Full 2008 Nissan Versa Review
What's New for 2008
After its debut last year, the Nissan Versa receives only minor equipment revisions for 2008. The SL sedan can now be equipped with a rear spoiler and a lower body kit, while cruise control is a new option on base S models.
Since its introduction last year, the Nissan Versa has been grouped with the recent wave of subcompact import cars. The association is only natural considering the Versa's small exterior size, hatchback body style (a sedan followed later) and entry-level status in the Nissan lineup. However, a closer examination reveals that the 2008 Nissan Versa stands a bit apart from -- and perhaps above -- its peers.
Compared to other subcompacts, the Versa offers an extra helping of everything. Its 1.8-liter engine is among the biggest power plants in the class, and features more horsepower and torque than most competitors' offerings. It stands alone in offering a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides better performance and fuel mileage than the four-speed automatics typically offered in this price range. The Nissan Versa also lays claim to the most interior room in its class (enough to qualify as an EPA "midsize" car), evident in the cabin's open, airy feel. The payoff is especially apparent for rear-seat passengers, who enjoy even more legroom than in Nissan's Maxima. The downside to this extra size is extra curb weight: The Versa weighs more than its subcompact rivals, and in spite of its larger engine, isn't as quick.
Nissan's entry-level car doesn't feel as adroit through the corners either. Still, its softly tuned suspension delivers a comfortable ride quality that will appeal to those with long commutes. Generously cushioned seats are another plus, and the Versa's lengthy list of optional convenience features makes it possible to outfit the car to a level unheard of in most low-end economy cars. Among these items are Bluetooth connectivity, a sonically satisfying Rockford Fosgate stereo and an "Intelligent Key" keyless ignition system that we find especially convenient.
Among the current crop of subcompacts, we'd give an edge to the Scion xD and Honda Fit, which are quicker, better-handling and more refined than the Versa. But the 2008 Nissan Versa remains a solidly qualified, budget-friendly option for long-haul commuters, small families and anyone else who places a high value on interior room. It's worth a look.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Nissan Versa is available as a four-door hatchback or sedan. Both body styles come in base 1.8 S and more upscale 1.8 SL trim levels. The 1.8 S starts you out with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, a four-speaker CD stereo, power mirrors, a split-folding rear seat and on the hatchback, a rear windshield wiper and a cargo cover. The Versa 1.8 SL adds alloy wheels; upgraded cloth upholstery; power windows and locks; cruise control; keyless entry; height adjustment for the driver seat; front and rear armrests; additional storage spaces; and a six-speaker stereo with MP3 playback and an auxiliary input jack.
The 1.8 S can upgrade with power accessories and keyless entry, while the 1.8 SL offers a Rockford Fosgate premium stereo, a sunroof and satellite radio. The SL's Convenience Package bundles Bluetooth connectivity, the Intelligent Key keyless entry and startup system, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Another SL exclusive is the Sport Package, which provides cosmetic upgrades like a rear spoiler, side sill extensions and an extended front fascia with foglights.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive Nissan Versa comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 122 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual. The optional transmission on the 1.8 S model is a four-speed automatic, while the 1.8 SL offers a CVT, which has an edge over the automatic in both performance and fuel economy. For 2008, the CVT-equipped Versa has the highest mileage ratings of the bunch at 27 mpg city/33 highway. In the small-hatchback segment, this is an average rating.
The 2008 Nissan Versa comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a tire-pressure monitor. Antilock brakes with brake assist are optional. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, it earned a four-star rating (out of a possible five) for driver and front-passenger protection in head-on collisions; five stars were given for side-impact safety. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact tests, the Versa earned the top score of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features
The Nissan Versa's interior is notable for its spaciousness. Its tall roof makes headroom a non-issue, and its expansive legroom lets 6-foot-plus passengers sit comfortably in either the front or rear. A fifth person can be wedged into the rear center seat, though the Versa's skinny body makes it a squeeze. Interior controls are attractive and easy to use, and the optional keyless startup system offers unexpected real convenience in a budget car. The overstuffed front seats are comfortable during hour-long commutes, but support fades on longer drives. The hatchback's split rear seat doesn't fold even with the cargo floor, but lowering it reveals a sizable 50.4 cubic feet of space. Likewise, the sedan's 13.8-cubic-foot trunk is on the high side for its segment.
Acceleration is adequate with any of the transmissions available for the 2008 Nissan Versa, but the six-speed manual is our recommendation if you don't mind shifting your own gears. The efficient CVT also makes decent use of the 1.8-liter's power reserves, but its presence results in a raucous cabin environment: In its quest for quick response, it sends the engine shooting up to high rpm, at which point the 1.8-liter becomes noisy and gruff. Ride quality is quite good on the highway, but the Versa's soft suspension gets a bit out of sorts over rough road surfaces. Moreover, the car feels tall and out of its element when going around corners, a quality accentuated by the Versa's considerable body roll and slow steering. Tire grip also leaves much to be desired and likely accounts for the Versa's long braking distances.
Read our Nissan Versa Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test