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