2020 Nissan Versa Drivers' Notes | A castaway no more

The new Versa finally finds its way

Versa MMP10a
Versa MMP10a / Image Credit: Nissan
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Nissan has greatly improved the Versa to make it truly competitive in the subcompact car segment. Its styling is better inside and out, and there's tons of new tech. The biggest downside is its meek powertrain.

  • Trim
  • Engine
    1.6L Inline-Four
  • Power
    122 HP / 114 LB-FT
  • Transmission
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    2,729 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    15 Cu-Ft
  • MPG
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price

The 2020 Nissan Versa is a totally new car this year, and Nissan did well by it. Nearly everything about the sedan has gotten better, and we can finally call it a contender in the fast-shrinking subcompact car segment. Nissan made it lower, wider and longer, stole some styling cues from the larger Altima sedan and brought it completely up to date from a technology standpoint. However, the engine is still rather gutless. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder has a little more grunt than last year at 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque (gains of 13 and 7 respectively), but it’s still achingly slow. Add an annoyingly buzzy soundtrack and a meh CVT to the equation, and acceleration becomes a painful process. However, that’s where the bad begins and ends for the Versa.

Our tester was the SR trim, which means it’s the most expensive and top-tier version of the Versa. Features like 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, remote engine start and sport cloth seats are tacked on above the mid-grade SV trim. It started at $19,135, but after a few choice options, our Versa was all the way up to $21,490. That’s not brutally expensive, but it is a far cry from the $15,625 base price of the S (that still comes with a five-speed manual). The Convenience Package is the most important option to add, as it brings heated seats and adaptive cruise control to the table for just $300. Think hard about the $855 Electronics Package and $690 Lighting Package that mostly focus on adding cool but unnecessary lighting features. The external ground lighting is Fast and Furious-esque, but there’s hardly any point in a Versa. Some of the most important aspects of this new Versa come free of extra charge. Both the SV and SR have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability on the seven-inch screen standard, and the instrument cluster has a large, customizable digital display in it, too. Add the surprisingly comfortable ride and a design you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in, and the Versa is finally a proposition we can get behind.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I'm surprised at how charming I find the Versa. My expectations are always tempered by its budget price, but there are a lot more dreadful cars that cost more. It's fairly plucky, and holds its own on the highway. The steering is devoid of any of that light, disconnectedness some cars have as a sort of facsimile for "premium" feel, and it responds well to inputs and bends itself pleasantly around corners. I couldn't find anything to be offended by, including the CVT.

And there were a couple elements that actually did make this feel premium for a car with a sticker price of $21,490. The Lighting Package, which does cost a hefty $690, does a lot to improve first impressions inside with the ambient lighting — and out with the ground lighting below the doors. The $855 Electronics Package adds, among other things, illuminated kick plates and a frameless auto-dimming mirror. Perhaps the best-spent money is the $300 for the Convenience Package, which adds heated front seats and adaptive cruise control. The best part is that spending that extra money to gussy up the Versa is a genuine upgrade; the car's good enough on its own that it's not just putting lipstick on a pig.

Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: For all of my driving years, the Nissan Versa has been one of the worst new cars on sale by every metric but price. It was the runt of the litter — picked last on every occasion because there were no other possible choices at its price point. In 2020, everything is different for the Versa.

It’s more expensive, but it’s also a car I genuinely enjoyed spending time in. The change is so radical in the positive direction that a new name would serve it well. The name Versa leaves a bad taste in my mouth that this new sedan tries its best to wash out unsuccessfully. There’s plenty to be said for retaining the name that folks know and recognize, but I fear that retaining the Versa name only comes with negative baggage. Nothing about that name brand suggests comfort, style or tech — all qualities that the new Versa has attained with this redesign.

As the number of subcompact competitors shrinks in America, it’s great to see Nissan putting such a strong foot forward. We’re losing the Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic and Fiat 500, and the Honda Fit is likely to follow at some point. That leaves the bottom of the new car market barren of choice, and the Versa is stepping up right when it needs to. Now, Nissan just needs to put a powertrain in it that doesn’t actively sap happiness from one’s soul at full throttle.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: I'll echo everyone's sentiments that the Versa is a genuinely good little car now. What's really impressive is its refinement. This car doesn't feel cheap. It has a mildly firm but composed ride, and the chassis feels sturdy. The cabin is extremely quiet, even on concrete highways. The CVT is quiet, too, and it could fool some people into thinking it's a traditional automatic. Only the size and a few low-rent plastics indicate that this isn't a larger, more expensive car.

It is important to note, however, that while this is a good car, it is not a fun car. The 1.6-liter engine makes only 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, and it shows. Accelerating down on-ramps or squirting through city traffic will demand uncomfortably long stints of flooring the throttle. And while it has a refined ride and solid steering, there's a fair amount of body roll, not much grip, and lots of understeer. It has clearly been tuned to be safe and comfortable in corners, not engaging. And that's perfectly fine! Not everyone needs a road rocket. But for those who do want one, they should probably look at a different subcompact.

Nissan Versa Information

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