Auto review: Looking for a cheap date? The 2020 Nissan Versa may be your ride

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

August 18, 2019

           

The 2020 Nissan Versa's 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine offers 122 horsepower and a 114 lb-ft of torque, paired with an Xtronic transmission or a 5-speed manual.

Amazon might be Americaís favorite retailer, but itís not Americaís largest private employer. That honor belongs to Walmart, although Amazon does place second. Itís sobering to think that so many Americans work for $14.26 an hour, the average Walmart wage for a full-time worker, according to the company, while the average wage of an Amazon warehouse worker is about $14 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com.

Thatís about $30,000 a year before taxes.

Now consider that the average price of a new car was $37,169 in July, according to KBB.com. This explains why Nissan redesigned the Versa for 2020: Thereís still a very real need for affordable basic transportation in the United States.

While the Versa was once cheapest car in America, thatís no longer the case. Yet, starting at $14,730 for the Versa S with a standard ó if outdated ó five-speed manual transmission, itís still among the cheapest. Opting for the automatic transmission Versa will set you back at least $16,400, although itís standard on both the mid-level SV trim, which starts at $17,640, and the top-of-the-line SR with its $18,240 price tag.

If that still seems spendy, keep in mind itís an astonishing 60% less than the average price of a new car.

Yet for 2020, the Nissan Versa has never been a more tempting proposition thanks not only to its low price but also for its flashy new wardrobe. Looking much like a pint-sized Altima, the Versa wears Nissanís trademark V-motion grille, floating roof and C-pillar design cues worn by its larger siblings. Itís a welcome change from its dowdy predecessor, which was actually designed for China; Nissan federalized the car for the U.S. Once it did, the United States quickly became the carís biggest market.

Although the new Versa still uses the previous Versaís platform, the 2020 model is 1.6-inches longer and 1.8-inches wider, yet 2.3-inch lower in height than the 2019 model. As you might expect, headroom decreases slightly while front seat legroom increases by nearly three inches. Of course, now that China is no longer the Versaís biggest market, rear seat room ó a Chinese priority ó has taken a big hit. Now measuring a mere 31 inches, space has shriveled by more than 16% in the 2020 Versa. You have to wonder since the extra length went since it didnít go to the trunk, which sees a 0.3 cubic foot decline in space. And yet you may not notice it once seated inside. With a little accommodation from front seat occupants, the rear seat proves adequate.

But American priorities differ from the Chinese, so youíll be interested to know that the Versa is crammed with an impressive array of driver assistance safety features, like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning and high beam assist. SV and SR models also get blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

And thereís a decent list of standard stuff, like automatic headlights, power windows with driverís one-touch auto up/down, speed-sensing auto door locks, front map lights, front door map pockets with bottle holder, dual front and rear cupholders, cruise control, illuminated steering wheel controls for audio and cruise control, remote keyless entry, and rear view monitor. But there are items missing, such as a center console bin to rest your arm on. In fact, a driverís armrest is optional. Yet thereís no need to opt for it since itís placed too high for comfort.

The cabin feels more upscale than its frumpy predecessor thanks to its leatherette-clad instrument panel, glossy interior accents and 7.0-inch color touchscreen. A four-speaker AM/FM audio system with Bluetooth, three USB ports and a power point are standard, while NissanConnect featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM Satellite Radio are added on SV and SR models.

A double-overhead-cam 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine generates 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque through a continuously variable automatic transmission, although a five-speed transmission is offered on base S models. Power is adequate for a grocery getter, but like many vehicles with CVT transmissions, the engine feels sluggish off the line as it moans, reluctantly responding to requests for more power. This makes entering a highway a slow and sometimes terrifying affair. Fuel economy is OK, but not stellar. Driving more than 400 miles over the course of a week netted 32 mpg. Steering does return some road feel however, and braking is sufficient. The front independent and rear torsion beam suspension returns an acceptable ride for a subcompact, but this is far from a stimulating drive.

Certainly the 2020 Versa is better than the car it replaces, feeling less like a penalty box and more like a real car. But this segment boasts a number of strong competitors, such as the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Toyota Yaris.

Cars in this class are rarely known for their driving excellence. Itís all about value for the money, and in that regard, the Versa is hard to match. Even in top SR trim with every option, you wonít break $20,000. And while thatís not exactly chump change for most of us, in an era where the average vehicleís price is nearly twice that, the 2020 Nissan Versa seems hard to resist ó as long as youíre not a driving enthusiast.

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2020 Nissan Versa SV

Base price: $17,640

Engine: DOHC 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 122/114@4,000 rpm

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 32/40 mpg

Fuel required: Regular

Wheelbase/Length/Width: 103.1/177/68.5 inches

Ground clearance: 6.8 inches

Cargo capacity: 14.3 cubic feet

Curb weight: 2,657 pounds