I knew when I signed out the Versa that it was the stripper 1.6 model, but I couldn’t stop myself from exclaiming, out loud, “What the &%$@, no radio?” when I got behind the wheel. I didn’t mind that there were manual windows and no power locks or mirrors – in fact, that’s what I expected to find in this base model Versa. But no music? The fact that a stereo system of any sort isn’t even available in this model (although it is prewired for you to install an aftermarket unit) strikes me as a gimmick, especially when you consider that this particular model comes standard with air-conditioning and has an automatic transmission.
Once I got over the fact that I was going to have to do my daily commute in silence, I was able to look around the cabin and see that, while not exactly luxurious, all the basics were covered. Cup holders, the aforementioned A/C, comfortable seats, controls that — while few in number — are easy to use. The back seat is very roomy for a subcompact, and the trunk is quite spacious, with 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space. Still, ABS is only available as an option (albeit a cheap one, at only $250), and stability control is not available at all.
The 1.6-liter engine is a little noisy, but it performs quite well, with a decent amount of get-up-and-go. Fuel economy isn’t spectacular but is quite good at 26/33 mpg.
Still, if I were buying a stripper Versa, I’d go with the five-speed-manual model and skip the A/C, which brings the cost down to about $10,000. If I absolutely couldn’t live without a climate control system, I’d probably go for the 1.8S with the six-speed manual transmission, which has a slightly more powerful engine, a stereo system (!), and standard ABS and traction control, all for about $1100 more than the 1.6 sedan we tested here.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I fully expected this to be a penalty box, but from the first moment behind the wheel, I was pleasantly surprised by the Versa sedan. It costs about $13,000, and it’s a stripper, for sure, but the only thing it’s really missing is a radio—and it really is inexcusable not to have a radio; everyone wants a radio, no matter how poor or desperate they are. And I’d like a little more padding on the driver’s door armrest, and I’d like a driver’s right-side armrest, but I can live without it.
I’d make the case that this is actually a very safe vehicle, based on the fact that there is NOTHING in it to distract the driver! There’s no radio, there’s no navigation system, there’s no center stack littered with inscrutable controls, there are only three simple round dials to direct the climate-control system. A system which, notably, does include air-conditioning. And that’s it. The two stalks on the steering wheel are simple: the left one is headlights on/off/dimming; the right one is for the windshield wipers. Both stalks are completely intuitive. There’s no cruise control. The steering wheel itself can be adjusted manually. Seating comfort is good, and both the rear seats and the trunk are surprisingly roomy.
The Versa sedan rides perfectly well and has quite good steering feel. The engine has surprising vigor and is connected to a four-speed automatic — a no-cost option on this trim level — rather than a manual.
There are lots of cupholders: two right under the modest center stack, and two between the front-seat seatbacks, accessible to rear-seat passengers. There’s a handy slot for a cell phone, clearly designed to accommodate either an iPhone or a BlackBerry; there’s a little cavity above the blank radio faceplate, with a lid; the ventilation system works well, and the gauges are clear and easy to read. One of the best features of the Nissan Versa sedan is the visibility, which is great thanks to the broad, low windshield and the flying-buttress windows in the A-pillars; these give you a few more inches of peripheral visibility.
I find the acceleration to be perfectly acceptable, the brake-pedal feel to be good, the braking performance itself to be strong. Yes, this is a boring car, but it’s a very respectable car for someone who just needs solid, basic transportation.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Despite the absence of any sort of stereo system, the Versa is still my favorite small car. I’d much prefer a Versa hatchback to a Honda Fit if I were buying a compact hatch right now. The biggest difference between the Fit and Versa is sound deadening. Even without a radio masking the road and tire noise, the Versa was well insulated. I could have easily held a conversation at 70 mph without raising my voice, which wasn’t always possible in our Four Seasons Honda Fit.
That said, I can’t believe some form of stereo system isn’t standard on the Versa sedan with a starting price of $13,115. I can understand not including one on the $9,990 (plus destination) base model, but there’s no way to get any stereo on a 1.6-liter Versa at all. Why not offer a stereo for $200? Who really wants a car without any way to listen to music in 2010?
