The new Nissan Versa ticks all the right boxes.
Look up the term “no-nonsense” in the dictionary. Beside it, you'll likely find the previous Nissan Versa: a bare-bones economy car with a measly asking price of $12,460. But while the latest Versa maintains its status as the most affordable car in its class, the sedan is far from a no-nonsense subcompact.
The 2020 Nissan Versa is much-improved over its predecessor. In fact, it may be the best option in the shrinking class. The new Versa is better looking, as it adopts the brand's distinct style, more efficient, even with a revised four-cylinder engine, and comfortable thanks to improved sound deadening and better cabin materials. The new Nissan Versa makes a strong case for considering a subcompact.
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The old egg-shaped Versa looks shares virtually none of its odd styling with the redesigned model. Borrowing a bunch of Nissan's signature cues, like the “V-Motion” grille, sloped headlights, and floating roof, the 2020 Versa features significant improvements in the design department. Most notably, the better dimensions help smooth out some of the previous model's more bulbous edges. The 2020 Versa sits 2.3 inches lower, extends 1.8 inches wider, and stretches out 1.6 inches longer than its predecessor.
The same goes for the cabin. You wouldn't associate the 2020 Versa's well-finished, tech-friendly interior with the barren setup of the second-gen model. The central 7.0-inch touchscreen looks good embedded in the dash, the Zero Gravity seats – though not available in leather – feature a nice cloth finish, and the little faux leather that adorns the steering wheel, portions of the dash, and door panels, has nice contrast stitching.
The front cabin of the Nissan Versa feels more spacious than competitors like the Mitsubishi Mirage and Kia Rio. Your six-foot-tall author has plenty of extra headroom and legroom, and the numbers back up those claims. The Versa has 44.5 inches of front legroom (a 2.7-inch improvement over the last model) and 39.5 inches of front headroom. Comparably, the Mirage has just 41.7 inches of front legroom and 39.1 inches of front headroom, while the Rio offers 42.1 inches of front legroom and 38.9 inches of front headroom.
While the previous Versa’s calling card was an abundantly spacious second row, the 2020 Versa actually loses 6.0 inches in legroom. That’s not entirely damning, though, as the 31.0 inches of rear legroom is still more than enough.
Even though the Versa doesn't offer leather as an option, the two-tone cloth seats (specifically on the Zero Gravity seats of our Versa SR tester) aren't cheap. In fact, they’re pretty comfy. The faux leather on the steering wheel and door panels, meanwhile, could pass for the real thing. There are some hard plastics on the door panels and higher up on the dash, but that's common for the class.
Because subcompact sedans are so affordable, they typically aren't the most modern or well equipped. And the Nissan Versa is no technological tour de force. That said, the standard 7.0-inch screen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is our favorite in the class. It has a clean, crisp touchscreen interface and a nicely laid out home screen that's very easy to use. The only option, really, is a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster. It's available on SV and above, and displays things like gas mileage and audio, and is customizable via the steering-wheel-mounted buttons.
Much like tech, subcompact sedans aren't known for their driving pleasure. But even for the class, the Nissan Versa feels average, if not a bit below it. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. That's bests the 106-hp Toyota Yaris iA on paper, but power still feels pretty abysmal off the line. At speed the Versa is… acceptable, but the so-called “Xtronic” CVT does give off an offensive whine when pushed.
The Versa’s dynamics help it a bit; the pint-sized sedan does have some “flingability.” A 15-percent reduction in body roll over the previous model means it doesn't waft as much as it used to, and the steering is surprisingly good – it's both well-weighted and direct, uncommon for the segment. Only the Yaris iA is better in this respect.
Safety is where the Nissan Versa stands out. It's the only car in the class with standard front- and rear-automatic emergency braking, while additional safety features like lane-departure warning, rear-seat detection, and automatic high-beam headlights also come standard. Opt for the SV and SR models, and the Versa offers even more safety. Nissan's Safety Shield 360, which features blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, comes standard on the two trims.
The Convenience package on the SR model is the only safety option. It adds a seamless full-speed adaptive cruise control for $300. And on the highway, that adaptive cruise control is great; it maintains a workable distance to the car in front of it and brakes smoothly.
The 2020 Nissan Versa isn't the most economical in the class, but it manages more than 40 miles per gallon on the highway. With the CVT, the Versa achieves 32 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway, and 35 combined. With the five-speed manual, that figure drops to 27 city, 35 highway, and 30 combined.
The most fuel-efficient vehicles in the class are the Mitsubishi Mirage and Kia Rio, which get an equivalent 33 city, 41 highway, and 36 combined. The Toyota Yaris iA, meanwhile, matches the Versa with 32 city, 40 highway, and 35 combined.
A mere $14,730 will get you into the base Nissan Versa S with the five-speed manual transmission, which makes the subcompact Nissan the most affordable car in the class. The Mitsubishi Mirage sedan ($14,994), Toyota Yaris iA ($15,65), and Kia Rio ($15,850) all cost more. In fact, only the Chevrolet Spark LS ($13,22) is more affordable in the U.S., but the five-door hatchback isn't a direct competitor.
With the optional CVT instead of the five-speed manual, the asking price of the Versa jumps to $16,400. Our tester, though (a near-fully loaded SR with the CVT), costs $21,490 after destination fees ($895). That's a pretty steep $6,760 increase post options.
Those options being things like the $855 Electronics package (illuminated kicks plates and a frameless auto-dimming mirror), the $690 Lighting package, the $300 Convenience package (heated front seats and intelligent cruise control), a $300 center armrest with storage, and $210 carpeted floor mats and a carpeted trunk mat. A handful of which (like the Lighting package, in particular), you can probably do without.
Gallery: 2020 Nissan Versa: Review
2020 Nissan Versa SR