The new 2014 Nissan Versa Note compact hatchback seems to be all about value, but a closer look suggests otherwise. Yes, that $13,990 base price (without destination) will bring folks into showrooms, but it's the Versa Note's thoughtful features that will keep them there.
We were amazed by the Versa Note's cavernous back seat, for example -- it's so big that four 6-footers could legitimately take a road trip in this car without compromise. There's no other compact hatchback like it. Then there's the revamped styling, which makes the Versa Note's predecessor, the vaguely Euro-looking Versa hatchback, seem a distant memory. And if you're willing to pay more, the high-end Versa Note models are packed with cool items, including the innovative Divide-N-Hide cargo bay and even a touchscreen navigation system.
What's New for 2014
The Versa Note is all-new for 2014.
What We Like
Enormous backseat; good fuel economy with the CVT; attractive styling; low base price; versatile optional Divide-N-Hide cargo area
What We Don't
Steering wheel doesn't telescope; sparsely equipped interior on cheaper models; so-so crash test results
The front-wheel-drive Versa Note is powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 109 horsepower. With the base 5-speed manual transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon city/36 mpg hwy. The optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) improves those numbers to 31 mpg city/40 mpg hwy.
Options & Standard Features
The base Versa Note S ($14,780) is basic indeed, boasting throwback features such as 15-inch steel wheels, a 5-speed manual transmission (the only available transmission on S), a tilt-only steering wheel, crank windows, manual door locks and 4-way manual front seats that lack a height adjustment -- even for the driver. To be fair, the S also provides power mirrors, air conditioning, a trip computer and a 4-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack. Factory options are limited mostly to appearance items, including a Sport Value package that adds 15-in alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. A stolen-vehicle tracking system is also available.
The S Plus ($16,230) offers the CVT transmission (the manual is only available in the S model) an "active grille shutter" that reportedly improves fuel economy and cruise control. However, power windows and locks are still not available. S Plus options are similar to those on the base S model.
The SV ($16,780) gets standard power windows and locks, as well as keyless entry, upgraded interior cloth, Bluetooth, a height-adjustable driver seat with an armrest, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls and bright interior accents.
The SV with the Convenience package ($17,320) ramps up the feature content considerably, including a 4.3-in color infotainment display, a rearview camera, satellite radio, an iPod/USB connection, a fold-down rear center armrest and the nifty Divide-N-Hide adjustable rear cargo floor.
The SV with the SL package ($18,480) adds 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry/ignition, variable intermittent wipers and heated front seats.
Finally, the SV with the SL Tech package ($19,280) tacks on heated exterior mirrors, a larger 5.8-in touchscreen, a navigation system with Google POI connectivity and Sirius traffic and weather reports, a hands-free text-messaging assistant, Bluetooth streaming audio, Pandora radio capability and Nissan's Around View 360-degree parking camera system.
Trunk space in the Versa Note measures a useful 21.4 cu ft behind the rear seat backs, and it nearly doubles if you fold them down. Moreover, the available Divide-N-Hide storage system adds a concealed cargo-floor compartment with a cover that can be lowered or removed to facilitate serious hauling tasks. It's a simple yet effective system; we're surprised it took someone this long to dream it up.
The Versa Note comes standard with ABS, stability control and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).
The 2014 Versa Note received four stars out of five in government crash testing, including three stars for frontal impacts and four stars for side impacts.
Behind the Wheel
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note welcomes you with straightforward controls and good visibility all around. The steering wheel doesn't telescope out, though, and it's a potential deal-breaker for long-legged drivers. Although the presence of manual windows and locks even in the mid-grade S Plus model is a bit of a shock, we can't fault the comprehensively equipped higher trim levels. Materials quality is unremarkable by segment standards, but the panels in our test car seemed to be screwed together reasonably well. Either of the two optional infotainment display screens will really dress up the Versa Note's otherwise nondescript dashboard.
On the road, the Versa Note feels more substantial than its sub-2,500-pound curb weight would suggest. Credit goes in part to the well-tuned steering system, which is light in parking lots yet precise on the highway. There's some road noise on coarse surfaces, but that's to be expected at this price. While a little more power from the little 4-cylinder engine would be welcome, the Versa Note keeps up with traffic just fine. We haven't always been fans of CVTs in 4-cylinder applications, but the Versa Note's optional CVT is more responsive than most. As for the base 5-speed, it's smooth and user-friendly if you don't mind forgoing almost every modern luxury.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Sonic -- The Sonic has a tiny back seat compared to the Versa Note, but it's more rewarding to drive, especially with the optional turbocharged engine.
Ford Fiesta -- Often overlooked, the Fiesta continues to be one of our favorites because it's fun to drive.
Honda Fit -- The Fit continues to stand alone as the versatility champ among small hatchbacks, offering SUV-like cargo capacity in a compact package.
Used Mazda3 Hatchback -- Your fuel economy will suffer unless you can find one with the 2.0-liter SkyActiv engine, but you'll get more cargo space and a higher-quality interior in return, as well as a premium driving experience.
Our pick would be the SV. At less than $17,000, it is a good value, and it has the power accessories we expect in a modern vehicle.