The old five-door Versa was a homely little hatchback that offered as much style as a pair of black socks nestled inside some old Birkenstock sandals. Ew.
Forget that thing. The new Versa Note is far better-looking than the car it replaces. It's short overhangs,
curvaceous sheetmetal and a gently sloping roofline look sleek. The underside of the Note receives active
grill shutters, spoilers and deflectors all aimed to boost fuel efficiency. The 40-mpg highway rating means the Note sips fuel at a slower pace than any
subcompact this side of the Toyota Prius C.
To hit that magic forty, engineers have suctioned fat from every crevasse of the Versa. It weighs a staggering 302 pounds less than the old one. But it's no
less practical, offering slightly more cargo room than the cavernous Honda Fit. And like the old ugly duckling Versa hatch, the new Note retains its title
as the undisputed limousine of tiny cars. Seriously, a six-foot dude sitting behind another six-foot dude has about four inches of airspace between his
knees and the seatback. Road trip anyone?
That being said, there is no good reason why the passenger shouldn't have a center armrest like the driver does. In fact we'd argue it's more appropriate for the passenger
to "rest" than the driver. But no, against all logic there it is—a single armrest. It seems like a second one would be easy enough to add to the top SL
trim. It's a small but significant omission.
Just about every Versa Note you'll see will use a CVT transmission. Yes there is a manual transmission available. And yes, at $14,880 it's cheaper. But the
trouble is, it's an older five-speed, not a new six-speed, so fuel economy drops by a significant 4 mpg to 36 highway. And you'll only find that stick on
the lowly S model so forget about heated seats, a decent audio system or even cruise control.
Despite the Versa Note's sporting good looks, this isn't the hottest hatch amongst its peers. And Nissan doesn't pretend it is. Instead the Note strikes a
middle ground, it's just taut and sporty enough to be fun. The springs and dampers are essentially the same as the ones on the Versa sedan, save for some
retuned rear shocks to compensate for the 40 or so extra pounds at the aft end of the Note. The suspension and the low rolling resistance tires share
responsibility for a firm ride. The electric power steering is direct and predictable but certainly doesn't share much road information with your hands.
But hey, let's face it these days even the 911 doesn't do that.
Even though there's only 109 hp to work with, the Note is reasonably zippy and responsive off the line. And the Note is very quiet—even cruising along at
80 mph on the freeway. But step into the throttle hard and there's still that familiar CVT "Mooo!" sound that comes from the engine room and doesn't let up
until you cut the throttle. We're convinced the CVT's main objective (besides of course increasing fuel economy) is to remove fun from the driving
experience. But let's be honest, although the engine becomes louder, there's not much speed to be gained in those last few inches of throttle travel. Our
advice? Plant your foot halfway down and let it ride.
Behind those rear seats in the cargo hold, Nissan includes a versatile adjustable storage area. The plastic panel can be folded flat for a conventional
load floor and covered storage or flipped out of the way or removed completely for maximum storage.
Aside from hybrids or diesel, the Note is the roomiest and most fuel-efficient tiny hatchback around. That alone, it's good looks and low price should
make it a hit. The Note seems to be solid raw material for something more fun and rewarding to drive. We've heard rumblings of a higher-performing Nismo
version of the Note in development. And if the Nismo's Juke is any indication, we'll save a few extra pennies for the hot version.
2014 Nissan Versa Note
- Powertrain: 1.6-liter I-4, 109 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 107 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm, MT/CVT
- Fuel Economy (City/Hwy): 27/36 (MT), 31/40 (CVT) (mpg)