Affordability and tons of space are the two “must haves” for subcompact buyers and Nissan believes it has hit that double sweet spot with the 2014 Versa Note.
The Versa Note at 606 litres (21.4 cu ft) has the largest cargo area in the segment while Nissan also claims it has the best fuel economy at 5.5L/100 km combined.
In terms of price, the Versa Note starts at $13,348 while the most you can spend is $19,018 and that includes an industry-first 360-degree parking system with four external cameras.
There is one engine, a 1.6-litre twincam inline four-cylinder with dual fuel injection and Twin CVTC (Continuously Variable Timing Control) producing 109 hp and 107 lb/ft of torque.
All versions are equipped with a standard five-speed manual or optional ($1,300) next-generation Nissan Xtronic CVT transmission.
As for fuel consumption, the Versa Note gets 6.1/4.8/5.5L/100 km city/highway/combined with the CVT.
Nissan was an early adopter of CVTs and remains the biggest proponent in the auto industry.
In the early days, CVTs were loud and sluggish in reaction time especially under full throttle situations where the engine would peg at the redline as the engine tried to catch up as much the CVT pulleys would allow.
Nissan says the Xtronic CVT in the Versa Note still connects the two pulleys with a metallic belt by changing their diameter under hydraulic pressure. However, this is aided by an integrated auxiliary gearbox using planetary gearing. The result is a transmission ratio of 7.3:1 that is broader than those of conventional CVTs and a typical of seven-speed automatic transmissions as well.
On the wonderful highways and byways around San Diego where the press launch was staged, the CVT was surprising sharp on city streets. But joining the freeway, it was adequate but really not bad when you consider torque is just 107 lb/ft. Much credit is due to a weight reduction of 107 kg over the outgoing Versa Hatch.
A lot of work went into noise reduction like acoustic glass, underbody shielding of the gas tank and double rubber baffles on the doors.
It is far better when the first Versa I drove in 2006 which remains the noisiest car I have ever encountered.
But with the rear seats folded flat, you have basically a 606 litre cavern behind you that does amplify road noise on more granular pavement abetted by the harder low rolling resistance tires on the CVT version I drove.
Suspension is MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar at the front and twist beam with stabilizer bar at the rear.
Braking is by power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes with standard Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.
The Versa Note rides on standard 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers and 185/65HR15 all-season tires, while 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with 195/55HR16 all-season tires are optional. Low rolling resistance tires are standard on CVT-equipped models.
It will be offered in three model trims levels – 1.6 S manual/CVT, 1.6 SV manual/CVT and 1.6 SL manual/CVT.
The Note slots in above the Versa Sedan that starts at $11,898.
Where the Versa has always excelled is in passenger and cargo volume helped in large part by being based on Nissan’s global “V” platform with a 102.4-inch wheelbase.
By scooping out the cabin, the Versa Note boasts 3,370.6 litres (115.5 cu ft) of cabin volume with the aforementioned 606 litres (21.4 cu ft) of cargo room.
That compares to the 479 litres (16.9 cu ft) in the Versa hatchback I drove back in 2006 when it first came out which was considered gigantic at the time for a sub-compact. It’s also more than 100 litres larger than the Sentra compact sedan.
Cargo volume can be increased with the optional Divide-N-Hide Adjustable Floor. With the 60/40 rear seat folded, it creates a flat floor for long/bulky items. But the floor board cover can be lifted to reveal a hidden storage area for valuables or it can be lowered to make a deeper cargo well for tall items.
The long list of features starts with the standard cloth seating, four-way adjustable front bucket seats (S) with six-way seats available (SV, SL), Fine Vision instrumentation, AM/FM/CD/Aux-in audio system with four speakers, 12-volt power outlet, front door pockets with bottle holders, dual front and rear cupholders and many more amenities.
In Canada, heated outside mirrors are standard.
Heated front seats with upgraded seat cloth and stitching are also available, along with leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome/silver accents, USB input with iPod control and steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls.
Charcoal and Wheat Stone are the two interior colours.
Offered for the first time in its segment is the Around View Monitor system. Using four small super wide-angle cameras mounted on the front, sides and rear of the vehicle the system projects a virtual 360-degree view of objects around the vehicle, helping the driver maneuver the car into tight spots.
The Around View Monitor is part of the SL Tech Package, which also features NissanConnect with Navigation System with NavTraffic. For the latter, a SiriusXM subscription is required and is sold separately.
The system includes a 5.8-inch (14.73 cm) colour touch-screen display, Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant, Streaming Audio via Bluetooth, real time local fuel prices, weather forecasts, flight information, POIs powered by Google and Google Send-to-Car.
Standard safety and security systems include the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System (AABS), front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags for chest protection, roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental air bags, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Traction Control System (TCS).
The Versa is the top-selling entry-level car in the U.S. but in Canada, it’s another story.
Nissan knows it has stiff competition, but with the Note joining the Sedan, they feel Versa is on the right road to subcompact success.
At a glance
BODY STYLE: Subcompact hatchback.
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 1.6-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder (109 hp, 107 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) CVT as tested, 6.1/4.8/5.5L/100 km city/highway/combined
CARGO: 606 litres (21.4 cu ft)
TOW RATING: Not recommended
PRICE: Manual transmission: S, $13,348; SV $14,998, SV Convenience Package, $15,628; SL, $16,998. CVT: S, $14,648; SV, $16,298; SV Convenience Package, $16,978; SL, $18,298; SL Technology Package, $19,018