For two generations, the Nissan Versa held its own in the sub-compact car segment not with flashy styling nor lavish interiors, but with an affordable price, roomy cabin, and competent handling. Priorities led to cars with tall/narrow profiles and interiors awash in hard plastic. For 2020, the Versa arrives for its third generation keeping all owners appreciated while slapping on some fancy new clothes.
Sleek, Handsome Style
Styling cribs the larger Altima and Maxima, which means it is sleek and handsome. Proportions are longer (1.6 inches), wider (1.8 inches), and lower (2.3 inches) for a more athletic appearance, but it also adopts Nissan’s V-motion grille, boomerang headlamps/taillamps, kicked up C-pillars, and floating roof. Choose the SR sport trim for 17-inch wheels, dark chrome grille, body color spoiler, and LED headlamps. There are eight colors available, including Electric Blue Metallic, Monarch Orange Metallic, and Scarlet Ember Tintcoat.
Moving across the doorsill, there’s still plenty of hard plastic, but the composition feels much more upscale – especially with the available contrasting color seats and dash insert. A D-shaped steering wheel, floating touchscreen, remote keyless entry, and push button staring make good first impressions. Heated front seats and automatic climate control are available – as are Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free with hands-free text messaging, and a rear view monitor. Load in bicycles and gear with 60/40 split/fold rear seats.
Standard on SV and SR trim levels is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 system that includes adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rear automatic braking. There are also lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. All in, it’s quite a comprehensive system for an entry level car.
Peppy Efficient Power
Under the sleek hood is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 122 horsepower (12% increase) and 114 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s paired with a continuously variable automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is rated 27/35-MPG city/highway for the manual, increasing to 32/40-MPG for the automatic. Those are not numbers to intimidate drivers of muscle cars, but they are fine for a sub-compact sedan.
None of the Andrettis will write odes to the Versa’s chassis either, but it is wholly competent. The car rides on an independent front suspension with a torsion beam in the back, providing a good combination of comfort and handling. Electric power steering has been tuned for better feel. Base 15-inch wheels provide a supple ride, but step up to the available 16-inch and 17-inch wheels for better cornering. A stiffer body structure enhances both crash performance and driving feel.
I’ve driven many of the first- and second-generation Versas. Nobody would call them exciting, but they were roomy, comfortable, and efficient – exactly what most buyers of entry-level cars need. But, wouldn’t it have also been nice to have sporty styling and a modicum of performance? Yeah, and Nissan thought so too. I think the latest edition will put the little car on many more shopping lists. It’s no longer the cheap one, but instead the one to desire. A base price of $14,730 puts it against the Chevy Sonic, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai Accent.
2020 Nissan Versa
- Five-passenger, fwd Sedan
- Powertrain: 1.6-liter I4, CVT
- Output: 122hp/114 lb.-ft. torque
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Torsion beam
- Wheels f/r: 15-17”/15-17”
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, MPGs
- Fuel economy: 32/40 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Mexico
- Base price: $14,730