Even though I drive virtually everything on the market now, it still never ceases to amaze me just how far forward the subcompact market has advanced.
Once a segment filled with cheap penalty boxes that nobody wanted to drive, it has now become heavily populated by a series of competent, feature-filled, attractive little cars. Nissan’s first Versa was a decent success, but I was never a fan of it. With just how good the new Micra (see review here) is, I began to wonder whether there’s even still space in the market for Nissan’s slightly larger entry. The 2016 Nissan Versa Note SL I was assigned to review came to me fully loaded, and boasting a coat of Aspen White paint.
The Versa Note, known simply as the “Note” in other markets, is an inoffensively styled subcompact, which competes with huge players such as the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent. It uses its subtle, under-the-radar styling to attract buyers not looking for flair or unique design. Regardless, the Versa’s two-box design is decently handsome, especially on the 16” alloy wheels equipped on our SL tester. There is also a sporty SR model that gets unique wheels and a full skirt package, but it lacks some of the SL’s premium features.
All Versa Notes are equipped with a 1.6L inline four-cylinder engine. This is the same engine that gives the smaller Micra a performance edge, as it’s actually decently quick. Output here is 109 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 107 lb-ft of torque at 4,400RPM. After factoring in the Versa Note’s added weight though, the engine doesn’t sound that hot. There’s a five-speed manual available, but the top-trim SL gets Nissan’s Xtronic CVT. It does a decent job at darting around the city, but wide-open acceleration is a bit of a struggle.
The Versa Note has decent throttle response, and the transmission’s lack of physical gears helps it get to speed in a reasonable manner. A hot hatch, though, it is not. The Honda Fit also gets a CVT, and I’ll argue that Nissan’s Xtronic unit is more refined and less noisy, but I still prefer my subcompacts with a traditional manual transmission. Even if the automatic models are slightly quicker, rowing my own gears gives me a more rewarding drive. At just under 2,500lbs, the Versa Note is pretty effortless in overall operation, with acceptable reflexes and good brake feel.
Nissan has a reputation with handling, so the Versa Note is often expected to be a swift handler. Forget about all of that – it doesn’t feel anything like a 370Z or a GT-R. When compared to its rivals though, the Note has excellent steering feel and good response. It still has a substantial amount of body roll, which would be fixed with a decent aftermarket suspension, but I expect the vast majority of Versa Note buyers to keep their cars in stock form. All models get Vehicle Dynamics Control as standard equipment, and with a good set of winter tires as equipped on my review vehicle, this can be an excellent winter warrior for Canadians.
According to Nissan’s estimates for the 2016 model, the Versa Note with Xtronic CVT is expected to get 7.5L/100km in the city and 6.0L/100km on the highway. My test took place in one of the coldest weeks of the winter thus far, and also involved a good amount of highway driving. I averaged 7.3L/100km over my review period, and the 40L tank is large enough for the average Canadian to go over a week without having to refuel. Efficiency is one thing the Versa does very, very well, and just like everything else in its segment, it only requires regular 87-octane fuel.
The interior of the second-smallest Nissan is almost exactly what we have come to expect from this segment. Our tester was loaded with everything available on the Versa Note, and there have been subtle updates since its introduction for the 2014 model year. For instance, the old instrument gauge cluster with its ugly, monochromatic orange LCD screen is gone. It has now been replaced with a handsome, more legible and clear unit that’s easy on the eyes. The infotainment system has a 5.8” touchscreen display that is responsive and attractive. There are a few plastic bits throughout the cabin, but nothing out of the ordinary for this price point.
Nissan has priced the Versa Note aggressively at $14,498 for the base S model. Even at this price, it includes air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, and a series of other standard features. Stepping up to the SV, at $16,398, will put you into the model that the majority of Canadians will buy. This model includes a rear-view camera, remote keyless entry, NissanConnectSM with apps, and the Divide-N-Hide adjustable floor. Our top-trim tester, at $19,748, adds Nissan’s intelligent key system, navigation, their trademark Around View Monitor, heated seats, and the 16” alloy wheels. For decent transportation under the $20,000 mark, the Note is pretty darn good.
Whether or not it was intended to be this way, Nissan’s “Versa” name definitely represents the sheer versatility that this little car offers. The Divide-N-Hide system is a layered trunk organization system that’s more innovative and useful than it sounds. The rear seats also fold down in a 60/40 split, and the usable space is actually massive. Those who need to haul a considerable amount of stuff around but don’t want to go up to a significantly larger car, the Versa Note does an excellent job at this. In fact, I’d almost say the usefulness is almost equivalent to that of the Honda Fit’s Magic Seat system.
The 2016 Nissan Versa Note SL isn’t the prettiest kid on the block, or the most powerful. It does, however, offer a good amount of versatility within its segment. Its biggest obstacle is Nissan’s own Micra, which provides a serious value incentive for those who could do with a slightly smaller vehicle. Its lighter weight means the Micra feels a bit peppier than the Versa Note, though it’s not nearly as roomy and doesn’t offer some features that the Note does. For a university student constantly moving back and forth between places of residence, or even an Uber driver who needs trunk space for passengers, the Versa Note is a great proposition in the crowded subcompact market.