Moving up to a 1.8 sedan with floor mats costs only $1860, and you get a 122-hp engine, standard ABS, and a decent AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary input plus the major upgrade to fifteen-inch wheels. The move to a 1.8 car also means the manual transmission would have six speeds instead of five, although the automatic still gets only four gears.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
We might have a bright yellow Dodge Challenger in our fleet right now, but this Versa delivers more retro flashbacks than the Mopar muscle car does. I learned to drive a stick on my aunt’s 1990 Nissan Sentra E, which was devoid of virtually every luxury known to mankind. No radio, no A/C, no power steering, no power brakes, no power windows, no power locks — you get the picture.
This Versa, in a sense, is the spiritual successor, although the recipe used for a “stripper” subcompact is much improved over those offered twenty years ago. As Joe noted, this isn’t a penalty box. In fact, stripping away many of the luxuries we usually take for granted helps reveal just how good the Versa is. Apart from some wind and tire noise, the car is relatively quiet. Perhaps more impressive, the 1.6-liter I-4 doesn’t endlessly drone at 80 mph like the 1.5-liter I-4 did in our Four Seasons Honda Fit — unless you stomp on the accelerator, it just quietly hums in the background. It’s a little odd that Nissan did without the CVT in the lower-level cars, but the four-speed automatic shifts smoothly and is relatively quick to respond to throttle inputs.
I had plenty of complaints about that old, worn Sentra, but I have few — if any — in regards to this Versa. It’s a surprisingly competent car for an amazingly low price. If the lack of a radio really bothers you, swing by Best Buy and pick one up for $70. Nissan’s already saved you the trouble of buying speakers, an antenna, and the associated wiring harness, making installation much less of a headache (and expense).
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Fourteen-inch wheels! Wow! Unlike Evan, those were the source of my first retro flashback when I drove the Versa 1.6. The other was in the opening and closing of the trunk. Since there’s no sound-deadening material inside and no remote trunk release, you’re rewarded with a satisfying metallic plonk as you turn the key and the lid simultaneously pops open. I swear it sounds exactly like opening the trunk of my dad’s 1973 Dodge Dart Sport. The memories came flooding back …
Shockingly, though, the Versa evokes no memories of noisy, uncomfortable old cars. As my colleagues have aptly mentioned, the Nissan is surprisingly quiet on the highway and around town. Since there are no distractions in the car, I found myself driving faster and faster. Acceleration and handling were acceptable for such law-breaking temptations, too, although I’d definitely stick with a standard manual gearbox if I were to buy a 1.6-liter Versa. Which I’d actually be tempted to do, based on the cost savings and the fact that the smaller engine gets a bump in fuel economy versus the “upmarket” 1.8-liter (the 1.6 automatic is EPA rated at 26/33 mpg city/highway, while the 1.8 automatic gets a 24/32 mpg rating). Honestly, though, I’d rather have the more versatile and attractive-looking hatchback, but the smaller engine isn’t available in that body style.
As impressive as the basic Versa is, though, I have to wonder how many people actually buy such a basic car these days. And how many wouldn’t rather spend similar money on a slightly used Sentra or Altima …
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Of all the content stripped from this Versa-the radio, power door locks, power mirrors, power windows-Nissan went too far by pulling out one specific element: the clock. Surely the clock had to go out the window with the radio, but I was hoping Nissan had a substitute in the instrument cluster LCD. It’s also inexcusable that antilock brakes are optional on this Versa. As a $250 option, it seems like that cost could easily be buried into the sticker price without ill effect.
As others have mentioned, this stripper Versa packs plenty of comfort with a good ride and cabin insulation. However, if I were shopping in this price range, I’d likely choose a used car with more to offer. For those who want the comfort of a manufacturer’s warranty, though, the Versa is a good value that performs beyond expectations.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2010 Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6
Base price (with destination): $12,710
Price as tested: $13,115
1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine
4-speed automatic transmission
Electric power-assist steering
Front disc brakes/Rear drum brakes
14-inch steel wheels
Tire pressure monitoring system
Tilt steering column
4-speakers with audio pre-wire
Day/night rearview mirror
Black manual folding side-view mirrors
Options on this vehicle:
ABS package — $250
– Electronic brake-force distribution
– Brake assist
Five-piece floor/trunk mat set — $155
Key options not on vehicle:
None – unless you move up from the 1.6 model.
26 / 33 / 28 mpg
Size: 1.6L 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 122 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 127 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Curb weight: 2722 lb
14-inch steel wheels with covers
185/65R14 Bridgestone B381 all-season tires