the front grille, rear hatch, and wing mirrors to simulate a full top-down/aerial view of the car. Passive entry/ignition is also available, as are Convenience and SL packages.
The Versa Note reaches Nissan dealers in June of this year; pricing for the S Plus and SV trim levels, as well as the three options packages, are not yet available.