New Car Reviews

Driven: The 2020 Nissan Versa Is Better than You Expect

Now in its third generation, Nissan’s affordable runabout improves on its predecessors.

As the sedan market in the U.S. continues its sales nosedive, several automakers have been bailing out of the segment altogether in favor of building ever more crossovers. But so far Nissan has been holding fast to keeping the sedan around as a key member of the family. Its latest case in point is the revised 2020 Nissan Versa, a car that continues to get better while remaining eminently affordable.

Is the Versa Still the Cheapest Car in America?

Arguably the Versa’s biggest selling point since its introduction in 2006 has been its low-cost relative to other key competitors in the subcompact sedan segment. At $13,355 in its lowest spec trim, the 2019 Versa maintained its standing as the cheapest brand new car you can buy in America (though the Chevrolet Spark came close). But the reigning champ may be giving up the title come 2020.

The third-generation, 2020 Nissan Versa S equipped with a manual transmission starts at $15,625 and caps out at $19,135 for the well-equipped SR model. While a $2,270 increase won’t blow most folks’ car-shopping budgets, that’s a significant uptick all things considered. Until we know the 2020 pricing information for its key competitors, we can’t say for sure if the Versa will maintain its value claim, but it’ll be close. Given everything you get with the updated 2020 Versa, we’re betting Nissan won’t be too broken up if it’s finally beat out.

Standard Stuff

The Versa continues to be available in three trims—S, SV, and SR—all of which come with a mildly massaged version of the previous gen Versa’s 1.6-liter engine that now produces 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is Nissan’s continuously variable automatic transmission, which is standard on all models except the five-speed-manual Versa S. Safety features standard across all trims include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and rear automatic braking. Other standard tech includes a 7.0-inch display, three USB ports, Siri Eyes Free, Google Assistant voice recognition, and Bluetooth.

Color Options

The base model Nissan Versa S is available in five colors: Brilliant Silver, Fresh Powder, Electric Blue, Super Black, and Gun Metallic. Step up to the SV and SR and you can opt for the Premium Paint package ($395), which adds Monarch Orange, Aspen White, and Scarlet Ember to the palette.

The Budget-Friendly S vs. the Top-of-the-Line SR

At $19,135, the SR trim makes the Versa look cooler by adding sassier upholstery, 17-inch wheels, black-painted mirrors, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a dark chrome fascia, and six-speaker audio. Tech and safety features include Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear door alert, and rear cross=traffic alert. Only available for the SR trim is the optional $300 Convenience package which gets you heated seats and cruise control.

If you’re okay with 15-inch wheels with plastic wheel covers, know how to drive a manual, want the most bang for your buck, and don’t care for tech features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the S has you covered. On the other hand, if you’re looking for inexpensive transportation that doesn’t compromise standard tech features, styling details, and won’t necessarily leave you broke, then go with the SR. Priced at $18,535, the SV is only $600 cheaper than the SR, making the push toward the SR seem like a logical choice.

A History of Criticisms

Since its debut, the biggest complaint about the Nissan Versa has revolved around the low-grade and all-plastic-everything interior. Another area that received a good beating in previous generations was cabin noise. And while we’re on the subject, prior to attending the unveiling of the newly redesigned Versa earlier this year, I’d always thought of the Versa as dorky looking. The good news is that Nissan took addressed all these issues with higher quality cabin and far more attractive sheetmetal.

Hey Good Lookin’

As Hank Williams once sang at some honky-tonk, “Say, hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?” Do a quick walkaround the latest 2020 Versa and you may need a second orbit to realize that what you’re looking at is still a Versa. The third-gen model has a more confident and beefier body that resembles a baby Nissan Altima. It’s lower, wider, longer, and has a more stylish exterior design. Although the interior is still constructed of mostly hard plastics, the cabin looks more modern with edgier accents and a more refined dashboard aesthetic, and it doesn’t feel totally cheap. I also like that the interior is more harmoniously designed than before, and how comfortable the otherwise unassuming cloth seats are.

Putting the Wheels in Motion

I sampled both the SV and SR models during the media drive in the backroads of Nashville and focused my attention mostly on ride quality, which feels refined for its class and relatively smooth. While we’ll wait to make a more thorough assessment of the Versa until we get to spend extended time with one, I was impressed overall with how well the new car performed. On initial acceleration and under hard acceleration, it’s true that the engine sounds coarse and unrefined, and it in no way offers rocketlike acceleration, but things greatly improve once you’re at traveling a constant speed. The interior is quieter and more refined, and road noise was hardly an issue, which will be a boon to those looking for a comfortable and affordable commuter. Especially given its price point, the 2020 Nissan Versa feels solidly built and sails along smoothly with a quiet, unobtrusive demeanor. Add the excellent fuel economy—the base model is rated at 32/40 mpg city/hwy—and it makes a solid case for itself as a long-distance freeway cruiser or daily runabout.

Who Cares About the Low-Cost Nissan Versa, Anyway?

First-time car buyers with a limited budget and recent college graduates with loads of student loan debt may be interested in an entry-level model like Versa. Even with all the market momentum behind SUVs, it’s a smart move on Nissan’s part to continue to offer something like the Versa, even if it now costs more than before. It’s not exactly #noboringcars fodder, but, hey, almost everybody needs a set of wheels and it’s good for budget shoppers that one of America’s least expensive new cars is better than before.

2020 Nissan Versa SR Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $15,625/$19,135 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 1.6L DOHC 4-valve inline-4; 122 hp @ 6,300 rpm; 114 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION CVT automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 32/40 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 177 x 68.5 x 57.7 in
WHEELBASE 103.1 in
WEIGHT 2,729 lb
0–60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A