In a market overrun by over-sized and over-priced cars, the redesigned 2020 Nissan Versa is relief. The small sedan demonstrates you can still get a reasonably equipped car at a reasonable price.
The entry-level Nissan Versa grows from its basic budget car past with more everything. It’s lower, wider, longer, more powerful, sharper to look at and loaded with standard safety features. It’s a little pricier, too, climbing about $2,000 across all three trim levels. The top SR trim I tested was priced at just over the $20,000 sweet spot.
That’s sweet relief from the average new car price of $37,500 and makes the Versa a solid choice for first-time car buyers, folks looking for a city runabout, or anyone in need of an economical car that doesn’t skimp on modern comforts and conveniences.
Despite the bolder proportions, the Versa doesn’t stand out in any way, good or bad. The Versa’s trunk space is decent at 14.3 cubic feet. That’s smaller than the outgoing model, but it can still fit a hockey bag and stick thanks to its split-folding rear seats.
In the backseat, leg room is better than head room. The 5-foot-10 redhead riding in the backseat left some ginger fibers in the headliner. It could fit five for a quick college jaunt, but for the long ride home that fifth passenger might prefer the bus.
2020 Nissan Versa First Drive
The front seats are thin but the seat backs are supportive enough. The driver gets an armrest solely for the amusement of the passenger. No amount of fiddling with the 6-way power seat got the armrests to rest evenly; it is angled differently than the door rest, so the driver’s shoulders are frozen in some awkward David Byrne dance move. That armrest costs extra, no less.
Funky armrest aside, the Versa’s technology is improved to the point at which it qualifies as pretty good. The standard 7.0-inch touchscreen has narrow buttons wedged into the bottom of the screen. Fortunately, most of the menu buttons can be bypassed through the steering wheel controls and 7.0-inch instrument cluster display on SV and SR trims. Those higher trims also include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which have much better pinch-and-zoom map functions than the native system in the Versa.
The SR trim is only $600 more than SV and adds 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and remote start, as well as a mild rear spoiler and LED lighting, which typically boost safety ratings. Nissan wants buyers to choose the SR.
Also standard are active safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warnings, and automatic rear braking. SV and SR trims get the full Safety Shield 360, which adds active lane control, rear cross-traffic alerts, and blind-spot monitors.
2020 Nissan Versa First Drive
Standard automatic rear braking is a nice upgrade from the standard safety systems offered by Toyota and Honda, but it can be sensitive. Twice, when backing out of my long narrow driveway, the rear braking system sensed the hose reel mounted on the house and hard-braked the car. Both times I worried about a dog, a cat, or a kid, and was relieved to find none of the above. Same could be said for automatic emergency braking, sensitive but effective. If you’re an aggressive driver, you should either change cars or change driving habits.
Like most cars, the Versa is not for aggressive drivers. The 1.6-liter inline-4 gets a modest horsepower boost to 122 hp and the continuously variable automatic transmission has a wider gear range that mimics the shifts expected in a conventional automatic transmission. The Versa’s cabin is on the louder side on the highway, but nothing obnoxious. It doesn’t go anywhere fast, but gets where it needs to go efficiently, netting 32 mpg city, 40 highway, 35 combined.
The challenge for the Versa and other subcompacts is roomier hatchbacks now known as subcompact crossovers. The Versa Note hatchback no longer exists, but the Nissan Kicks is a thing. For about $1,500 more than the loaded Versa SR, the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra come into play.
At this size, the Versa is better than before and still priced right.
2020 Nissan Versa SR
Base price: $18,240
Price as tested: $20,040 including $895 destination fee.
Powertrain: 122-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4 with a continuously variable automatic transmission, front-wheel drive.
EPA fuel economy: 32 city, 40 highway, 35 combined.
The hits: Standard safety and convenience technology, roomy cabin, efficient, the price.
The misses: Tight rear head room, can be noisy, underpowered engine.