It’s hard out here for a subcompact sedan. Automakers are dumping the sedan format like Thor’s little brother dumped Miley Cyrus, as everyone these days seems to want an SUV, or at least a hatchback masquerading as an SUV. But Nissan has refused to give up on its little four-door entry-level errand-runner, the Versa, redesigning it for 2020 and bravely putting it out there like a real estate listing in 2009. But my quick spin in the new SR-trim Versa around downtown Chicago one recent evening rendered those diverging SUV and sedan lines on the market-trends graph irrelevant: I just, kinda … liked it.
I live in the proverbial Big City. I like the city and I don’t much like leaving. And, to each his own, but I am not about that suburban-commuter life. City mice like me have a different set of vehicular needs, and those don’t include cavernous cargo space, a third row or a high seating position. Instead, a city car is mostly a convenience for grocery runs, the odd Salvation Army donation dump and weekend jaunts.
Here are six ways the 2020 Nissan Versa is well suited for city life:
1. It’s Not Embarrassing
Taking visual cues from its redesigned-for-2019 bigger, wider sibling, the Altima — notably a subtler version of the Altima’s prodigious, plunging V-Motion grille and 10-blade wheels — the 2020 Versa’s sleek, handsome looks are just stylish enough that you won’t feel self-conscious handing your keys to the valet in a drop-off line of fancier cars. The same goes for the interior, with a slick and appealing multipattern cloth upholstery with contrast stitching, a flat-bottom and leather-wrapped steering wheel, and even some passable faux carbon-fiber accents. These eye-catching details may just be enough to indefinitely distract you from all the hard-plastic surfaces that invariably accompany this class of car.
2. Alley-Cat Agility
If you’re looking for thrilling acceleration, the Versa’s 122-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission ain’t gonna make it for you. But then again, if you’re just tooling around the congested streets of a massive city like Chicago, that off-the-line oomphisn’t really gonna get you anywhere fast besides the next red light.
The Versa’s acceleration can be sluggish to start, but its confident, agile handling is a city driver’s delight; you feel light, maneuverable and one with the car, ready to dart into that hesitate-and-it’s-gone break between vehicles the next lane over. SUV folk may prefer to see over everyone else — but the feeling of being smaller and stealthier than the other cars on the road can be your secret weapon for carving your way through downtown gridlock.
3. Can Take on Tight Spaces
Whether you’re dodging dumpsters through a narrow alley or trying to parallel park on an overpopulated neighborhood street, that size advantage again comes into play. If you regularly drive in a major metropolis, you’re familiar with those terrifyingly tight underground parking garages that can spike your stress levels as you creep around blind descending corkscrew curves you’re not certain you can negotiate, then have to turn 90 degrees into a space between tightly packed, poorly aligned cars while someone in front of you starts to back out and drivers behind you seethe with impatience.
I drove the Versa into just such an underground garage at my local Trader Joe’s on a wine run for a couple of cases of Two-Buck Chuck to make the wine rack look full. If I’d been in the BMW 8 Series convertible I test drove the previous weekend, I would have sorely (and sweatily) regretted the decision to turn down that winding garage ramp.
4. Priced for Punishment
Hear tell, the Versa used to be America’s cheapest new car, but for 2020 starts more than two grand higher at $15,625 with a five-speed manual transmission, or $17,295 with the CVT (prices include an $895 destination charge); the SR model I drove totaled $20,040 with options. It may no longer be the bargain-basement choice, but considering the average price of a car in the U.S. hovers around $37,000, it’s still a relative bargain.
If you live in the city, you’re at far greater risk of being door-dinged, having your sideview mirror sideswiped or just generally having to watch that new-car sheen dulled by road salt and exposure to the elements while parked on the street. Do you really wanna put yourself through all that buyer’s remorse by paying a premium price for your in-town runaround car?
5. The Right Safety Stuff
Amid the hustle and bustle of Chicago, driving dangers abound — from Magnificent Mile tourists carelessly crossing Michigan Avenue against the left-turn arrow to an aggressive bicyclist appearing out of nowhere while you’re backing up to cars jamming on the brakes ahead of you while looking for an open meter. The 2020 Versa’s standard safety equipment is particularly suited to these city-centric hazards: front collision prevention with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, reverse automatic braking, lane departure warning and high-beam assist. I also had the optional blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert on my SR.
6. Accommodating Enough
For when you’re schlepping out-of-town guests to and from the airport, the backseat of this subcompact sedan offers surprisingly generous legroom. I was able to keep the driver’s seat in the natural position for my 6-foot-1-ish frame and still be comfortable sitting behind myself in the backseat.
Meanwhile, between the backseat and the 15-cubic-foot trunk, you definitely have ample cargo space for a weekend road trip with your sweetheart and your luggage. And there’s plenty of cargo room for your weekly Whole Foods haul.
More From Cars.com:
- 2020 Nissan Versa Not the Cheapest New Car, But It’s a Helluva Better Value
- As Subcompact Sales Slump, It’s the 2020 Nissan Versa Versus Everyone
- 2020 Nissan Versa: A Small Car With Big Room
- Nissan Versa Sedan Returns for 2020 to Fight Entry-Level Exodus
- Research the 2020 Nissan Versa
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