by Jared Rosenholtz
Go to any rental car counter and ask the attendant for the least expensive vehicle available, and chances are you'll be handed the keys to a Nissan Versa. For the past several years, Nissan's smallest vehicle in the US carried the distinction of being the least expensive new car on the market and with that honor, it became known as the car you rented for $15 per day but never ever considered owning.
For the 2020 model year, Nissan has completely revamped the Versa with an all-new third-generation model. It may no longer be the least expensive car in the US (that honor now goes to the Mitsubishi Mirage) but the Versa has been improved in every measurable way and is now the most compelling model in a rather uninspiring subcompact sedan class. With a more powerful engine, improved styling, and a radical new interior, this new Versa looks like a winner on paper. To see how it fairs in the real world, Nissan sent us a fully-optioned Versa SR to test for a week.
The Nissan Versa has been completely redesigned for 2020. But, that doesn't mean that everything is brand new. Some notable improvements include the higher outputs from the four-cylinder engine, totaling 122 hp and 114 lb-ft. There are also more standard and available safety features under the Nissan Safety Shield 360 umbrella, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Perhaps the most appealing change, though, is the far more attractive styling of the sedan. The once homely Versa now sports chic sheet metal with design elements inherited from the Altima and Kicks.
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
You may be excused for not recognizing the new-generation Versa, as it's a pretty large stylistic departure from the plain Versa we've come to know, and not love. The new grille is set low on the front facia, accented with chrome on the S and SV, while the SR gets a darker chrome finish. You may still get standard halogen headlights on the S and SV, but they sweep up the sharp curves of the hood quite stylishly. The top-tier SR gets LED headlights and adds signature lighting and foglights. It also adds a body-color rear spoiler, which can be specced onto the lower trims, too. The entry-level S rides on 15-inch steel wheels, while the SV gets 16-inch alloys, and the SR gets the largest wheels ever offered on a Nissan Versa, 17-inch alloys in a split five-spoke design.
While it may have gained a few inches here and there, the Nissan Versa is still a small vehicle. The subcompact sedan measures just 177 inches long, with a short 103.1-inch wheelbase. It's gained about two inches in width though, measuring 68.5 inches wide without the mirrors. However, it's a bit shorter than the last generation, standing only 57.3 inches tall. But the biggest change is its weight. Even the base-level S trim now weighs more than the heaviest Versa from last year, tipping the scales at 2,599 lbs. The top-tier SR maxes out at 2,729 lbs, which is still pretty featherlight by modern standards.
Don't expect too much from the Versa's paint palette. With only eight colors available, you won't be standing out from the crowd in your affordable sedan. The S gets the most restrictive color options, with only Super Black, Fresh Powder, Gun Metallic, and Brilliant Silver Metallic. However, it also gets the eye-catching Electric Blue Metallic, so it's not all bad. The SV and SR get access to the premium palette, which comprises Scarlet Ember Tintcoat, Aspen White Tricoat, and Monarch Orange Metallic, each for an additional $395. Our SR tester wore a lovely shade Electric Blue, which is the most attractive color in our opinion but doesn't match the orange interior accents as well as other options.
The Versa was never designed with performance in mind. It's always been about getting you from point A to point B as frugally as possible. And while the sedan has been redesigned for the new generation, performance has once again taken the back seat. Even with 16 hp and seven lb-ft added from last year's model, the Versa still takes forever to get up to speed. Yes, it's a little bit quicker than it once was, but slow is still slow, and you won't break the 60 mph mark in under nine seconds, no matter how hard you mash the pedal. But, once you get going, the sedan can cruise comfortably at speeds of up to 115 mph.
The five-speed manual gearbox may appeal to those who want a bit more engagement and simplicity with their car, but the CVT that comes standard on the upper trims is quite a bit better. The updates to the Xtronic transmission do a much better job of muffling the engine drone, which was a serious problem in the last generation Versa.
Of the many updates to the Nissan Versa for the new generation, the extra power available to the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is welcomed. But with outputs of 122 hp and 114 lb-ft, up from 106 hp and 107 lb-ft on the previous model, the engine still won't be wowing drivers. There is enough power to get you around town, if you're not in a hurry, but quick overtaking maneuvers require some effort. The lack of torque can be noticed if you attempt to accelerate quickly from a stop but once you are moving, the Versa's low curb weight helps it to feel more powerful than it really is. Merging onto the highway no longer feels like a death sentence and keeping up with highway traffic is relatively effortless.
