2011 Nissan Versa: VersaTility

2011 Nissan Versa

That will no doubt be perceived by many readers to be a corny headline (ala vice-versa), but in reality, there’s actually some validity to it. The Versa is essentially an outstanding vehicle in its market category and price class, with no discernable major flaws. Nissan first bowed with a hatchback (5-door) Versa model in 2007, following up with a 4-door sedan version in early 2008 — both were actually 2007 models, powered by the same 1.8 -liter Dual Overhead Cam (DOHC), in-line 4-cylinder engine that generated 122 horsepower and 127 pound feet of torque propelling the front wheels. There are now two engines available – a 1.6-liter four banger joins the mix, powering the base sedan, and producing a more modest 107 horses and 111 pound feet of torque. The Versa lineup offers a choice of four transmissions: a 5-speed manual gearbox; a 6-speed manual (not that 6 speeds are really needed here); a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive; and an Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which is likely the most efficient of the mix.

Versa comes not only in the two body configurations (sedan and hatchback), but two trim levels for each — “S” and “SL”. The trim level differences are defined by equipment offerings and of course price. The S models come with either the manual or automatic transmission. SL vehicles are equipped with either the automatic or CVT. Pricing structure is the same regardless of body style.

The standard equipment and feature inventory is really quite complete, but lots of optional gear is available to further personalize one’s Versa, and all those extra packages make it seem almost like Christmas shopping, with pricing ranging from $90 to $700. Don’t forget to add $750 for Destination and Handling charges.

The Versa is an entry-level vehicle in terms of affordability, but seems to make no excuses or compromise in the areas of quality, design appeal, performance capability and functionality provided by the interior spaciousness (the Versa name, according to Nissan, reflects “versatile space”). It is built on Nissan’s “B” platform, and falls just below the Nissan Sentra in price, but not in attention to detail. Styling wise, Versa is contemporary in its execution with a bold, dynamic overall form, composed of clean, sculpted surfaces that are pleasing to the eye, particularly in the hatchback version (my personal preference). It falls into line with several midsize crossovers. It isn’t ultimately unique in its basic image, but it is done well, featuring large jewel-like headlights, Nissan’s signature grille and large taillights.

My test Versa was a Hatchback in SL trim with the CVT transmission. The exterior was finished in Arctic Blue metallic, with the cloth interior done in a patterned Sport Charcoal. Wheels were 16-inch six-spoke alloys. The base price was set at $16,900, while the final window sticker amounted to $19,995 after adding for: the Power Moonroof; five-piece floor and trunk mat set; the Premium Package: Navigation Package and Destination charges.

SUMMARY: The Versa is manufactured at Nissan’s Aguascalientes, Mexico assembly plant along with Nissan Sentra models for the U.S. marketplace. It is one of the few small test crossover-type rides that has attracted enough attention for observers to stop and compliment it, and learn more about.

The CVT provides positive, fluid motion, and the acceleration provides enough zing off the line to break the driving wheels loose. The steering feel is on-center, resulting in nimble (some may even think sporty) handling characteristics. The interior is well done, with switchgear and gauges that are legible and sensibly placed for user friendliness. The ride quality is quite comfortable, and the interior provides plenty of room up front and in the rear seat as well, leaving enough space for cargo with both seating rows occupied. When more cargo capacity is required, the rear seats split and fold flat.

The only nits that I had to pick were that the forward cup holders are set under the dash and are somewhat difficult to reach behind the gear shift lever, and the power outlet is set a little too far aft for some radar detector cords to reach, plus an extra outlet wouldn’t be a bad thing – small potatoes really for most.

The Versa delivers up to 28 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg when piloting it on the highway. Bottom-line, the 2011 Versa Hatchback and Sedan give Nissan a broader model offering, beginning at a low price point that is within the reach of more consumers. The SL trim Hatchback is, in my opinion, sportier in appearance, while providing both VERSAtility and functionality with the 60/40 split folding rear seat backs. Let’s face it, hatchbacks are back in style.

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