|1. Power comes from a 109 hp 1.6L 4-cyl engine producing 107 lb-ft of torque. 2. The Versa Note will be available in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. 3. A 5-speed manual transmission is available in the base S model while all other trim levels come equipped with an automatic CVT. 4. Fuel economy is rated at 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway for the CVT, or 27/36 mpg for the manual. 5. Pricing begins at $13,990.|
This year it is the same story, the Versa is outselling all of its major competitors by a good margin. What is even more impressive is the fact it is still the sales leader despite there being no 2013 Versa hatchback; all Nissan has had to sell since January is some leftover 2012 stock.
Dating back to 2004, the now defunct five-door Versa didn’t exactly change the sub-compact market when it was introduced. It offered good value and a lot of space, but the rest was just a large cup of inspiration-free car-soda. It was decent enough, but a lot could be done to make it better.
Last year Nissan took the first step to improve the Versa with the launch of an all-new sedan. Once again, an emphasis was put on value and interior space, but with more attention paid to fuel economy and a slight (and we mean slight improvement in style). Despite Nissan’s best effort, the new sedan turned out to be underwhelming. Large and priced right, the Versa sedan is ordinary at best.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Will the hatchback Versa, now called the Versa Note, be any different? One look at the new 2014 model and it appears this may not be just a five-door version of the sedan. The new look of the Note is modern, but keeps some familiar styling cues. It does not share the baby-Altima look of the sedan and is wrapped in a highly aerodynamic shape, with a coefficient of drag of just 0.298.
The Note rides on the exact same wheelbase as the Sedan, but is nearly 11-inches shorter. This leaves shorter overhangs in both the front and rear and helps to give the little hatchback a sportier character. Nissan claims the rear taillights are inspired by the 370Z and Juke but we only see a mild resemblance to those found on the tiny crossover. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we won’t exactly say the Versa Note is good looking, but it does feature a distinct style.
The Versa Note will be available in three trim basic levels, S, SL and SV, with each offering a handful of option packages. Nissan wants to keep things simple for consumers so a la carte options do not exist on this vehicle. Pricing for the 2014 Versa Note will begin at $13,990 for the S and top out at $19,280 for SV Tech Package after destination charges.
DOWNSIZED ENGINE, DOWNSIZED WEIGHT
Under the hood of the Versa Note resides the same powertrain found in the sedan. This means a 1.6L 4-cylinder engine that produces 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. Although this is a downsize from last year’s 122 hp 1.8L engine, the Note weighs in at under 2,500 lbs., even at its heaviest trim. This is roughly 200 lbs. lighter than the old hatchback which helps to mask the loss of power. A five speed-manual transmission is available only on the base Versa S while all other trim levels come equipped with Nissan’s latest Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is lighter, more compact and features a wider range of ratios.
SEE ALSO: Check out our Sub-Compact Buyers Guide
The new drivetrain is just a step above painfully slow, but so is most of the competition. To help maximize power, the alternator will disengage under high load conditions, like acceleration or hill climbing. This alone isn’t enough though to get around the fact the Versa Note needs a lot of throttle input to get up and moving. Thankfully, the new CVT is flexible and responsive and lacks any sort of delay in its actions; a trait plaguing a few other CVTs on the market.
QUIETLY GOES ABOUT ITS BUSINESS
The new CVT is quiet too. Correction; the entire Versa Note is quiet. Nissan spent a lot of time working on sound insulation with this new vehicle and it has paid off, especially considering the Note’s low curb weight. City, highway or two-lane road, the Versa Note is incredibly quiet for this segment. In fact, it feels more hushed than many vehicles a class higher. Cruising down the interstate we kept commenting on how it did not feel like we were in a sub-compact hatchback.
SEE ALSO: Top 10 Cheapest 40 MPG Cars
After the impressive cabin isolation, the most surprising aspect of the Note has to be the handling. With a torsion rear suspension, and skinny, energy efficient low rolling resistant tires, we did not expect this econo-hatchto handle well. But thanks to its low weight, the Versa is actually semi-tossable in the corners. Carving through the hills around San Diego wasn’t a chore and even might even have been a bit entertaining – maybe. This Versa Note is no Mazda2 or Honda Fit, but is definitely more engaging than most in this class.
MEMBER OF THE 40 MPG CLUB
The light weight of the Versa Note has another pay-off as well – fuel economy. Combined with Nissan’s first use of active grill shutters and its aerodynamic shape, the Note is expected to achieve the same fuel consumption ratings of the lighter Versa sedan. That means 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with the CVT while the 5-speed manual is slightly less efficient at 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Nissan is using the overly cheesy tagline ‘Your Door to More’ to describe the rear hatch on the new Versa Note thanks to its cargo carrying flexibility. The floor features a height adjustable Divide-N-Hide system that allows for the cargo floor to be raised slightly, creating a covered storage bin.
SEE ALSO: Top 10 Cheapest Hatchbacks
In the lowest setting, the load floor is now two-inches lower than the old model and cargo space totals 21.4 cu-ft; up 3.5 cu-ft over the old Versa hatchback. Rear seat space is also ample with 38.3-inches of legroom and the seats themselves not only fit a tall adult passenger, but have both center and outboard armrests set at proper full-grown human height.
‘YOUR DOOR TO MORE’ PLASTIC
But the door mounted armrests in the back, like the ones in the front are finished in hard plastic that had our elbows sore and red by the end of the day. In fact, aside from the seats, you’ll be hard pressed to find any soft touch material inside the Note. At least the front seats are comfortable.
SEE ALSO: 2012 Nissan Versa Review
All the user controls are well laid and easy to use if not a bit dated looking. Nissan wanted to make the Versa Note a bit more upscale than the Versa sedan and ditched the sedans bargain-basement steering wheel in favor of the better looking, better feeling wheel out of the Sentra.
All Versas since day one have been about value and the Note takes things up a notch. Even though it is a subcompact car, features like navigation, hands-free text messaging, rearview monitor, around view monitor and heated seats are all available. Those who hate parking may fall deeply in love with the around view monitor.
Despite missing the mark with the Versa sedan, Nissan has delivered a competitive new entry to this segment with the Note. The new Versa hatchback should only help Nissan extend its sales lead as it is more efficient, more spacious, drives well and of course, is still packed full of value.