The engine comes mated to a five-speed manual gearbox on the base-level S trim, but with so little power at your fingertips, we can't imagine that the three-pedal option will be much more engaging to drive. The available CVT transmission isn't all that much better in terms of speed, but it shows marked improvement in fuel consumption. Nissan's CVT has come a long way in terms of refinement, no longer droning any time you mash the throttle. It even simulates gear shifts and if you drive the car like an average owner, the transmission could almost be mistaken for a traditional automatic.
It may not be a speed demon but with less than 2,800 pounds to haul around, the Versa feels remarkably spry and nimble. The steering requires very little effort, helping the Versa scurry around tight parking lots with ease. It may not provide a ton of feedback through the wheel but at higher speeds, the Versa feels more planted than previous models, no longer feeling burdensome or dangerous at highway speeds. Road noise is also relatively low for a vehicle in this segment, though the cabin can be a little loud at highway speeds.
The torsion beam rear suspension lacks the sophistication found in the larger Sentra with its independent setup but over smooth pavement, the Versa is shockingly comfortable for a subcompact vehicle. Large bumps can upset the rear end for sure but overall, we were impressed by the Versa's stability and comfort. As a nod to cost-cutting, the Versa's rear brakes are drum units rather than discs but thanks to the low curb weight, we never felt like the car couldn't stop in time.
While every model in the Nissan Versa range gets the same four-cylinder engine, the entry-level S comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox that significantly impacts fuel economy. With only a front-wheel drivetrain available, the sedan gets pretty middling mileage of 27/35/30 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. Luckily, Nissan offers the CVT gearbox as an option on the S, while the SV and SR get it as standard. The more refined transmission shows marked improvement in fuel economy, pushing the aforementioned figures up to 32/40/35 mpg. Only in this more efficient guise is the Versa a match for leading rivals like the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent, which get 32/40/35 mpg and 33/41/36 mpg, respectively. The Nissan also gets a smaller tank than either rival, with the 10.8 gallons of fuel maxing out its range at 378 miles. In our testing, the Versa averaged around 36 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving. Driving frugally and getting lucky with the lights, we saw more than 50 mpg on some trips.
Alongside its exterior redesign, the Versa has also received an updated interior with far more stylish flair. Overall, the cabin hasn't really changed in size, but it feels more impressive thanks to the higher-quality materials and less-rough plastic elements. Upgrade to the SV or SR, and quite a bit of that plastic gets covered with Prima-Tex leatherette, making the sedan feel a little more upscale. For better or worse, upgrading to at least the SV is required to get some of the more desirable tech features like smartphone integration. The NissanConnect infotainment screen still isn't that great, but it's better than the standard set-up on the S trim, and it accepts voice commands, too. Automatic climate control and heated front seats are available, if you have a little cushion in your budget.
While it's still rated to seat five, the Nissan Versa has sacrificed a bit of passenger space with its redesign. Those in the back suffer the most, with six inches less legroom cramping their style. Sitting in the middle position can feel even more uncomfortable thanks to an odd bump between the two main seats. Front passengers have quite a bit of space, having stolen some from the back seats, but seat comfort is still a bit questionable. Only a six-way manual driver's seat is available, regardless of trim, so it can be a little tricky to get the driving position just right. The front passenger has to make do with a four-way seat. While it is never offered standard on any of the trims, heating is available for the front seats in the SR. Unlike some of Nissan's larger models, the Versa does not benefit from zero-gravity seats. This means the Versa's chairs are adequate but far from class-leading in comfort. Getting in and out is pretty easy thanks to the wide-opening doors, but the roofline does slope a bit steeply in both the front and the back. This also affects rearward visibility a bit, although forward visibility is good.
While the materials used in the Versa show markedly improved quality over the last generation, they are still far from luxurious. You'll never get anything better than cloth upholstery, but it is upgraded to premium cloth on the SV. The top-tier SR gets more stylish sport cloth, though. Both the standard and sport cloth are offered in charcoal, while the premium cloth is only available in graphite. There's a lot of plastic on display around the cabin, but Nissan has used smooth-grain plastic this year, and the upper trims get a Prima-Tex-appointed dashboard. Overall, the Nissan Versa is a well-constructed sedan. You can't really ask too much more from a cabin that costs less than $20,000 in its most expensive guise. Nissan has done a remarkable job making the cost-cutting feel minimal.
