Japanese manufacturer Nissan has had a lot of success with the Nissan Versa, its entry-level compact, so it’s no surprise that for the second generation it is again offering the small car in two body configurations.
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note arrives as a hatchback accompaniment to the second-generation Nissan Versa sedan, which was introduced in 2012. The hatchback adds $2,000 to the base price ($11,990 for Versa sedan, $13,990 for the Versa Note}, but Nissan is betting many will glad pay the extra price to get the extra practicality.
And, practicality, efficiency. ease of operation and some unexpected high tech (for a price) are what this perennial entry-level sales leader is all about. Looking for some excitement in the driving experience? Look elsewhere.
The Versa Note works most satisfactorily as a runabout second car, ideal for errands, parking in tight spots, zipping through the urban jungle. It also can work for college students and empty nesters on a budget, but it's not the ideal choice for cross-country travel, nor is it intended to be.
For an entry-level vehicle, the Versa Note has a light and pleasant interior, but what's likely to most impress the potential buyer is the surprising amount of room. Not only are the front bucket seats comfortable for two adults, the rear seat will hold two more in comfort.
Behind the second row is a generous 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space, adequate for most errands and even for a possible vacation trip. Fold the rear seats forward and cargo space can jump to a maximum of 38.3 cubic feet.
An interesting innovation is the removable "Divide-N-Hide" panel that meets the folded rear seatbacks to create a flat cargo area. Lift it up and you'll find additional storage space beneath to hide valuables. Or you can remove it to add a few extra cubic feet of cargo space.
Power for the front-wheel-drive Versa Note is supplied by a fuel-sipping, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. That sounds a bit anemic, but performance is adequate in most situations because the Versa Note weighs in at a modest 2,482 pounds.
To maximize efficiency, the engine in the top-of-the-line Note SV (SL) is mated to a continuously variable transmission which, to me. is the least-satisfying link in the performance package.
It works well enough on level urban and suburban streets, but don't merge onto a high-speed highway without making sure there is plenty of room behind you. When you press the accelerator to the floor, the engine will race to its noisy red line while the transmission spools up to the right gear ratio.
It can be a frustrating experience because there is not a whole lot of acceleration to be had until all the mechanical components sort themselves out. And even then pickup is anything but neck-snapping. When a big truck is fast approaching from the rear it can seem like a frighteningly long time until the Versa Note gathers some momentum.
The reward for all the driver patience is excellent fuel efficiency. The EPA estimates the Note will return 31 miles per gallon of regular fuel around town and 40 mpg on the open road. I averaged about 32 mpg in a week of mixed driving conditions.
For the record, a five-speed manual transmission is available but only on the entry level S model. It is rated at 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway.
The Versa Note's suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. Considering the vehicle's size, the ride quality is acceptable.
Standard safety features include a full complement of seat belts, airbags and side curtains, plus stability control, traction control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The 2014 Versa Note comes in four trim levels --- S, S Plus, SV and SV (SL). which includes both the optional Convenience and Sport Value packages.
The test car came loaded with all the available standard and optional comfort and convenience accessories, and that naturally leads a potential buyer to one big question.
Does a seriously upscale version of a down-scale compact car really make sense?
True, the $13,990 S model is a bare-bones vehicle, with only a modicum of standard equipment.
But the fully loaded test car zoomed from the $15,990 suggested base price to a budget squeezing $19,280. which included the $1,700 SL Package and the $800 SL Tech Package.
For that you get, among some other things . . .
• An Around-View Monitor that employs four cameras to give the driver a 360-degree view of objects around the vehicle, with selectable split-screen close-ups of the front, rear and curb. It's a big help for maneuvering into tight spaces.
• Premium audio system.
• Nissan Connect with Navigation System that includes a 5.8-inch color touch screen. The system offers hands-free text messaging, Google points of interest, satellite radio availability, Bluetooth streaming of Pandora for Iphone owners and traffic and weather alerts for subscribers to SiriusXM.
• Keyless lock and ignition.
• Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.
• Rear-view monitor.
These things are nice to have, of course, but it seems at cross purposes to load up an entry level car with so many comfort and convenience features that the price rises above entry-level.
Fortunately,with a little effort buyers seeking this versatile compact can pick and choose among some of the options to keep the car's bottom line in line.
And, no matter how easy or hard they go on the options list, all buyers will get a nice small car with a large amount of versatility.