I have a confession to make: I didn’t have high hopes for the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV. Having reviewed the current generation Versa sedan when it launched a couple of years ago, I figured I knew what I was getting in to- the Versa sedan was softly sprung, with squishy seats upholstered in a strangely fuzzy material, uncomfortable driving position, an uninspired, droning powertrain and hard plastic interior trim bits- and I haven’t even brought up the Versa Sedan’s styling, which could charitably be described as “inoffensive.”
With that introduction, the Versa Note surprised me with its relatively sporty look- it is markedly better looking than the Versa sedan. A revised grill and front end treatment compared to the Versa Sedan help out up front, while the upright, truncated rear hatch and wheels-at-the-corners give the Versa Note a somewhat athletic stance, especially on the vehicle I tested which had upsized 16” alloy wheels, splash guards, and a rear spoiler.
The car I tested was a Versa Note SV with SL package: the top-of-the-line version, meaning it has Nissan’s Intelligent Key for keyless entry and pushbutton start; a nice feature in an economical car. Opening the door reveals black cloth upholstery with blue accents. Getting situated behind the wheel I found that the driver’s seat has manual height adjustment in addition to the standard fore/aft and rake adjustments; unfortunately the height adjuster doesn’t go as low as I would like for comfort, and the seat doesn’t go back quite as far as I’d like to accommodate my long legs and size 13 shoes. Additional comfort points are deducted for a steering wheel that tilts but doesn’t telescope, though points are added for the front seat heaters and a driver’s center armrest (attached to the right side of the driver’s seat rather than to a center console) which are included in the SL Package. Overall I found the driving position in the Versa Note a bit too upright and tall, though that seating position does provide a great view out; visibility is very good.
The dashboard and door panel tops are made exclusively of grained hard plastic with a slightly scratchy feel. Door panels do have a bit of upholstery matching the seats’ blue contrast color, though there is seemingly no padding on the door armrests. The front doors have molded-in bins which are shaped to accommodate a water bottle plus a few other items. The rear doors have no such pockets or cup holders; only SL-trimed models with the fold-down center armrest get rear cupholders. Front seat occupants have two cupholders molded into the console ahead of the gear selector.
That gear selector is connected to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (Continously Variable Transmission), which does what it can to turn the 109 HP from the Versa Note’s 1.6 liter four cylinder into forward momentum and noise. Each generation of Nissan’s CVT has improved, and while it works as expected in most locations, I found that it sometimes wasn’t smooth in slow-and-go traffic situations. While the Versa Note can always keep up with traffic and will happily cruise at speeds approaching 80 MPH on the freeway, it isn’t a quick car; strong acceleration is neither expected or delivered. Steering feedback is nearly nonexistent, and quick inputs at highway speeds caused unexpectedly prompt response, noted in both directional change and body roll. The front disc/rear drum braskes performed adequately during my week with the car. At highway speeds, road noise becomes intrusive, though not moreso than in other vehicles in this segment.
The Versa Note shares its dashboard with the Versa sedan, including climate controls employing three knobs for manually controlling fan speed, air distribution and temperature, with buttons for air conditioning and rear defrost. When defrost or heat/defrost is selected, the air conditioning is automatically selected. I turned off the A/C as it noticeably impacts idle when the compressor kicks on and off; however the A/C automatically is selected again each time the car is started with the HVAC distribution in one of those positions. With the Versa Note intended to be an efficiency leader for Nissan, it is surprising that the HVAC is programmed to run the air conditioning automatically on the otherwise-manual climate control system.
As in the Versa sedan, the rear doors seem huge, and open wide for access to the spacious back seat. The interior packaging and space utilization in the Versa is amazing; I’m 6”4” and I could sit in the back of the Versa Note, with the drivers seat adjusted for myself to drive, and I had adequate room for my long legs. The rear seat-bottom is sufficiently high off of the floor for adults too. For a vehicle in this segment, rear seat space is nothing short of remarkable.
Out back, the boot is reasonably spacious, and the SL package meant my Versa Note was equipped with the clever Divide-N-Hide cargo floor. This is essentially a cargo floor even with the hatch opening which creates an essentially flat floor when the rear seats are folded forward; there is hidden storage under this load floor, and floor can also be lowered to give extra depth to the boot. It was a simple and thoughtful cargo management/usability feature that Versa Note buyers will appreciate.
The Versa Note I tested was equipped with the uplevel navigation/audio system with a 5.8” touchscreen. The unit had voice command capability for destination entry, and had decent functionality. The screen did wash out in sunlight, and sound from the speakers was nothing special. The navigation function was able to re-route due to traffic incidents which were received via the NavTraffic service, which actually did save me time in traffic on a commute home from downtown Seattle. The Technology Package on the test vehicle also included Nissan’s Around-View Monitor, which gives either a reversing camera or a “bird’s eye” view of the car which appears on the navigation screen while parking. I first sampled the Around View Monitor in an Infiniti QX56; the fact that this useful technology has trickled down to Nissan’s entry-level hatchback on an $800 option package is a win for buyers in this vehicle class who can use a little extra help when parking.
The Versa Note has an EPA Fuel Economy rating of 31/35/40 MPG city/combined/highway, and the I tested was delivered to me with 1990 miles on the odometer with the trip computer showing an average fuel economy of 32.4 MPG; I reset the computer at that time. A week later when I was done with it, I had covered 225 miles (mostly in suburban driving or stop-and-go traffic) and the fuel economy was indicated 31.0 MPG. My driving habits typically return only the EPA city rating (or less), so the fact that the indicated fuel economy matches the EPA city rating does not surprise me.
The Versa Note SV I tested has a base price of $15,990; it was loaded with options including Splash Guards for $160; SL Package (16” aluminum alloy wheels, Nissan Intelligent Key with pushbutton ignition, easy fill tire alert, heated front seats, front fog lights, variable intermittent front windshield wipers, AM/FM/CD/USB/AUX audio system with 4.3” color display and iPod control and SiriusXM satellite radio, rear view monitor, rear seat armrest with cupholders, Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo floor) for $1700; Carpet Mats for $175; Rear Cargo Cover for $90; Rear Spoiler for $310, and Technology Package (NissanConnect with Navigation, 5.8” color touchscreen display, voice recognition for audio and navigation, NavTraffic and NavWeather, Google Send-to-Car, Pandora radio integration, streaming audio via Bluetooth, Around-View monitor, heated side view mirrors) for $800. Including the $790 Destination fee, total MSRP of the Versa Note was $20,015.
You may have noticed that for its second generation in the US, the hatchback version of the Versa comes with the name Versa Note. It’s worth noting (no pun intended) that the hatchback is simply sold as the Nissan Note in some global markets; I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Versa moniker disappear from the hatchback after a couple of years, in a way similar to the way that the “Pathfinder Armada” simply became the “Armada”, or the “Stanza Altima” became just the Altima. No matter what name badge it ends up wearing, this hatchback is a solid contender in the Nissan lineup, with great interior space, predictable driving dynamics, competitive fuel economy and a competitive price given its size and feature set.
Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.