By KBB.com Editors
Several automakers, including Nissan, foresee a comeback in entry-level compact carstriggered largely by rising fuel prices. "For the first time in many years," said a Nissan senior marketing manager, many shoppers are "giving serious consideration" to smaller automobiles. These marketing folks detect a "void" in the sub-$14,000 price range, noting that a new generation of young people, known as "echo boomers," will reach driving age soon. Nissan promises class-leading horsepower and torque for its new entrant, the Versa hatchback, along with generous interior space. Billed as a "no-compromises" value-priced offering that reaches beyond basic amenities, the Versa is surprisingly roomy inside. A sedan is due later.You'll Like This Car If...
Versa leads the small-car pack in spaciousness, which is worth considering if you carry passengers in the back seat. Standing tall in both dimensions and refinement, it may also tempt those who appreciate the smoothness of a CVT, which promises 36-miles per gallon highway mileage (according to EPA fuel-economy estimates).You May Not Like This Car If...
Nissan's hatchback might not satisfy you if you need to fit three occupants into the rear, unless they're slima shortcoming common to entry-level compacts. If you like anti-lock braking but don't want to pay extra for it, it's an option on the Versa, not standard equipment.What's New for 2007
Even more than the new Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, Nissan's Versa is a small car with serious passenger space and an affordable price. Positioned above the Nissan Sentra, it's also among the first smaller cars to offer a continuously variable transmission (CVT).Driving It Driving Impressions
Nissan's CVT is virtually flawless. Almost no engine noise is noticeable in ordinary driving and you hear only a tolerable light snarl during hard acceleration. Acceleration rivals conventional automatics, though Versa falls somewhat short on upgradeslike most smaller cars. Reacting capably on curvy roads, it feels quite confident in the corners and exhibits good stability on expressways. Although the well-controlled ride is pleasant on good surfaces, on rougher roads the occupants may feel a lot of those surface imperfections, but few are particularly troubling. Deep-set gauges are easy enough to read.Favorite Features
Not too many larger cars are as easy to get into and out of, and as spacious for knees and feet, as the Versa. Rear-seat riders can expect real comfort, without asking to push the front seats far forward.
Continuously Variable Transmission:
Nissan has been a leader in CVT installations, which substitute a belt and twin variable-diameter pulleys for the usual gears. That effort pays off in exceptionally smooth, linear and rewarding operationonce the driver gets accustomed to the fact that no gear changes will be taking place.
The Versa provides considerably more knee and foot space than many larger automobiles. Front and rear headroom are abundant, too. Close to "chair-height" seats assure impressive comfort, and double French seam stitching on the seats is but one indicator of careful attention to detail. The compact rear suspension results in a low, flat cargo floor, and front seats are nearly as large as a Maxima's. As in so many smaller cars, the center rear position is a hard perch.Exterior
Designers sought to avoid some customary small-car traits, including being boxy or blandand they've succeeded. Taller and more upright in stance than most smaller cars, the Versa is exceptionally easy to enter. You can see at a glance that the passenger compartment takes up much of the car's length, the back doors are particularly long and the windshield is about as far forward as possible. Five-door hatchbacks excel in versatility but, like minivans, aren't popular with everyone. Some shoppers might prefer to wait for the Versa sedan.Notable Standard Equipment
Every Versa is equipped with seat-mounted side-impact airbags and head curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, electric power steering and an engine immobilizer. The basic S model includes 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, body-colored mirrors, a cargo cover, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, 120-watt CD stereo, air conditioning and tilt steering wheel. The SL version adds a 180-watt stereo with six-CD changer, 15-inch alloy wheels, driver's height adjustment, rear center armrest, remote keyless entry and power windows, locks and mirrors.Notable Optional Equipment
Anti-lock braking is optional for all models. Seven option groups are offered, including a Power Package for S models. An Audio Package for hatchbacks includes a Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer. SL models may have a Convenience Package that adds Intelligent Key entry, Bluetooth hand-free phone operation and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio switches. An SL Sport Package includes a rear roof spoiler, side sill spoilers, front and rear chin spoilers and fog lamps. XM or SIRIUS Satellite Radio may be installed in SL models and a sunroof is optional.Under the Hood
For the U.S. market, Nissan's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine has been specially tuned for stronger low-end torque. Three transmissions are available: a six-speed manual, four-speed automatic (delayed introduction), and the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). As production increases, the CVT is expected to oust the four-speed automatic as an alternative to a manual gearbox. In the SL trim level, a four-speed automatic will not be offered at all. The CVT incorporates a virtual Low range, for long, steep hills and heavier pulling.
1.8-liter in-line 4
122 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
127 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30/34 (manual), 28/35 (automatic), 30/36 (CVT automatic)
The front-wheel-drive Versa has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $13,055 for the S trim level and $15,055 for the SL. The Fair Purchase Price is showing actual selling prices at or just below MSRP. Be sure to click on Fair Purchase Prices to check what consumers are paying for their Versas in your area. With the Versa, Nissan competes against the new Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, as well as the Chevrolet Aveo.