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2009 Nissan Versa Review

2009 Nissan Versa Sedan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Specs, Prices and Comparisons-Nissan Buyers Guide

Entry Level Excellence
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Editors Note: The value packed Versa is The Auto Channel's choice for Cash for Clunkers buy of the under $10k minus a qualifying $4500 rebater you can buy this worthy car for under $130 a month. WOW!

This week’s tester is the cheapest – no, let’s say least expensive – car yet to grace my driveway, and my computer screen. The base price on this Nissan Versa 1.6 sedan is $10,900. You can get the same car for $9,990 if you can do without AC. Versa is as notable for what you get for that price as for what you don’t get.

Let’s start with what you get.

For that modest price you get a nice, fairly roomy, little sub-compact 4-door sedan with a 1.6-liter, DOHC, 4-cylinder engine making 107 horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque. The EPA mileage estimate is 26-mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. Without accurate measurement it appears we managed just over 30 in varied driving conditions. In spite of what in today’s terms in a tiny horsepower number that little engine pulls (front-wheel drive, of course) this 2,500-pound car down the road quite admirably.

The 5-speed manual transmission mates well and is easily managed with a soft take-up on the clutch. A 4-speed automatic transmission will cost you about a grand extra and a CVT is available with the 1.8-liter engine in the S and SL models.

The fuel tank holds 13.2 US gallons making for a range of about around 350 miles - on regular fuel, of course.

Suspension is a conventional strut design in front and a torsion beam arrangement in the rear with stabilizer bars at both ends. Considering this is an unembellished economy car the handling is quite good. Steering feels tight and competent, though certainly not sporty.

In terms of size, let me just relate that I parked next to a Honda Civic in the coffee shop parking lot and the Versa looked to be twice the size of the Civic, particularly much taller. It’s surely not twice the size, but sports an admirable 94.7 cubic-feet of interior volume. That’s about 4 cubic-feet more than Civic. The space is remarkably well designed. Since the roof is much higher it is much easier to get in and out of for big guys like me. The back seat is generous and the trunk holds 13.8 cubic-feet of stuff. Not bad.

You get air conditioning with cabin filter and a tilt steering wheel, full compliment of airbags, 14-inch wheels with full wheel covers, active head restraint on the front seats, four-way adjustment for the driver’s seat, nice cloth interior coverings. You get power steering and brakes but not other power functions inside.

There’s really nothing cheap or tawdry about the Versa other than the above-described lack of amenities. It is a competent, reasonably attractive, comfortable compact car that does most everything well. Materials, fit and finish are better than expected and the overall design is modern and well executed.

Now, for what you don’t get.

You don’t get power windows, a mirror in either visor, power mirrors, power locks or even a radio.

Versa has earned 4-Star ratings (out of 5 maximum) for frontal and side crash as well as rollover protection.

If you like a small, minimalist sedan but like the modern amenities you can have the Versa in a higher trim level with a larger engine. The 1.8S and 1.8SL, $13,100 and $16,100 respectively, come with a full compliment of power stuff and other conveniences. You can option it up to equal anything in its class.

Versa also comes in a five-door hatch with an amazing amount of cargo area: 17.8 cubic-feet with the rear seat in place and 50.4 cubic-feet with the rear seat folded. The hatchback can be had in the same engine and transmission combinations as well.

It’s a bit unusual for a manufacturer to put such a low-content car into the press fleet for evaluation, but bravo for Nissan in touting this one. In today’s economic climate there is plenty of room for cars that don’t take a big bite out of the budget.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved