EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view


Months before the 2009 Nissan Versa’s arrival at my doorstep, I was eagerly anticipating test driving one of the most affordable cars in the market today. I knew it would lack the frills and jaw-dropping, heart-pounding amenities of more expensive sedans. However, I can appreciate simplicity, so I welcomed the Versa into my driveway.

This car is basic. It’s a base model, so there’s no radio, no power windows and no mirrors in the visors. There’s not even a center console for interior storage. At first I was fine with the interior’s simplicity. I’ve rarely used the center console as my storage crutch, and the crank windows could provide some much needed upper-body exercise. Heck, the lack of a radio just meant I’d be forced to enjoy the peace and quiet for a change.

With several long hauls on my schedule during my Versa test week, I was looking forward to monitoring the sedan’s gas mileage, ride and performance at higher speeds. After trip No. 1, I was just warming up. The Versa is much peppier than I’d expected, and it practically sipped gas. My test car had a five-speed manual transmission. When I was driving at 70-75 mph, the engine was all revved up and begging for another gear.

By trip No. 2, my back was sore and I was annoyed by the lack of National Public Radio or any radio. At one point, I called my husband to ask him if I could listen to his radio via the cell phone. “I can’t take the quiet anymore. Can you just put your phone in the cupholder, so I can listen to your radio? I’m not joking!”

Unfortunately for the Versa, all of that quiet time didn’t offer the perfect canvas for planning my future. Instead it forced me to focus on every squeak, rattle and whine the car made. I suggest Nissan keeps the Versa’s price low but find a way to incorporate a good sound system to mask the other sounds this car emits. After all, there is more to achieving value status than just a low price.

By the end of the week, I’d used three-quarters of a tank of gas and had driven nearly 400 miles; almost 100 percent of these miles were on the highway. I know that those are good numbers, but I’ve driven much larger vehicles (both were clean diesels) that have each achieved 500 miles on one tank.

The Nissan Versa provides a decent vehicle at a low price. However, a few additions such as a radio and another gear on the manual transmission would push this cutie into the “value” victory lane!

Exterior

The Versa sedan looks really cute, and it’s noticeably larger than many of its competitors. There are no chrome accents or sculpted sheet-metal curves here, but it’s hardly boxy.

The horizontal lines of the grille turn up slightly at the ends, which reminded me of a baby’s smile. You know the look that could be a slight smile or gas.

Because the Versa is so low to the ground, my own babies were able to get in and out easily.

I did notice its small size when I had to bend my neck awkwardly as I maneuvered into the car’s door and trunk openings. When I reached into the back of the trunk to fetch a grocery bag, I banged my head on the car as I started to pull my head out. Ouch!

Overall, I’d say the Versa’s exterior is simple, humble, cute and ready to serve.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Interior

Getting into the Versa is like traveling back in time. There’s no key fob and only sparse instrumentation, which displayed information on a need-to-know basis. In truth, it gave me all of the information that I really…uh…needed to know, but nothing more. There’s no radio, no navigation system and certainly, no backup camera. Let’s just say it transported me back to my childhood.

The Charcoal-colored cloth interior is super-soft to the touch, but it hoards crumbs and random fuzzies as if each spec has some serious monetary value. My second-row residents, the creators of said specs, weren’t pleased with their seating, either. One afternoon as my youngest was trying to doze off on one of our longer trips, he kept waking with a start and whining, “Mommy, these seats are too slippery! I keep falling down!” It was true. He uses a backless booster seat, so his back rests on the car’s seatback. I watched him in the rearview mirror as he kept slipping down like a wet noodle.

I’m going to proclaim that there aren’t any cupholders in the second row. There are two cupholders where the center console would have been, and they were completely out of reach for my kids. I quickly scanned the second-row doors for bins since they often house a secondary beverage-holding device, but there aren’t any. I felt fear. Really.

To its credit, the Versa does have air conditioning and four prewired speakers for some day down the road when you choose to add your own audio system. The Versa is also very spacious; my boys had a ton of legroom in the backseat. Likewise, I never felt cramped in the front row. Compared to the Versa’s competition – the Chevy Aveo, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent – it has the most passenger volume and trunk space.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Safety

For such a no-frills car, the Versa scores well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s crash tests. It scored a Good – the highest rating – in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests.

The Versa comes with front, side-impact and side curtain airbags. It also comes with a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Latch connectors are easy to find. I didn’t have to dig down deep to get to them, which would make installing a child-safety seat easy.

However, if you want antilock brakes, you’re going to have to pay – $250 – for the ABS Package, which also adds electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. That’s not an expensive upgrade, but a safety feature as important as antilock brakes should come standard.

FAMILY LIFESTAGE

In Diapers: While it’s roomy on the inside, a rear-facing infant-safety seat could be difficult to fit in there.

In School: There’s plenty of legroom in the back for kids in booster seats.

Teens: If you add antilock brakes to this car it’d make a great first car for a teen.

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