Full 2011 Nissan Versa Review
What's New for 2011
Changes are light for the 2011 Nissan Versa: antilock brakes are now included with the upgraded 1.6 sedan trim, while the 1.8 S sedan gains a six-disc CD changer.
Cars at a certain bargain-basement price point used to be called penalty boxes. They were certainly cheap and came with a warranty, but owning one was worse than getting a double-minor in the third period of game seven in the Stanley Cup. The 2011 Nissan Versa certainly has that bargain-basement price thing down (it is one of the cheapest cars on sale in the United States), yet a penalty box it most certainly is not. If all you're looking for is simple, safe, spacious, comfortable and, yes, cheap transportation, then the Versa might be all you need.
Like many subcompact cars, the Versa is available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles and its most basic models offer little in the way of convenience features. If you opt for the cheapest trim level, you'll be cranking your own windows, climbing across seats to unlock doors and humming to your own tunes because there are neither power accessories nor even a radio. But you still get enough space for four 6-footers, comfy seats, a soft ride, a nicely crafted interior and a large trunk.
Stepping up to the higher trim levels gets you common features like power accessories, air-conditioning and a radio. But the Versa is one of the few cars in its price range to offer such items as keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system, an iPod interface and Bluetooth. In other words, depending on your preference, the Versa can be either bare-bones transportation or one of the best-equipped small cars on the market.
If there is a downside to the Versa, however, it's that this car represents simple transportation and nothing more. If you're OK spending more than the least amount of money possible and are looking for something with both visual excitement and energetic driving, subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Mazda 2 will make the Versa seem dowdy and forgettable. The Honda ironically offers more versatile passenger and cargo compartments as well. Yet no matter which of these bargain-basement cars you go for, rest assured that you won't be sentencing yourself to years in a penalty box.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Nissan Versa is a subcompact car available in sedan and hatchback styles. The two lowest trims -- 1.6 Base and 1.6 -- are sedan only, while the 1.8 S and 1.8 SL can be had as a hatchback as well.
The 1.6 Base lives up to its name with scarcely any convenience equipment, providing only 14-inch steel wheels, a tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers and four audio speakers (but no stereo to go along with them). The 1.6 adds air-conditioning, antilock brakes (optional on Base) and the option to get an automatic transmission.
The 1.8 S trim adds 15-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, cushier front seats and a stereo with a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack. The Power Plus package adds power windows and locks, keyless entry, cruise control and padded door armrests.
The 1.8 SL adds 15-inch alloy wheels, a height-adjustable driver seat, upgraded cloth upholstery, front and rear center armrests, 60/40 split rear seatbacks (sedan) and a six-speaker stereo. The sedan's Convenience package adds keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The Hatchback's Premium package is basically the same thing, but adds 16-inch alloy wheels. An auto-dimming rearview mirror and interior ambient lighting are optional on the 1.8 S (sedan only) and 1.8 SL; the hatchback can also be equipped with a sunroof. Finally, the 1.8 SL can be equipped with a navigation system that includes a small touchscreen, real-time traffic, an iPod interface and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Nissan Versa is available with a choice of two four-cylinder engines. The 1.6-liter found only on the sedan produces 107 horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional. In our performance testing, a manual-equipped 1.6-liter went from zero to 60 mph in a reasonable 9.4 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the manual is 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Opting for the automatic gets you 26/33/28.
The 1.8-liter produces 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the 1.8 S trim. The four-speed automatic is optional on the 1.8 S trim and standard on the 1.8 SL sedan, while the 1.8 SL hatchback gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). In our testing, a 1.8-liter with the manual also went from zero to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds; in normal driving, this engine's extra grunt does pay off. This engine returns an estimated 26/31/28 mpg with the manual, 24/32/27 mpg with the four-speed automatic and 28/34/30 with the CVT.
Every Versa comes standard with front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Antilock brakes are optional on the base car and standard on all other trim levels. Stability and traction control are optional on the 1.8 S and standard on the 1.8 SL.
Without antilock brakes, we found the Versa could stop from 60 mph in 132 feet, which is about average for this type of car. In government crash tests, the Versa scored four out of five stars for all occupants in both front- and side-impact tests.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Versa earned an overall rating of two stars out of a possible five, with three stars for overall frontal crash protection and two stars for overall side crash protection.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Versa earned a top rating of "Good" for its protection of occupants in both frontal-offset and side-impact collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Nissan Versa has a remarkably roomy cabin. Headroom is plentiful thanks to the car's tall roof, and generous legroom allows 6-foot passengers in both the front and rear seats to sit comfortably. Looks-wise, the car's interior is quite bland, but overall interior quality is high. The controls are simple and easy to use, and optional items like keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and satellite radio are welcome goodies in this budget-friendly car.
The car's overstuffed front seats are comfortable during hour-long commutes, but support fades on longer drives. Unlike Honda's Fit, the Versa hatchback's split rear seat doesn't fold down in a way that provides a flat cargo floor, but lowering it reveals a sizable 50 cubic feet of space. Likewise, the sedan's 13.8-cubic-foot trunk is on the large side for its segment, although it doesn't come close to being as Versa-tile as the hatchback.
Thanks to its softly tuned suspension, the 2011 Nissan Versa offers the sort of pillow-like ride that's usually reserved for much larger cars. It handles with enough agility to suit most drivers, but those seeking a more engaging driving experience will be better served by the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit or Mazda 2.
Both the Versa's engine choices pack a solid midrange punch, making them capable performers around town and on the freeway. We're not huge fans of the six-speed manual transmission that comes with the 1.8 S -- the low-effort clutch can be difficult to modulate -- and the four-speed automatic is similarly uninspiring. We'd recommend going with either the 1.6's five-speed manual or the SL's hatchback's CVT.