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2013 nissan versa note review
The 2014 Versa Note is a hatchback version of Nissan's inexpensive Versa compact sedan, redesigned in 2013. Considering its pricing, safety equipment and available options, it should be in the running for the teenage/college ride of choice. It does, however, have a tough segment in which to compete, with sportier and equally budget-minded offerings like the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta.
In addition to reworked front end styling, the 2014 Versa Note gets an active grille shutter to improve fuel economy -- 31 mpg city, 40 highway according to the EPA -- and Nissan's Divide-and-Hide adjustable rear load floor height. Navigation, traffic info and rearview/Around View monitors are all optional.
Our test subject is the top SV trim, which adds 16-inch wheels, keyless entry, heated front seats, a rearview camera, fog lights, USB port and the Divide-and-Hide adjustable floor. Thanks to navigation and Bluetooth, our total price including destination ended up at a rather steep $19,545.
All versions of the Versa are powered by a 1.6-liter DOHC I4 making 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is available on the base model -- our tester had the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV gets a 109-hp four-cylinder engine. Photo by Jake Lingeman
Even with our tester's extra equipment the Versa Note feels a little chintzy when plopping into the driver's position. The seats are flat-bottomed and don't offer much support laterally or in the lower back, but at least they doesn't produce that falling-forward feeling that we experience in some of its competitors (Mazda, we're looking at you).
The dashboard and central controls are mostly plain black, but that's to be expected from a car that comes fully optioned for less than 20K. Visibility is great from nearly any angle, especially out of the front, thanks to the low dash. There is a good bit of black hard plastic on the doors, and the door armrests could use some extra padding. The Versa Note does feature flip-down armrests on the inside/center, which work well when driving lazily with one hand -- though we strongly advise against that.
Surprisingly, the 109-hp four isn't annoyingly underpowered, at least from the starting line. Just push the pedal down about halfway, and let the revs slowly climb until you hit about 40 mph. After that, you can just let off and let the transmission calm down. The problem comes later when trying to gain additional speed; for example, entering the expressway. The move from 40 to 60 mph takes a long time, and getting from 60 to 80 mph takes even longer, unless you literally pin the throttle. And it gets really loud in the cabin when you do that. On the bright side, one would have to really work to achieve fewer than 33 mpg. We would have loved to try the five-speed manual, but that's only offered on the base trim.
There's quite a bit of noise from the independent-front, torsion-bar rear suspension, though the sound seemed a lot more intrusive than the actual jolt. The Versa soaked up most of the bumps before they got to the cabin, but there was a bit judder from the skinny steering wheel. Our hatchback took corners surprisingly flat, but those skinny tires didn't provide much peace of mind, especially when nearing the limit and hearing a little whine from the rubber. The brakes bite early and hard which is nice, particularly since it doesn't take too much force to slow this lightweight: The Versa tips the scales at just 2,482 pounds.
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV competes against the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris. Photo by Jake Lingeman
2014 Nissan Versa Note SV price and specifications
Personally, we'd put the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta at the top of the college frosh list, with the Versa Note and Toyota Yaris hatchback right behind. All four start near $14,000, and go up to about $20K. The Versa is the third most powerful of the four hatches, trailing both the Fit and Fiesta.
For the enthusiast, or for someone who just wants something fun to drive, we suggest the Fiesta. It's more tossable, more powerful and more fun. But, as soon as you check a few boxes, the Fiesta gets into a decidedly non-college-freshman price range, and storage isn't as flexible -- for that, the Fit gets the nod.
The Versa can be had for nearly a song, though; with its fuel economy, it's all the car any college kid could need. Whether that kid wants a Versa Note is a different question entirely.
Drivetrain: 1.6-liter, 109-hp, 107 lb-ft DOHC I4; FWD continuously variable transmission
Options: SL package including 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels and eight-spoke design, Nissan intelligent key including push button ignition, easy fill tire alert, heated front seats, front fog lamps, variable intermittent windshield wiper blades, AM/FM/CD/USB?Aux-in audio system, 4.3-inch color display, iPod control, Sirius XM, rear view monitor, rear seat armrest with cupholder, divide-n-hide adjustable floor ($1,700); technology package including Nissan connect including navigation, 5.8-inch touch screen display, Nissan voice recognition, NavTraffic, NavWeather, Google send-to-car compatibility, Pandora radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, hands-free text messaging assistance, around view monitoring ($800); carpeted floor mats and cargo mat ($175); rear cargo cover ($90)