Size does matter, even with fuel-sipping subcompact cars. That's the verdict with the Nissan Versa, largest of the smalls.
Versa is the most powerful of the "B Class" trio -- Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. It's also the longest in wheelbase -- the distance between front and back axles. Versa and Yaris are the same length.
Power is relative in the smalls. The Versa's brand-new four-cylinder engine of 1.8L churns out a mighty 122 horsepower. That's running through the front wheels.
Armed with a four-speed automatic transmission, the 1.8L moves the Versa to 60 mph in a languid 11.6 seconds.
The six-speed manual transmission can cut that to under 10 seconds. The driver really has to work the shift lever. A continuously variable transmission is optional.
A wheelbase of 102.4 inches helps smooth out the ride. An overall length of 169 inches makes Versa surprisingly roomy. Front seats are nearly as large as those in the intermediate Nissan Maxima, according to the company.
|Nissa Versa 1.8 S HB
•Engines: 1.8L I-4
•Dimensions: 99.8" wheelbase; 177.5" length
•Base price: $12,450; As tested $14,805
•Fuel economy: 28/35 mpg
The driver's seat provides plenty of elbow and leg room. The decent width of Versa adds to the impression of larger car spaciousness. The backseats don't suffer as much as normal in four-door sedans.
The driving position is very good.
A steeply slanting windshield necessitates those cute little Ford Aerostar pseudo-wing windows. They don't open -- their sole function is filling the gap between the windshield and the car's instrument panel. Nissan even provides little defroster vents for the wee windows.
Side mirrors are commendably large for a subcompact. There's no feeling of skimping because this is an economy vehicle. It's not a squashed-down bigger car.
Nissan dialed in a combination of comfortable down-the-road cruising with a nice agility in curves and hard cornering (disregard the body lean). Bumps in the road will be felt. There's not too much feed back on turns. The Versa does dig into them a little bit (called oversteer).
Cruise control is an option -- needed for longer trips, unneeded in the city. Also an option is anti-lock braking -- it should be standard for the additional safety and driver control it affords. Get it.
All these goodies -- more power, longer wheelbase, lots of interior room -- come at a fuel economy price. They weigh and weight is the enemy of miles per gallon. Versa does best with the cvt transmission---30 city and 36 highway. The six-speed manual comes close with 30 city and 34 on the road. The four-speed automatic lags a trifle at 28 city and 35 highway.
Base prices reflect the transmissions: $12,550 for the manual; $13,350 the automatic and $15,550 for the CVT. Prices don't include the destination charge which was $605 on our tester. That Versa hatchback came to $14,805 with the four-speed automatic. An option package for power windows, locks and a door armrest was $700. The ABS package was $250.
Versa -- and the other B class vehicles -- are the little cars that could. And do.