Nissan worked hard for more than a decade for an unusual honor. Its Versa, named after an acronym for versatile space, was the cheapest new car available in the United States. Not many years ago, the subcompact’s base price was just under $10,000.
The Versa’s designation was via price only, not a rap on its quality. It was likely the best new car a buyer on a tight budget could purchase, and served its clientele well.
The 2020 Nissan Versa no longer has its long-held title. It’s the country’s third-cheapest new vehicle with a starting base price of $15,625. The Chevrolet Spark ($14,095) now wears the cheapest crown, followed by the Mitsubishi Mirage ($14,990).
A varied list follows the Versa: Hyundai Accent ($15,925), Toyota Yaris ($16,655), Kia Rio ($16,675), Honda Fit ($17,120), Chevrolet Sonic ($17,595), Kia Soul ($18,535) and Kia Forte ($18,715).
With a few exceptions, new car prices don’t decrease. The average price to date of 2020 models is nearly $37,000, an increase of about $5,000 from five years ago. The Versa’s entry point is about 42 percent of the new car average price and about $1,700 more than the 2019 model.
A more than 10 percent price increase is substantial, but the debut of the Versa’s third generation is worthy.
A four-cylinder subcompact, it offers a 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine with front-wheel drive and 122 horsepower, an increase of 13 horsepower from 2019. It’s matched with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). A five-speed manual transmission is offered only on the entry-level S trim. Gas mileage averages are 32 miles per gallon in city driving, 40 miles per gallon on the freeway with a CVT transmission and 27 and 35 averages with the manual transmission.
The new exterior resembles the Altima, the Versa’s bigger sibling. The little machine is also now 1.6 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider and positioned 2.3 inches lower. It’s not often a subcompact garners glances for anything other than disdain or gawking, but the Versa is now handsome.
The price increase means good things in other areas. Small additions in entry-level cars make big differences. Keyless entry with push-button start, three USB ports as well as power braking and power windows were once top-trim-only features. They’re now standard on all trims, S, SV and SR. The latter two trims also have blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Nissan Versa Note hatchback has been discontinued.
A full complement of safety features, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (appointed to a 7-inch touchscreen), heated outside mirrors and a driver’s armrest, are also included on the mid-level SV trim.
The top-line SR trim supplies further safety, convenience and cosmetic upgrades. Automatic climate control, LED headlights, special exterior and interior trim details, a six-speaker audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are standard. An optional Convenience package equips the Versa with heated front seats and adaptive cruise control.
While still spacious as a subcompact, the new Versa has downfalls. Front passengers gained 2.7 inches of legroom, back occupants lost 6.0 inches to 31.0 inches total. The Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Toyota Yaris all have more than more rear space. The Versa’s armrest is awkwardly placed and doesn’t move.
Acceleration from 0-60 miles per hour occurs in 9.7 seconds, a crawl with the caveat. It may take awhile but once cruising speed has been achieved, the Versa forges ahead smoothly. It corners adequately and offers responsive steering and a quiet ride.
With other additional optional packages that include external ground lighting, interior ambient lighting and a few odds and ends, the Versa SR costs $21,490. It’s more than twice the vehicle’s entry-level base price from yesteryear. But there’s a good reason: it’s twice the car.
A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.
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