Preview: 2014 Nissan Versa Note
Comfort and cargo over flash and dash
SAN DIEGO—My neighbours have a 2010 Nissan Versa hatchback. They like it for its roomy cabin, good ride and generous cargo capacity. But they’re not completely smitten with its fuel economy and although exterior styling isn’t much of an issue, they probably wouldn’t mind if it actually had some.
Enter the 2014 Versa Note. In this context, “Note” denotes four-door hatchback and, wisely, Nissan has expanded on what was good with the outgoing model and moved the rest of the game forward.
We like our subcompact hatches here in Canada, and the segment is packed with worthy contenders. Think Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Chevy Sonic.
During the media launch, the phrase “best-in-class” was bandied about so often I lost track. But what you’ll be interested in is its best-in-class rear legroom, cargo capacity and fuel economy.
Transport Canada estimates 6.1 L/100 km in the city, 4.8 on the highway and 5.5 combined for a Note with the optional CVT transmission. The standard five-speed stick can’t match those numbers.
The closest competitor is the Ford Fiesta SFE at 6.0 L/100 km combined.
This new hatchback arrives on the current sedan’s platform, introduced in the summer of 2011. When compared to the outgoing Versa hatch, which soldiered on with the old platform, the 2014 Note benefits from a longer wheelbase, shorter overhangs and a more efficient powertrain. It has also dropped a significant 137 kg.
The old car’s 122-hp 1.8-L four makes way for a fuel-sipping 1.6-L unit that generates a more modest 109 hp and 107 lb.-ft.
To control costs, Nissan didn’t go to direct fuel injection.
But several other fuel-saving strategies are incorporated: low rolling resistance tires, careful aerodynamic tuning, a lighter CVT (continuously variable transmission) with reduced internal friction and wider ratio span, and a “smart” alternator that charges the battery on deceleration.
Although not as stylish as the Fiesta or Rio, the Note comes across as fresh and contemporary. Inside, the cabin is bright and airy with good sightlines. However, the low-rent plastic dash is a letdown, and the steering wheel only tilts. Again, Fiesta and Rio look much richer inside.
If you plan to carry adult-sized humans in the back seat, the Note is up for the task. The rear doors open to nearly 90 degrees and the legroom is surprising. Headroom is up a smidge from the outgoing model.
An optional bi-level cargo floor, dubbed Divide-N-Hide, allows for maximum load capacity in its lower position, or, when in the upper slot, creates a flat load floor with the rear seats folded and a covered security compartment.
You can get into a base Note S for $13,348 — with no air conditioning, honest-to-gawd crank windows, manual locks and a five-speed manual. They should sell about three of those.
Next up is the $14,998 SV, which bestows all the things you need, such as
air conditioning, Bluetooth, power windows, remote keyless entry, power locks, upgraded cloth, cruise and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. But you’re still riding on 15-inch steel wheels.
Another $680 (Convenience Package) gets USB, a 4.3-inch display, backup camera, satellite radio, a rear-seat armrest/cupholder and that nifty Divide-N-Hide.
The $16,998 SL layers on proximity key with push-button start, 16-inch alloys, heated front seats, upgraded audio and fog lights.
Add $1,300 to any of these trims to get the CVT.
We drove only the top-trim CVT-equipped SLs, with a $720 Tech Package that adds navigation, NissanConnectSM (taps into your smart phone functions) and four-camera Around View Monitor. Price as tested: $19,018.
Nissan went to great lengths to reduce cabin noise (double-sealed doors, acoustic windshield, lots of strategic insulation) and, indeed, on the highway, this little hatch is remarkably serene.
In fact, the overarching theme is passenger comfort. The ride is quiet and smooth and, over the winding roads inland from San Diego, the Note flowed easily along, showing linear steering and no-surprise handling.
With only 109 hp and 107 lb.-ft. on tap, the car is hardly a hot hatch. That said, it never felt particularly underpowered, and much credit goes to the very-well-behaved CVT that manages to make the most of the engine without excessive droning.
Sure, there are more involving cars in this class, and certainly quicker ones, but the Versa Note combines comfort, functionality, ease of use and frugality in a very agreeable package.
Transportation for freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com
2014 Nissan Versa Note
Price: $13,348 base, $19,018 as tested
Engine: 1.6 L inline four
Power/torque: 109 hp/107 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 6.1 city, 4.8 hwy. (with CVT
Fuel type: Regular
Competition: Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic
What’s best: Fuel economy, smooth and quiet ride, roomy, good value.
What’s worst: Down-market dash.
What’s interesting: Tail-lamp lenses incorporate turbulence-reducing vents.