While it may have grown a bit in overall size, the next-generation Nissan Versa doesn't boast improved cargo capacity. Still, 15 cubic feet is nothing to be ashamed of in a subcompact sedan. Strangely, the S trim only offers 14.7 cubic feet, but that's still more than the Toyota Yaris Sedan. There is enough room inside the trunk to accommodate a week's worth of groceries, even after you pick the kids up from school. On the SV and SR, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split to accommodate larger items, but this doesn't markedly improve overall cargo capacity.
There's not a lot of small-item storage inside the cabin, though. The door pockets are quite narrow, although you can fit a water bottle in the section that bulges out slightly. There is a small bin under the infotainment screen and a pair of cupholders beside the emergency brake. However, if you want a center armrest with a storage cubby, you'll have to pay extra. We suggest skipping the armrest though, as you'll bump your elbow on its rock-hard surface almost every time you sit down. You do get the glove compartment for free, at least.
While the Versa certainly isn't overladen with a plethora of features, it's very well-appointed for the price. The base S trim comes with manual air conditioning, remote keyless entry, push-button start, power windows, and a 12-volt power outlet. It also gets a long list of driver-assistance features for such an affordable model, including lane departure warning, a rearview camera, forward collision avoidance, rear automatic braking, pedestrian detection, and high beam assist. The SV adds a drive-assist display in the instrument cluster and expands the safety offering with blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear door alert, and a driver-alertness system. It also upgrades the cloth upholstery to premium cloth and adds folding functionality to the rear seats. The top-of-the-range SR gets automatic climate control and intelligent keyless access. Both of which work nicely with the remote engine start system. Sport cloth upholsters the seats, and the steering wheel and gear shifter come wrapped in leather. Adaptive cruise control and heated front seats are available as part of the optional packages, along with a host of interior lighting add-ons.
The infotainment suite is perhaps the Nissan Versa's Achilles' heel. The entry-level S gets a nondescript seven-inch touchscreen equipped with AM/FM Radio, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes Free. Three USB ports are provided for charging, and an auxiliary audio input jack allows you to connect your MP3 devices. Only four speakers come standard on the lower trims. The SV upgrades to a NissanConnect touchscreen, which is only marginally better than the base model. But it does add Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM. While the SR makes no improvements to available features, it does add two extra speakers to the sound system. The NissanConnect system is perfectly usable but can feel a bit unresponsive. It also suffers from a display that absorbs glare and reflects light, making it difficult to see while driving.
While J.D. Power has not yet awarded the brand-new Versa Sedan a dependability rating, we are hoping that the updates for the new generation see it receiving a higher score than 72 out of 100, which was the best the last generation Versa managed. However, with one recall already issued for 2020 for thin fuel tanks and a potential leak, things aren't looking good. Nissan hasn't improved the warranty on the Versa either, offering the same standard 36,000-mile/36-month limited warranty, with a 60,000-mile/60-month powertrain warranty.
The Nissan Versa has always been one of America's most affordable and popular cars so, naturally, safety is a primary concern, too. The NHTSA rates the sedan quite highly, giving it five stars in every test, except for frontal passenger and rollover crash tests, for which it gave the Versa four stars. The IIHS hasn't tested the Nissan nearly so extensively, but it gave the vehicle a top score of Good in moderate overlap front and side crash tests.
Every model of the Versa Sedan gets ABS, EBD, stability and traction control, as well as an impressive ten airbags: dual front, front knee, front side, rear side, and side curtain. Even the base model gets a fair number of standard driver-assistance features, including a rearview camera, lane departure warning, high beam assist, forward collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, and hill start assist. The remaining features are added on the mid-tier SV, including blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear door alert, and a driver alertness system.
The previous generation Versa is a car that we'd be happy to never drive ever again but this new model is such a remarkable improvement, we'd happily recommend it as a first car for a new driver. Nissan has outdone itself with the level of safety technology available at such a lot price, combined with handsome exterior styling and a much-improved interior. The Versa still feels sluggish compared to larger, more powerful vehicles but it is now among the most powerful models in the subcompact sedan class. It is also extremely frugal, sipping fuel at the same rate as many hybrid vehicles.
In addition to other subcompact competitors like the Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and Toyota Yaris, buyers in the sub-$20,000 price range may be looking at a plethora of used models that are larger and more powerful. A used option may have more power and space but it's hard to argue with Versa's available tech and safety features, which are coupled with a new car warranty. For the first time ever, we think we'd be more inclined to recommend a brand-new Versa over a comparably priced new car.
