2011 Nissan Versa Review

2011 Nissan Versa - Roomy and affordable small car


Vehicle Tested
2011 Nissan Versa SL
Base Price: $16,900
At-Tested Price: $19,995
Built in Japan.

Premium Package
Navigation & Radio Package

Engine: 1.8-liter I4
CVT Automatic

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

Up until a few weeks ago, Nissan's smallest car in the U.S. was the Versa. That title now goes to the all-electric Leaf, but since it's sold only in a few markets and in very limited quantities, the Versa can still lay claim to being Nissan's low-price leader.

First sold in this market in 2007, the Versa is a subcompact that's available as either a four-door hatchback or four-door sedan. Since its launch Versa has sold well, slotting in at the bottom of Nissan's lineup and allowing the slightly larger Sentra to stretch its legs a bit in both size and price. Versa competes with cars like the Chevrolet Aveo, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Scion xD, Suzuki SX4, and Toyota Yaris.

Both Versa bodystyles sport front-wheel drive and seat five on front buckets and a three-place rear bench. Four models are offered. Base, 1.6, S, and SL. The Base and 1.6 come with a 107-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and are only available as sedans. S and SL get a 122-horsepower 18-liter four and are offered in both body styles. The 1.6-liter engine mates to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The larger 1.8-liter comes with a six-speed manual, four-speed automatic or continuously variable transmission.

Standard safety equipment includes front-seat active head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, and dual-front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. Antilock brakes with brake assist are optional on all models. Stability control is standard on the SL Park assist and rear-view monitor are not available.

The Base lists for $9,990 and comes only with manual transmission. Standard equipment includes tilt steering wheel, cloth upholstery, variable-intermittent wipers, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system, 185/65HR15 tires and wheel covers. The 1.6 lists for $11,240 and adds to the Base air conditioning and interior air filter.

The S hatchback starts at $13,520 while the S sedan lists for $13,570. S models add to the 1.6 split folding rear seat (hatchback), power mirrors, AM/FM/CD player with digital-media player connection, cargo cover (hatchback) and intermittent rear wiper/washer (hatchback).

The line-topping SL lists for $16,900 as a hatch and $16,470 in sedan form. The SL adds to the S traction control, cruise control, height-adjustable driver seat, split folding rear seat w/trunk pass-through (sedan), power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 changer with iPod interface system, fog lights (hatchback) and alloy wheels.

Options include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, keyless access and starting, remote engine start, Bluetooth cell-phone link, sunroof, illuminated visor mirrors, Rockford Fosgate sound system, satellite radio, iPod adapter, rear spoiler, side sills, fog lights, interior accent lights, and cargo organizer. Newly available for 2011 is a Navigation system that includes real-time traffic information, satellite radio, and a USB port. Versa is built in Mexico and has a $720 destination charge.

Get up and Go  The new 1.6-liter engine offers acceptable around-town acceleration but passing power is substandard and the engine isn't as smooth as it should be. For best performance with the1.6, stick with the manual transmission.

The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine in Versa is larger than engines found in most direct competitors. That gives the Versa a little more pickup off the line and slightly better passing response than most of its competition.

That's not saying much because nearly all of these small cars favor efficiency over acceleration. From a stop, Versa SL accelerates like your typical subcompact with a 0-60 mph time in the 10 second range. On the highway there's enough power to merge, but it's best to plan plenty of extra space in passing situations.

The four-speed automatic isn't the smoothest transmission, but it gets the job done and doesn't hunt between gears in hilly terrain. An additional gear or two would be welcome, but it's understandable at a $12,000 price point. Those looking for a smoother automatic would be smart to a step up to the SL hatchback with its slick CVT.

Versa's fuel economy is impressive, but not quite as good at some of its competition--a result of having a slightly larger engine. EPA ratings for the CVT-equipped SL are 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. That compares to 28/35 for the Honda Fit and 29/35 for the Toyota Yaris. Nissan recommends regular-grade fuel for the Versa.

Driven with a light throttle foot it's easy to average better than 30 mpg in daily suburban commuting. If you spend a lot of time in stop-and-go urban slogging, that average with drop into the high 20s.

On the Road  With its long-for-the-class wheelbase, Versa rides more like a midsize car than a typical subcompact. That translates into good composure over bumpy roads and a refined and comfortable ride on smooth roads. There's a slight amount of bobbing on wavy roads but it is not disconcerting.

Versa is exceptionally good at quelling undulating motions frequently found on concrete-slab expressways. This is an area where most subcompacts suffer unnerving rocking motions set up by the road's construction.

When the path grows twisty, Versa's surprisingly accurate steering and nimble size make it somewhat fun to drive. There's a fair amount of front-drive nose plow in tight turns and the skinny tires don't have much grip, but overall Versa feels comfortable on expressway ramps and in quick lane changes.

Sadly, the brakes don't offer much stopping power and the numb pedal is difficult to modulate. Additionally, antilock brakes should be standard, regardless of price point.

Unlike other subcompacts, Versa's cabin is quite peaceful at highway speeds. There's some tire thrum and a bit of wind noise, but overall the Versa is one of the quietest subcompacts on the market.

Behind the Wheel  Versa sports a well-designed interior that's highlighted by easy-to-reach audio controls and large dials for the climate-control system. Materials are more than acceptable for the price and the SL has a surprising number of soft touch surfaces.

Driving position is upright and the large front-bucket seats are very comfortable. There's decent leg room and ample head room for large adults. Outward visibility is excellent to all directions. The optional navigation system is only $610, but isn't as easy to program as more expensive systems and responds slowly to changes and commands. SL models get a center arm rest that makes long-distance commuting more comfortable.

Competitors should take note of the Versa's roomy back seat. It offers more leg and head room than many midsize cars. The seats are also very comfortable. Clearly Nissan made the most of Versa's 102-inch wheelbase when designing the interior.

Cargo room isn't outstanding considering the hatchback design, but it's still more than adequate for a weekend's worth of stuff. Dropping the rear seat will increase cargo capacity. Sadly, those seatbacks don't fold completely flat, making for an uneven load floor. Interior storage is highlighted by large front-door map pockets and an oversized glovebox.

Bottom Line  Just because a car is small doesn't mean it has to be cheap or substandard. Versa is exactly the opposite, it's a small car that thinks it's a midsize sedan. There is enough room for a family of four and the ride is quite comfortable. Throw in the impressive base price and Versa becomes a must-see for subcompact shoppers. As with any vehicle purchase, shoppers need to be careful with options as they can quickly jack up the price.

While competitors fall all over themselves offering more versatile interiors, more fuel-efficient engines, or trendy designs, Nissan played it safe with Versa. It's a car that can easily do double duty as a family hauler and a long-distance commuter and that gives it a leg up on the competition.

Specifications 2011 Nissan Versa SL
4-door hatchback
Wheelbase, in.
Size, liters/cu. in.
1.8 / 110
Length, in.
Horsepower @ rpm
122 @ 5200
Width, in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm
127 @ 4800
Height, in.
CVT Automatic
Weight, lbs.
EPA Estimates, mpg
28 city / 34 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.

Fuel Capacity, gals.
Manufacturer's Warranty
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 60,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
5 years / Unlimited miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.