So here we are in sunny Florida with Nissan’s cheapest car, in fact I think it’s the cheapest new car in America – or near as dammit.
Let’s start with the vices – the styling is most generously described as pedestrian; the shape looks like they stuck it in a vice and squeezed hard, so the car got narrower and taller;
The CVT auto is not well-calibrated to the 103hp 1.2L four cylinder engine, and holds gears too long when accelerating; and the handling is decidedly ‘dodgy’ – probably because of the high centre of gravity.
On the freeway anything over the 70mph speed limit finds the Versa wandering in the airflow, plus the steering on my car pulled to the right and I was constantly correcting.
However, that probably means that the poor old rental car just needed a wheel alignment.
I don't believe the designers spent very much time in the company wind tunnel - the car is very unstable at speed.
So don't take too much notice of the tacked-on spoiler on the trunk lid - I figure it's just affectation that comes with the Special Edition badge.
The little Versa is definitely no rocket either. It accelerates to 100km/h (60mph), in 9.2secs, and covers the Standing Quarter Mile in 17 secs, at 130 km/h (80mph).
Also when accelerating up to highway speeds the engine is noisy as - in fact it screams so hard, the driver should be cited for being cruel, and unreasonable.
However, it is unreasonable to expect this little car to perform like one of its grown-up siblings, like the 350Z. The Versa is an honest attempt to bring economical motoring, with an impressive group of standard features within the reach of young (or mature) Americans.
On the first refuel, economy numbers were 6.5 L/100km (34mpg).
The base price in the USA is USD$15,000 – plus the usual extra taxes and charges.
The biggest complaint among the enthusiast and consumer magazines in the USA, is the cheap and nasty feel to the plastics and the interior trim. There is no doubt, when you’re sitting in the cabin, you instantly recognize this is a car where production costs were cut to the bone.
But, if you’re going to make a car for a price, then the discipline carmakers have to observe on component and equipment costs must be rigid. Having said that, Nissan is a huge global company, even bigger since the creation of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and so its ability to source better looking, and better feeling plastics should not be limited. In terms of purchasing power Nissan could surely do better, to give the Versa a better-resolved interior space.
I could point to the excellent results GM achieved with its new Chevrolet Spark (right), thanks to the influence of GM’s new Head of Design, Australian Michael Simcoe.
Simcoe told me he set his teams a target to create a ‘quality feel’ regardless of its pricing status in the Chevy lineup, and after driving the car in Australia GM certainly achieved its goals – and Nissan could do worse than take a leaf out of the GM playbook.
As CAR AND DRIVER said in its review, inexpensive doesn’t have to mean the car ‘looks’ cut-rate.
Personally, I think the Versa has nothing going for it in terms of visual appeal, sex appeal or any other appeal. It looks like what it is, and that’s a shame, because hiding under the pedestrian styling and the uninspired interior design, is a tough, reliable, economical and safe passenger car, that offers excellent value-for-money.
It's also roomy for its size, with fold-down rear seats, decently-sized trunk and comfortable front seats.
Really cute small cars are often tagged as ‘chick’ cars, meaning no young male would be seen driving it – unfortunately for Nissan, I can’t see the Versa appealing to anyone under 65. It's just great for someone who only needs wheels to trundle from the Assisted Living Village to the Mall.
So, there. I’ve damned it with faint praise, which probably only endorses the fact that I’m some sort of brand snob, with champagne taste on a beer pocket. Competitors like the Chevrolet Sonic, the Kia Picanto and Honda Fit are more attractive, and dynamically better.
However, the payback comes in very economical operation; on the second fill the fuel consumption fell to 5.9 L/100km (39mpg).
This is especially important, considering the Nissan Versa SV shown here (USD$16,500), is just a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than the comparably-equipped and dynamically-superior Ford Fiesta.
CAR AND DRIVER’s nutshell view captures the situation:
“For many years, the Versa has been America’s biggest-selling subcompact, so there appears to be little incentive for Nissan to spend more money.”
What’s that you said about not wasting money putting lipstick on a pig?