The Nissan Versa has a reputation as one of the most affordable cars in America, and despite its complete redesign for 2020, it still boasts an appealing price tag. In its most basic form, the Versa S with a five-speed manual transmission, it costs a meager $14,730. Swapping to the CVT gearbox ups the price a bit to $16,400. It's a modest step up to the mid-tier SV, with a starting MSRP of $17,640. Getting behind the wheel of the most expensive model will still cost you a couple thousand under $20k, with the SR costing only $18,240. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, incentives, or Nissan's $925 destination charge.
Three models comprise the line-up for the new-generation Nissan Versa: the S, SV, and SR. every trim gets the same engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that develops 122 hp and 114 lb-ft. Front-wheel drive is also standard across the range, but the base-level S gets a five-speed manual gearbox instead of the CVT that comes standard on the SV and SR. However, the CVT is optional.
Riding on the smallest 15-inch steel wheels, the S comes outfitted with automatic halogen headlights and the seating is upholstered in cloth, with a six-way manual driver's seat and a four-way manual passenger's seat. Standard comforts and conveniences include manual air conditioning, cruise control, and remote keyless entry with push-button start. The Nissan Safety Shield 360 comprises lane departure warning, forward collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, high beam assist, hill start assist, and rear automatic braking, along with a rearview camera. The infotainment suite consists of a basic seven-inch touchscreen with AM/FM Radio, Bluetooth, three USB ports, and a four-speaker sound system.
The mid-tier SV trim upgrades to 16-inch alloys and replaces the standard cloth upholstery with premium cloth. It also gets a Prima-Tex-appointed dashboard and installs 60/40 split-folding rear seats. New standard features include blind spot warning, a driver alertness system, rear door alert, and rear cross-traffic alert. The infotainment suite is also improved with a NissanConnect seven-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM, while the driver gets an advanced drive-assist display.
At the top of the range, the SR rides on 17-inch alloy wheels. It also gets LED headlights with signature lighting and foglights. Inside, the seats come dressed in sport cloth, and automatic climate control is made standard. The keyless entry is upgraded to intelligent keyless entry, remote start is added, and a six-speaker sound system improves overall sound quality.
For the most part, what you see is what you get when it comes to the Nissan Versa. That said, there are a few ways to customize your purchase. The SR gets access to the Convenience Package ($300), which adds heated front seats and adaptive cruise control. The S and SV can get the rear-spoiler that comes standard on the SR for an additional $415, and the upper trims can add a center armrest with a storage bin for $300.A Lighting Package ($690) is also available, adding exterior ground lighting and interior ambient lighting.
$21,490 including the $925 destination fee. This is positively ludicrous for a Versa but without the silly options like the Electronics and Lighting Packages, the SR trim is reasonable. We'd easily pass on the $210 floor mats to opt for some third-party ones and the $300 armrest that hurt our elbow would also be an easy skip. The Convenience Package for $300 is a bargain price to get adaptive cruise control and heated seats, bringing our recommended price to $18,540 before destination.
Like the Versa, the Nissan Sentra is all-new for 2020. It gets a more noticeable pump in power from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, still easily outpacing the Versa with 149 hp and 146 lb-ft. But that's not to say the Sentra is a high-performance sedan, with similar acceleration times to the smaller Versa. The larger sedan is more premium inside, though, with leatherette or leather upholstery and more available comfort features, but it doesn't actually offer more passenger or cargo capacity than its subcompact sibling. With slightly worse fuel economy and a higher starting MSRP of $19,090, the new-generation Sentra may have swapped places with the Versa in terms of value for money. Still, if you can afford to look at the upper mid-to-upper trim levels, the Sentra has more to offer than its more budget-friendly sibling.
The Honda Fit may not have received a significant update for 2020, but it probably doesn't need one to compete with the Nissan Versa. As a hatchback, it naturally offers more practicality than the sedan, with a whopping 52.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. But the standard 16.6 cubic feet is still impressive. The Honda also manages to offer more space for its rear-seat passengers, and its cabin materials are on par with, if not better than, the Versa's. In terms of features, the two cars are neck and neck, with most of the desired tech only unlocked as you move up the trim levels. However, the base-level Versa offers more at a similar price to the Honda. With similar power front its four-cylinder engine (128 hp and 113 lb-ft), the Honda Fit may not be the clear-cut winner it used to be in this comparison.
Check out some informative Nissan Versa Sedan video reviews below.