Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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North Vancouver, British Columbia – A compact car at a subcompact price, the Nissan Versa is probably the best small car value in the Canadian marketplace right now. Ranging from a base price of $15,000 to approximately $21,000 fully equipped, the Versa is bigger, roomier and more comfortable than its similarly-priced competitors, which include the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Suzuki SX4, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Aveo, and Pontiac Wave. For example, when compared to the Toyota Yaris sedan, the Versa sedan is 170 mm (6.7 in.) longer, 5 mm (0.2 in.) wider, and 95 mm (3.7 in.) taller. In fact, the Versa sedan is only slightly smaller than a Toyota Corolla.

In particular, the Versa’s exceptionally tall height of over five feet, combined with its slab-sided styling, makes its cabin feel very roomy for a “small car”.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

Though the Versa’s four-door sedan bodystyle has less overall cargo space than the Versa hatchback, the sedan still offers a very roomy interior that will fit four six-foot-plus adults, and it offers a deep, roomy trunk with standard split folding rear seatbacks for extra cargo versatility. In addition, the cabin is also well executed in terms of design and quality of materials.

As well, the Versa sedan has a larger, more powerful engine than its subcompact rivals, though the Versa’s larger size and heavier curb weight tends to negate the potential acceleration benefits.

Still, after a week driving the top-of-the-line Versa 1.8SL sedan, I came away with the overall impression that this is a lot of car for approximately $20,000.


Pricing and standard equipment

Versa sedans range in price from $14,998 for the base 1.8S sedan to $20,798 for a fully-optioned 1.8SL model. Interestingly, base prices dropped by $200 in April, 2007.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

2007 Versa 1.8S base models include a 122-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor, six-speed manual transmission, P185/65R-15-inch tires and steel wheels, front disc/rear drum brakes, electric power steering, engine block heater, AM/FM/CD player stereo with four speakers, side and curtain airbags, active front head restraints, four height adjustable head restraints, five three-point safety belts, rear child door locks, rear tether anchors and child seat anchors, 60/40 split folding seatbacks, heated power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, 12-volt power outlet, four cupholders, and immobilizer.

Available options on the S include a four-speed automatic transmission ($1,000), anti-lock brakes ($500) with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution; and the Value Option Package ($1,400) which adds air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with keyless entry, rear door pockets, glove-box light, retained accessory power and door armrest pads.

To the list of standard features on the 1.8S, the $17,598 1.8SL adds 15-inch alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, air conditioning, power locks with keyless entry, height adjustable driver’s seat, centre folding armrest with storage compartment, power windows, cruise control, front map lights, driver vanity mirror, six-way manual driver’s seat, woven cloth upholstery, front and rear centre armrests, door armrest pads and anti-theft system.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

Available options on the 1.8SL sedan are the four-speed automatic transmission ($1,000), (interestingly, the SL hatchback is available only with an optional continuously variable transmission not the four-speed automatic); Sunroof and visor lights package ($1,000), and Convenience Package ($1,200) which includes Bluetooth hands-free phone, premium 180-watt audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer, MP3/WMA capability, input jack, RDS, and six speakers, speed-sensitive volume control, steering wheel audio controls, leather wrapped steering wheel, and fog lights; and lastly metallic/pearl paint for $125.

My test car was a 1.8SL sedan equipped with the automatic transmission and Convenience Package with an as tested price of $19,923 plus Freight and PDI charge of $1,150, A/C tax of $100, and of course, provincial and federal sales taxes.


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

The Versa sedan’s cabin volume of 2659 litres (93.9 cu. ft.) is the largest in the subcompact sedan class, though slightly smaller than the Versa hatchback with 2,682 litres (94.4 cu. ft.).

Its four large doors open out almost 90 degrees, allowing easy access to the passenger cabin – however, because the doors swing out so far, passengers have to be careful not to strike the car next to them when opening them in a crowded parking lot. The sedan’s tall roof and raised seats make it easy to slide in and out of the car without much effort – this is especially appreciated by elderly passengers (thanks, Mom!).

Both front and rear headroom and legroom are generous, though the cabin is really only wide enough for two adults in the rear. The raised front seats and outboard seat tracks allow plenty of footroom for rear passengers. I liked the ribbed rubber floor mats in my test car which would be ideal in winter for muddy, wet or snow-covered shoes and boots – and they’re easy to clean with a hose (outside the car).

