Nissan may grab more buyers with its redone, unusually named 2014 Versa Note hatchback economy model, judging by my test of a prototype model.
For one thing, the front-drive Note looks sleeker. That’s important because nobody wants to look like they’re in an econobox. It has a steeply sloped front windshield and deeply sculpted doors. A large front spoiler combined with a “kick–up” roof shape and low aero-drag floor structure directs air under and around the body for better aerodynamics.
However, some shorter folks may object to the high beltline (where side windows meet the doors).
The new Note has a rather long (for its class) 102.4-inch wheelbase. Although roomier than the previous Versa hatchback, it has six-inch shorter front and rear overhangs. Also, the Note has an estimated 300-pound reduction in overall weight, thus losing the weight equivalent of, says Nissan, “an average NFL lineman” for better performance and fuel economy.
Nissan claims the Note delivers a “best in-class-level” of 31 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg combined and a class-leading 40 mpg highway with the available CVT automatic transmission.
Powering the Note is a 1.6-liter, 109-horsepower dual-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine with a dual injector system that uses less fuel and twin continuously variable timing control.
The engine revs to 6,000 r.p.m. and delivers 107 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 r.p.m. It drones during more-than-moderate acceleration but provides decent 65-75 mph passing on highways with the available CVT automatic transmission, which was in my test Versa Note.
The interior is quiet during steady state cruising on highways, where engine revs were acceptably low at 65 mph with my test car’s CVT.
The base $13,990 “S” model has a five-speed manual transmission, while the mid-range $15,240 S Plus model and top-line $15,990 SV versions have Nissan’s “next-generation” SVT transmission, which works smoothly and efficiently. I tested the Note SV.
My test Versa Note was generally fun to drive. Its electric power steering was nicely weighted and quick enough. The ride was generally supple, although sharp bumps jolted occupants.
Handling was good thanks partly to front and rear stabilizer bars, although this is no small sports sedan. Standard are vehicle dynamic control and traction control systems, along with a tire pressure monitoring system.
The anti-lock brakes worked effectively with electronic brake force distribution and brake-assist features. But disc brakes are only found up front, with less effective drum brakes at the rear. (However, front brakes on front-drive cars do most of the work.)
The Note is impressively roomy for a subcompact. It comfortably swallows five occupants, and that doesn’t mean the front seats must be shoved up a lot to provide good room for long-legged rear passengers. There are good-sized front-door pockets with bottle holders, and even the glove compartment is large.
The attractively designed quiet-at-all-speeds interior has lots of plastic, which doesn’t look cheap. The white-on-black gauges can be read at a glance, and controls can be readily used. Although some are small, they’re clearly marked and easily reached. Dashboard ventilation vents are well-placed. Available power rear windows lower all the way, and rearview mirrors fold to the side glass to prevent parking lot damage.
The adjustable front bucket seats provide decent lateral support but offer just-adequate side support for taller occupants. Rear seats also need more thigh support. The driver’s armrest is too small and narrow to offer more than marginal comfort.
Nissan Versa Note: Impressive Options
There’s a variety of desirable option packages. They include the SV Convenience package, SL package, SL Tech package and Sport Value package.
My test Versa Note had the $1,700 SL package,which included 16-inch alloy wheels with 55-series tires (vs. standard 15-inch steel wheels with narrower 65-series tires). The package also contained heated front seats, a push-button engine start and a rear-seat armrest with cupholders.
My test car also had the $800 SL Tech package, which contains a 5.8-inch color touch-screen display, voice recognition for audio and navigation systems and an Around View Monitor.
That monitor is handy. It uses four small superwide-angle cameras on the front, side and rear to provide a virtual 360-degree view of objects around the car, with selectable split-screen close-ups of the front, rear and curb views.
The Sport Value package’s rear spoiler, though, seems kind of silly.
Safety features include dual-stage front supplemental air bags, front side-impact air bags and curtain side-impact supplemental air bags.
The hatch opens on dual struts, and the fairly large cargo area’s liftover height has been reduced nearly two inches for easier loading and unloading of heavy or bulky objects.
The cargo area becomes impressively spacious when the 60/40-split fold-down rear seatbacks are moved forward and sit appropriately flat. Also, lifting an easily removed cargo floor board reveals a hidden area underneath to hide valuables. When more space is needed for taller or bulkier items, removing the floor board creates a deeper cargo well.
The heavy hood is held up by a strut. The engine compartment looks surgically neat, but one fluid-filler container looks as if you need a special filler tool to reach it.
Nissan warned that I was driving a prototype Versa Note, not a production vehicle, and that “fit and finish quality (thus) may not be up to production standards.” But fit and finish were quite good, and the car felt solid.
Pros: Stylish. Fuel-Thrifty. Roomy. Decent performance. Generally supple ride.
Cons: Engine drone. More seat thigh support needed. Bad bumps jolt occupants.
Bottom Line: Solid addition to Nissan Versa’s line.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 45 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.