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2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan Review

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2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan Review

The usual specification for a vehicle in the press fleet is top of the line model, fully optioned, or reasonably close to that. With a Nissan Versa sedan, that would mean a 1.8 SL with all possible options. But times are tough...

What I've just spent a week with instead is a Versa 1.6 Sedan. It's not the Base model, which claims to be the lowest-priced sedan currently sold in the U.S. at $9,990. For an extra $1,000, the 1.6 Sedan adds particle filtration air conditioning, which works very well, thank you. What it doesn't have is power anything, beyond electric power steering. That means roll-up windows, manual mirror and seat adjustment, no sunroof, and no remote keyless entry. Stick shift, five-speed, in my test car, but a four-speed automatic is a no-cost option. (The automatic is not available in the Base sedan. Hey, anybody frugal enough to pass on an air conditioner would likely pass on an automatic, too.) Although it's pre-wired for audio, the audio system is a dealer-installed option and none, not even a basic AM radio, was installed in this example. Navigation system? How about old AAA maps or a used Thomas Guide?

There are two factory option packages, and both were installed: floor and trunk mats for $155 and the ABS Package, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and Brake Assist, for $250 -- one of the best pricing deals I've seen lately.

Overall result? Not bad at all. For more cash outlay, there are S and SL trim levels in five-door hatchback as well as sedan body styles. They get a 1.8-liter, 122-horsepower engine matched to a six-speed manual, four-speed automatic, or CVT transmission in place of the Base and 1.6's 107 horsepower 1.6-liter. The S and SL have upgraded trim and available convenience features not offered for the Base and 1.6. But the Versa 1.6 Sedan is a fully-functional car with plenty of room for four or even five people, and it feels solid and well-made, not tinny at all. All of the basic interior features and all of the safety features standard in the higher models are standard in the Base and 1.6. If you're in need of a new car and have a tight budget, here you go. The Versa 1.6 Sedan is even enjoyable to drive, and has enough power to hold its own in traffic while still returning around 30 mpg.

APPEARANCE: Form follows function. The Versa sedan makes no stylistic attempt to disguise itself as anything but a functional sedan, with a relatively long wheelbase, short overhangs, high, formal roofline, and a high trunk lid. Like other small Japanese sedans, its short, tall, and narrow proportions seem somewhat neotenous, like a mid-size sedan that hasn't grown up. Details like the chamfered hood and wide crosshatched grille (no chrome for the 1.6) establish it as a Nissan, even without the prominent corporate logo in the center of that grille. The wheels are tires are small, with plastic covers on steel wheels. The external mirrors are black, as are the door handles. Chrome trim? Don't be silly. "Plain" is the operative word for the Versa 1.6.

COMFORT: If the Versa's external proportions look slightly ungainly, they have considerable benefit for passengers, and that counts for far more than style. Long wheelbase plus high, roofline with rearwards placement of rear window equals great interior space, especially headroom. And rear-seat legroom, often an afterthought in the budget small-car class. Seat comfort is good, better than some in its class, and the styling is simple and a bit boxy. At 1.6 level, don't expect the multiple materials and textures and fancy trim of higher-line models, but you do get all of the basics. In all, even the Base, the steering column is tilt-adjustable, there is a rear window defroster, front and rear cupholders, a 12-volt power outlet, and a convenient storage space at the top of the center stack. The 1.6 sedan has air conditioning, as to the S and SL models. The tricot "suede" seat fabric grips well, and the seat padding is better than expected. The glove box is huge, and the trunk is reasonably large as well. Only the SL gets a folding rear seat, however. Roll-up windows and manual rear-view mirrors are fine - how often do you re-adjust the mirrors? And the Versa is narrow enough that adjustment is no big deal. The Versa 1.6 Sedan has all you really need, if no frills.

SAFETY: All Nissan Versa models have six standard airbags -- dual stage front, front-seat side, and full-length head curtain -- zone-body construction with front and rear crumple zones, side-guard door beams, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Antilock brakes are available for all models, at a very attractive price.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Even in basic form, the Versa feels solid, substantial, and well-made. It doesn't have a luxury-car level of soundproofing, but is quieter on the road than some other low-priced cars. Its independent MacPherson strut front, semi-independent torsion beam axle rear suspension, a typical design for the budget subcompact class, is tuned quite softly, for good ride comfort on poor surfaces. Decent shock damping saves it from mediocrity, but there is still plenty of body roll in corners, and fore-and-aft motion under acceleration and braking. It's no sports car, but is an enjoyable drive.

PERFORMANCE: Once upon a time 107 horsepower was a good deal for a small car. But even small cars have gotten larger and more full-featured -- which means more weight. One advantage of a bare-bones machine like the Versa 1.6 is that less "stuff" means less weight -- and its 2500-lb. curb weight is low by today's standards. Which means that the 1.6-liter four-cylinder HR16DE engine's maximum 107 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 111 lb-ft of torque (at 4600 rpm) are more than adequate, especially with the manual transmission. Keep it around 4000 for the best response and keeping up with traffic, even on short highway onramps, won't be a worry. The engine is no relic, it's a contemporary unit with dual overhead cams, 16 valves, continuously-variable cam phasing, and electronic "drive by wire" throttle control. EPA fuel economy ratings are 26 mpg city, 34 highway. I averaged 30 in mixed driving.

CONCLUSIONS: Basic transportation doesn't mean discomfort in the 2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan.

2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan

Base Price			$ 10,990
Price As Tested			$ 12,115
Engine Type			dohc inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			1.6 liters / 98 cu. in.
Horsepower			107 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			111 @ 4600 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		102.4 in. / 176.1 in.
Curb Weight			2534 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		23.7
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P185/65R14 85T
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, ABS optional
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut / torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		26 / 34 / 30
0 to 60 mph				est 10  sec


5-piece floor mat set	$155
ABS Package - includes:
  anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution,
  Brake Assist		$250
Destination Charge	$ 720