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2020 Nissan Versa: Still America's least expensive new car?

Nissan's suddenly unfrumpy sedan is set to party at a Florida music festival before heading to the New York Auto Show.


It's not often that a new car debuts at a music festival, but that's exactly the case with this 2020 Nissan Versa. The all-new entry-level sedan is taking to the stage at Fort Lauderdale's Tortuga Music Festival this weekend alongside artists such as Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney and Sheryl Crow. 

Exactly what this small four-door has in common with Flo Rida or Elle King isn't quite clear, but apparently the Nissan will be unveiled in middle of a surprise performance from an unnamed country music star before it heads to next week's New York Auto Show.

On sale since 2012, It's fair to say that today's Nissan Versa sedan has sold primarily on the strength of its low sticker price and a surprisingly capacious cabin and trunk -- not on virtues such as its appearance or tech. Indeed, any model that manages to earn the title of "Least Expensive New Car In America" is highly unlikely to sell based on desirability or features -- it's often simply the choice of consumers looking for the most affordable ride they can get with a new-car warranty. 

One look at this new 2020 Versa, however, suggests that Nissan is feeling much more ambitious about this third-generation model's fortunes. Not only is it packed with significantly more technology than before, it looks altogether more dynamic than its homely predecessor.

Where the outgoing Versa appeared lumpen and looked like it was standing on tiptoes, the new Versa's design fits right into the company's lineup, sitting lower, wider and spanning longer than its forebear. Indeed, with its more angular headlamps bookending a stronger V-Motion grille, as well as its floating C-pillar treatment, the 2020 Versa looks a lot like a shrunken Altima. In other words, the Versa now looks substantially better proportioned and upscale.

These days, automakers have been finding selling new sedans to be increasingly tough sledding. More and more consumers are defecting from traditional three-box four-doors in favor of crossover SUVs, regardless of size and price. At a time when companies such as Ford are abandoning many traditional passenger-car sales segments, Nissan appears to be doubling down on new sedan models like this Versa, as well as the aforementioned Altima and forthcoming Sentra replacement. 

"As other nameplates exit the field, we see a real opportunity to build our segment-leading market share and nurture this crucial group of new-car buyers," said Claudia Marquez, Nissan North America's vice president of sales, in a statement. 

The 2020 Versa should be a better performer, too. The new model is powered by a 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine delivering 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque (that compares favorably to today's car's 109 hp and 107 pound-feet out of the same-size powerplant). A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission will be available.

It looks like the Versa's interior has significantly stepped up its game. High time.


Company officials have reportedly already revealed that the automaker will no longer offer the Versa Note model going forward, so if you're looking for an inexpensive Nissan with a hatchback, dealers are likely to point you to the company's surprisingly fun-to-drive Kicks crossover. Hopefully some of that model's dynamic DNA is encoded in this new Versa, too, as both are built atop the same V platform.

Given this Versa's slinkier proportions, it will be interesting to see how successfully Nissan has managed to package the interior and cargo area of the new model. The departing Versa has a positively massive back seat and trunk for its class -- larger than many class-above vehicles -- and preserving those values could be key to its success. 

Based purely on these first pictures, the Versa's cabin may benefit from a total overhaul most of all, both aesthetically and technologically. There's a new "Gliding Wing" instrument panel like the Versa's Altima and Maxima big brothers, and standard features will include keyless entry, push-button ignition and power windows. A 7-inch touchscreen audio system is also standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility will be available, alongside niceties such as heated front seats and automatic climate control.

The old Versa had weird funhouse-mirror proportions, but this new one is sleeker and straight ahead.


Another big focus for the 2020 Nissan Versa appears to be upgraded safety equipment -- particularly advanced driver assist systems. All models will receive standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and rear automatic braking, as well as lane departure warning and high-beam assist. Intelligent cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a basic driver alertness monitoring system will be optional. LED headlights will accompany higher trim levels, as well.

The new V Platform that underpins this Versa should help improve its crash-test performance, too. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the current model at four stars overall, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its tougher battery of crash tests rate today's model's small overlap front driver-side performance as Poor. (The model's passenger-side performance has not been rated.)

Everyone's garage is this clean and uncluttered, right?


If all of the new equipment on this new 2020 model sounds difficult to reconcile with the Versa's historic title as the lowest price new car sold in the US, you're on the same page with Roadshow's braintrust. The outgoing 2019 Versa starts at $12,360 plus $895 for delivery, substantially undercutting even Mitsubishi's hapless Mirage hatchback ($13,795 plus $995 delivery). Simply put, it seems unlikely that this much more richly contented Versa will be able to be priced so aggressively. In fact, we think it seems unlikely to hold onto its most-affordable pricing crown. That said, the 2020 Nissan Versa does look to be a much better vehicle, and likely a better overall value.

The new Versa goes on sale this summer. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark Roadshow in your browser -- we'll have in-person coverage of this new Nissan as well as a flood of other interesting new models, beginning next week, from the New York Auto Show floor.