2007 Nissan Versa Review

2007 Nissan Versa - Wee will rock you.


Once again, Japanese automakers are here with new fuel-stingy models when gasoline prices are soaring. The Nissan Versa is a member of the new trio of compact 2007 economy cars from Japan built for entry-level buyers to take a bigger bite out of the American auto market.

The other trio members are the Honda Fit (April 3 AutoTimes) and Toyota Yaris (April 24 AutoTimes). They're here because Japan's former entry-level Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra have been sized and priced out of the entry-level market.

The Versa four-door hatchback is the trio member arguably best-suited to the U.S. market because it feels and drives like a larger car and is generally more comfortable than the Fit and Yaris. (A four-door Versa sedan arrives later this year.)

The front-drive Versa has the longest wheelbase (distance between axles) and the roomiest interior, with an impressively large rear seat area. It's much longer overall than the Fit and is virtually the same length as the Yaris, both being a tad more than 169 inches long.

The Versa is the most powerful member of the trio. Its sophisticated 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower engine has chain-driven overhead camshafts for lower maintenance and is large for this class of car. This Nissan is also several hundred pounds heavier than the Fit and Yaris, weighing 2,722 to 2,779 pounds, depending on trim level and equipment.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a conventional four-speed automatic and a more efficient continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) are available.

Estimated fuel economy should help attract buyers. It's 30 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway with the manual, 28 and 35 with the four-speed automatic -- and a sparkling 30 and 36 with the CVT. Only regular-grade fuel is required.

Versa list prices range from $12,450 to $15,450. The car comes in base S and upscale SL trim levels.

Standard for the S are air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD audio system, tire pressure monitoring system and 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

Standard safety items include front- and curtain-side air bags. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution for surer panic stops are optional, but an anti-skid control system isn't offered for either trim level.

The SL, which starts at $14,450, adds cruise control, aluminum alloy wheels, in-dash 6 CD autochanger with MP3 playback, remote keyless entry and power locks, windows and mirrors. I tested the Versa SL with the smooth CVT, which makes good use of the engine's power band.

The Versa does 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds -- respectable for an economy car. Acceleration is lively in town and merging into fast traffic, and 65-75 mph passing provides no anxious moments.

Steering is responsive, although coarse road surfaces can be felt through the wheel. The Versa handles confidently, although it is designed more to provide a plush ride for a small car than the sharpest handling. The brake pedal feels good, but stopping distances are average.

Options include a sunroof, satellite radio and keyless starting -- you just need to twist a plastic lever on the steering column when you have a special "key fob'' in the car.

The Versa is built in Mexico and shares its chassis with proven European-market Nissan and French Renault models. That's because Nissan and Renault are related, and such sharing saves Nissan a lot of money.

No wonder, then, that the Versa has decidedly French-influenced styling, which long has been offbeat. For instance, the Versa hatchback's rear side windows slant forward at the bottom and are countered by a back-sloping rear hatch to create an offbeat triangular rear roof pillar.

The styling also creates a rather high, oddly shaped cargo opening, although cargo space is generous because a "twist beam'' rear axle allows for a deep cargo area.

Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward to enlarge that area, but back seat bottoms don't fold forward. One thus is left with a stepped extended cargo floor -- with seatbacks that sit higher than the cargo floor and don't lie flat with it. The interior thus isn't as versatile as it should be.

Doors open wide for easy entry, and a high roof and long wheelbase allow lots of room for five tall adults. Still, four is a more practical number because the center of the back seat is too high and hard for comfort; it's best to flip down the rear center armrest, which contains two conveniently placed cupholders.

Low cupholders at the front of the console, though, invite spills. But front doors have bottle holders, and all doors have deep storage pockets. There also are good-sized interior storage areas.

The quiet, fairly high-quality interior's front seats are large and comfortable, with decent manual adjusters. Visibility is good in all directions, and gauges in the no-nonsense dashboard are deeply set but easy to read. Controls are logically placed, and the sound system and rotary climate controls are commendably large. Rear windows lower all the way.

The heavy hood is held open by a prop rod that new Versa owners initially might have difficulty finding because it's attached to the underside of the hood. However, it's easy to reach fluid filler areas in the uncluttered engine compartment.

The Fit, Yaris and Versa all have pros and cons. But many small-car buyers might find the Versa is the best all-round auto of the trio for American driving because of its big-car feel and roominess. 


PRICES: $12,450-$15,450

LIKES: Roomy. Lively. Good road- ability. Refined. High fuel economy. Distinctive styling.

DISLIKES: Odd-shaped cargo opening. Rear seats don't fold flush. Low front cupholders.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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