Roadshow Video Reviews
Nissan Versa Note sings slightly off-keyNissan's new, improved 2014 Versa Note hatchback boasts some interesting tech features for a car in this entry-level class, but doesn't outgrow its cheap-car roots.
-When I look at this blue hatchback that's behind me, I like to think that somebody in Nissan's product planning looked at the Honda Fit thought, "That's pretty good. Let's build one of our own." And a couple of years later, here's what you get, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SL and you've got to admit that it looks a lot like the second generation Honda Fit and that's a good thing if Nissan can get it right. We'll talk behind the wheel of this 2014 Nissan Versa SL with the tech package and see exactly how close they get. Now in the cabin of Nissan Versa, the first thing you're gonna notice is that it feels really cheap and plasticky. They don't really hide the car's price tag here in the dashboard. The good thing about this car though, is that Nissan has done a really good job with the packaging, there's a lot of space in here for people and things. I've got a seat adjusted for myself, I'm about 5'9" and you can fit a 6 foot tall adult behind me with a decent amount of leg room. So, if you wanna get people around and not take up a lot of space on the road, this is a good car for that. Now, ours is an SL model, it's equipped with the SL package and that's the trim level you're gonna wanna get if you care anything about technology. Now, this has got the larger 5.8-inch touchscreen and when I say larger, I put that in quotes 'cause this whole interface is gonna be dwarfed by your average iPad Mini. But it's a decently size screen. You're gonna get navigation and that's gonna also come with XM nav Traffic, so, if you-- you'll be able to see traffic on the road. The rearview camera that you'll get in the SL package with the tech package gets updated to Nissan's around view camera, and that's actually gonna use cameras in the wing mirrors and the camera on the front to augment the rear camera to give you a view around the vehicle. That's really helpful when parallel parking, so that you can see how close you are to the curb and what's going on behind the vehicle. You also get dynamic trajectory lines, so when you turn the wheel, you'll see where the vehicle's gonna go on the map. That makes this already small, very parkable vehicle, a lot more parkable. You'll be able to squeeze in to those tiny spots without worrying about bumping your optional 16-inch wheels on the curb or bumping into the vehicles ahead of you. The tech package also comes with an interesting feature that allows it to read incoming text messages. Now when you're on the road and you're driving, you don't really get a pop-up, or when you're parked, you get a pop-up that allows you to either read the message onscreen or ignore it. When you're on the road, the pop-up only gives you the option to read the message aloud using a text to speech engine so that you can see what the message is without having to look at the screen or look at your phone. You can also set the system up to send [unk] responses to people while you're driving so they don't continue to bother you with follow-up messages. So, there's the message. -Message from Antoine Goodwin, "Hey, dude. Let's get soft tacos later." -Now the interface is pretty simple. You've got this hardware button for most of your functions, but some things are kind of hard to find on the interface. And they've managed to some kind of a way mess up the volume knob. This should be like a simple thing. You turn one way to get your volume louder, you turn the other way to get it lower, but I found that if you turn it a little too quickly, it tends to like jump around a little bit. So, I'm only going forward and you'll see that it kinda like pops up and down like in the wrong direction every now and then. So sometimes, you'll be driving around and you wanna crank up the volume a little bit and it'll just pop down the mute. It's kind of weird and I don't really understand why the volume knob doesn't work like a volume knob's supposed to be, but this is a cheap car and they probably cheaped out on the controls behind that. Now, where the Honda Fit has its magic rear row seats that kinda flips in all kinds of ways to get you more storage space and clearance for your things, the Nissan Versa Note has an interesting feature of its own at the SL trim level. It's called the divide and hide floor, check this out. It flips up, comes out, and it flips back, right? I know. I'm not impressed either. But it is kind of cool. It gets you a couple of extra inches of vertical space. It gives you a little extra storage area for hiding things like a laptop case underneath there when you're not using the car. And when it's in its upper position when you fold those seats flat, you get a perfectly flat storage area for long items, so you don't have to worry about things getting hooked over weird inches. It's interesting feature, but it's not nearly as cool as the magic seat, but it's there. Now under the hood, we've got a 1.6-liter direct injected 4-cylinger engine that's gonna do about 109 horsepower and 107 pound feet of torque. Those numbers are so small that Nissan doesn't even put them on the sticker sheet that you'll get on your new Versa Note. Now, what that's gonna get you is 31 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway, and 35 combined, and I found those numbers to be pretty bang on. I've been driving this thing all week in a variety of conditions and that trip computer hasn't budged from 35 miles per gallon the entire time. Now the way that Nissan's gonna help you get that good highway fuel economy is with that continuously variable transmission that is aggressively tuned for efficiency. And they've also got an active shutter in the front grill, so when you hit highway speeds and the engine doesn't need as much air flowing through the radiator, it will actually close the shutter down in the grill so that it's a little bit more aerodynamically slick. Now let's take a minute and hop on the road and I'll show you how it drives. When it comes down to accelerate, things also get a little bit wonky with the continuously variable transmission. For starters, you gotta have a pretty heavy foot if you want to really kind of coax this thing out of that 2,000 to 3,000 rpm range. Again, got to get in to it and lay on the pedal if you wanted to jump up. The problem is that much like when you're cruising around town, the rpm's tend to hang at that one area of the power band, so you don't get the sort of going through the gears that you would get in a normal car. You just kinda get 5,000 rpm, and it just holds there and the result just doesn't sound good. It sounds a bit like an angry vacuum cleaner, and you don't really wanna spend a lot of time with your foot on the pedal because it just sounds bad, of course, this isn't a sports car and the point isn't performance, the point is being able to get that 35 miles per gallon around town and that 40 miles per gallon on a road trip if you need it. Now, the first generation Nissan Versa Note hatchbacks claimed the fame was that it was cheap, very cheap. At one point, it was the cheapest new car you could buy in America. Now this 2014 model is a bit more expensive, but it's still inexpensive. This SV model is pretty close to being fully loaded at 15,995 and you're gonna add $1,700 more to that to jump up to the SL package. That's gonna get you some nice things like bigger wheels, fog lights, heated seats, and keyless entry with push button start. Now, in for spending in for a pound, just go ahead and add the tech package at that point, it's only $800 and it's gonna get you a lot of dashboard tech and nice features like Bluetooth audio streaming and Pandora support. If you care about listening to digital music in your car, that's gonna be the one to get. Now our models got a couple of other options including floor mats and a cargo cover and of course, destination charges to bring you to an as tested price of 19,545. Now that's pretty close to $20,000 for a car with an interior that feels this cheap, but there's a lot of space in there and it is a nice compact car with really good fuel economy. That said I'm still looking twice as a competition from Honda and Hyundai.