The 2011 Nissan Versa combines two appealing features for the subcompact class: It’s bigger inside than many of its competitors, and it’s one of the lowest-priced cars on sale today. Big and inexpensive is a good combination, and it explains the consistently good sales of Nissan’s smallest model despite its distinct lack of glamour.
The Versa comes as a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan, with the hatchback having the more successful lines in our eyes. It’s a square and upright design, with a no-frills interior designed in a straightforward and simple manner. Fuel economy is disappointing, though, and the Versa’s safety ratings are below average now.
Two engines are offered: a 107-horsepower, 1.6-liter four on the lowest-priced models, which can be ordered with a five-speed manual or an ancient four-speed automatic. Then there’s a 122-hp, 1.8-liter four offered with no fewer than three different transmissions: that four-speed automatic (avoid it), a six-speed manual gearbox, or Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT), which delivers the best gas mileage ratings.
The EPA puts the CVT-equipped 2011 Versa at 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 30 mpg. On the other end of the scale, the larger engine with the four-speed automatic earns only a combined 27 mpg rating. None of those numbers are particularly good in the face of contenders like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, which is rated at 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined, as is the Ford Fiesta SFE model.
Driving the Versa quickly leads to the conclusion that it’s a heavy car, without a great deal of excess power, riding on soft springs that give it a comfortable ride. Plenty of body roll is kept in check by well controlled suspension, but you’ll never mistake it for a Ford Fiesta on the road. We suggest you avoid the aging four-speed automatic, whose ratios are wide enough to create noticeable performance gaps on shifting. The CVT gets boomy even on slight acceleration, though, so if you can live with a stick, either of the manual options may be the most pleasant to drive.
But then we return to the oodles of interior room. The amount of interior space, Nissan says, starts to approach that of a midsize car, and we believe it. Headroom is excellent, the sedan’s trunk is enormous, and even with the rear set up, the hatchback model offers almost 18 cubic feet of cargo space. The mid-size car impression is furthered by the quiet interior and lack of road noise at speed.
The cheapest of the base models stickers at less than $11,000, and that’s including destination charges. That base model is a traditional economy car, with wind-up windows, no radio, and no air conditioning.
And you can go all the way up the scale to the top of the line SL trim level at almost $20,000, which is still less than the top-of-the-line Ford Fiesta, at $23,000. The Versa SL includes a power windows, locks, and mirrors, a six-disc audio system, cruise control, keyless entry, and options like 16-inch alloy wheels (the base car has steel 14-inch wheels) and much more.
For more details, see the full review of the 2011 Nissan Versa range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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