By KBB.com Editors
After a bruising bout with the economic realities of a bad recession, many Americans are moving to minimize their cost of living. That means giving up the big SUV for something more practical and fuel efficient. But, thanks to cars like the 2011 Nissan Versa, consumers don't have to give up comfort, room and technology. "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. Billed as a "no-compromise" value-priced offering that reaches beyond basic amenities, the Versa offers class-leading horsepower and torque, along with a host of unique features and generous interior space.You'll Like This Car If...
The 2011 Nissan 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 34 miles per gallon on the highway (according to EPA fuel-economy estimates).You May Not Like This Car If...
Nissan's Versa might not satisfy you if you need to fit three full-size occupants into the rear, but that's common for entry-level compacts. Some may find the Versa's top-hat-like design not as hip or cool as the Honda Fit or Ford Fiesta.What's New for 2011
Changes for the 2011 Nissan Versa are limited to the addition of a six-disc CD changer on the 1.8 S Sedan and anti-lock brakes on the 1.6 Sedan (except base.)Driving It Driving Impressions
When equipped, Nissan's Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is as smooth as they come. Almost no engine noise is noticeable in ordinary driving and you hear only a tolerable light snarl during hard acceleration. The Versa's acceleration rivals that of competitors with conventional automatics, although, like most small cars, it's not particularly quick going up hills. 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 surface imperfections, but few will be particularly troubling. The instrument panel has deep-set gauges that are easy to read.Favorite Features
Affordable Navigation System
Costing just a bit more than a really good portable navigation device, Nissan's newest navigation radio offers the added benefit of XM Satellite Radio and real-time traffic updates. The controls are easy to understand and operate and the 5-inch color screen provides large, legible directions; it's also an unlikely target for smash-and-grab thieves.
Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT):
Nissan has been a leader in CVT installations, which substitute a belt and twin variable-diameter pulleys for the usual gears. The result is exceptionally smooth, linear and rewarding operation – once 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, and front and rear headroom are also abundant. Seats that are close to "chair-height" give impressive comfort, and double French-seam stitching on the upholstery is but one indicator of careful attention to detail. The compact rear suspension results in a low, flat cargo floor, and the front seats are nearly as large as a Maxima's. As in so many smaller cars, the center rear seating position is not the most comfortable.Exterior
The tidy Versa succeeds at not being boxy or bland. Taller and more upright in stance than most small 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 may not be popular with everyone. Some shoppers might prefer the Versa Sedan.Notable Standard Equipment
Every 2011 Nissan Versa is equipped with seat- and roof-mounted curtain side-impact airbags, a tire-pressure monitor system, electric power steering and an engine immobilizer. The S model includes a six-speed manual transmission, 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, anti-lock brakes (ABS), power body-colored mirrors, a cargo cover and rear wiper/washer (hatchback only), 60/40 split-folding rear seat, CD stereo, air conditioning and tilt steering wheel. The SL version adds an automatic transmission (CVT on hatchback models), 180-watt stereo with six speakers, 15-inch alloy wheels, traction and stability control, rear spoiler, sport front fascia and side sills, six-way manual driver's seat, rear center armrest, cruise control, remote keyless entry and power windows and locks.Notable Optional Equipment
Anti-lock braking (ABS) is optional for base 1.6 models. A total of six option groups are divided between the two trims. A Power Plus Package adds cruise control, keyless entry, power locks and power windows to the S models, while the VDC package adds traction and stability control. The SL can be equipped with the Navigation Package, which adds a navigation radio with 5-inch color display, USB connectivity and XM Satellite Radio. SL models can also be equipped with a Convenience Package that adds Intelligent Key entry, Bluetooth hand-free phone operation and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio switches. XM Satellite Radio and an iPod interface hook up are available on both trims, while the SL alone can be equipped with a power moonroof.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 in S and SL models, and higher fuel economy in base cars. Four transmissions are available: A five-speed manual (base), six-speed manual, four-speed automatic (Sedan) and the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Available only on the SL hatchback trim, the CVT incorporates a virtual low range, for long, steep hills and heavier pulling.
1.6-liter in-line 4
107 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
111 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/34 (manual), 25/33 (automatic)
1.8-liter in-line 4
122 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
127 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/31 (manual), 24/32 (automatic), 28/34 (CVT automatic)
The 2011 Nissan Versa Sedan has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $11,000, while the S begins just over $14,000. The SL trims run closer to $17,000 and tops out near $20,000 fully loaded. An automatic transmission will add about $1,000 to the price tag of base and S trims. Be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price on kbb.com to check what consumers are paying for their Versas in your area. With the Versa, Nissan competes against the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Aveo, Ford Fiesta and some others. Although not as strong as the Yaris and Fit, the Versa should hold good resale value, remaining above the Chevrolet Aveo and the Kia Rio, and remain on par with the Ford Fiesta.