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

While base 1.8S Versas have suede/tricot cloth seats, the 1.8SL gets better quality woven cloth seats with an attractive chequered pattern in the seat inserts and doors. The dark dash in my test car was relieved by a combination of bright metal and ‘carbon fibre’ trim on the passenger side, shift lever, steering wheel, door armrests, and door handles. Overall fit and finish is very good for a car in this price category.

The front seats are wide and comfortable, and in the SL, the driver’s seat includes a manual height adjuster. Unusually, the recline adjuster and manual height adjuster levers are positioned on the right side of the driver’s seat and the left side of the front passenger seat. The steering wheel tilts up and down but doesn’t slide in and out.

The rear seatbacks and cushions are stiffer than in the front, but not uncomfortable, and a centre fold-down armrest includes two cupholders. The two rear head restraints in the outboard positions are height-adjustable.

The centre stack is well laid out and easy to reach from the driver’s seat. A covered bin above the radio allows storage of CDs or an iPod/MP3 music player which can be connected to the auxiliary input jack in the radio. My car had the optional premium 185-watt stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer and six speakers: the sound quality is clear and strong with good treble and resonant bass. Additional volume controls are found on the steering wheel. The heater and A/C controls are simple and easy to use, and backlit at night.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

The Versa is the only car in its class with optional hands-free Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, enabling drivers to dial and talk without taking their hands off the steering wheel.

Behind the SL’s attractive leather-wrapped steering wheel, the three round gauges have extra-large numerals for easy reference while driving, and there’s a transmission gear indicator in the speedometer. Missing though is a coolant gauge.

At the bottom of the centre stack are two different-sized cupholders and two coin slots. Behind that are the shift lever, a hand brake, a 12-volt power outlet, and a couple more open storage slots. Between the front seats is a folding armrest which can be lifted up out of the way if desired.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

Inside the armrest is a shallow storage bin for smaller items like garage door openers or small cameras. The large two-tier glovebox on the passenger side is surprisingly roomy.

All Versas come standard with two front, two side, and two curtain airbags, and an occupant sensor in the right front passenger seat deactivates the right front airbag if no one, or a small child, is sitting in that seat. Rear LATCH points and tether anchors for child seats are standard, and there are child locks on the rear doors.

In government crash tests, the Versa hatchback received an overall “Good” rating in frontal offset and side impact crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.hwysafety.org), and four stars out of five in frontal impact crash tests, and five out of five stars in side impact crash tests from the NHTSA.

The Versa sedan’s 391-litre (13.8 cu. ft.) trunk is the biggest in its class, and the split folding rear seatbacks fold down to increase cargo length. However, the seatbacks don’t fold down flush with the trunk floor so there isn’t a flat loading surface. Of course, the Versa hatchback has a much larger cargo area with the rear seats folded down (1427 litres/50.4 cu. ft.), so if you’re looking for cargo space, the hatchback is the way to go.


Driving impressions

The Versa driver sits tall in the saddle with good visibility in all directions, even to the rear over the Versa sedan’s tall trunk. I liked the two small triangular windows just behind the windshield as they provide ‘forward’ vision when making a 90-degree turn, particularly a right-hand turn.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

The standard 122-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is the biggest and most powerful engine in its class (except for the upcoming Suzuki SX4 sedan), but acceleration is about the same its major competitors due to its heavier curb weight. In independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (ww.ajac.ca) last year, a Versa hatchback (which weighs about the same as the sedan) with a four-speed automatic transmission did 0 to 100 km/h in 10.7 seconds. That compares to 10.8 seconds for a Toyota Yaris sedan, 9.4 seconds for a Honda Fit hatchback, 12.0 seconds for a Pontiac Wave sedan, and 12.2 seconds for a Hyundai Accent hatchback.

Certainly, a Versa equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission (the only six-speed manual available in its class), would be a quicker and sportier option, but the four-speed automatic model is certainly not gutless, and I was impressed by the transmission’s smoothness and responsiveness. A quick burst onto the freeway does require foot-to-the-floor acceleration, a couple of dramatic downshifts, and an audible buzz from the busy engine, but once up to speed, the engine is barely audible and the car just hums along quietly. Engine speed at 100 km/h is 2,500 r.p.m., and at 120 km/h is 3,000 r.p.m.

Interestingly, Versa SL hatchbacks are only available with the optional continuously variable transmission, while Versa SL sedans offer the four-speed automatic as an option – personally I’d much rather have the four-speed automatic as the CVT’s shiftless operation still feels foreign to me.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL sedan. Click image to enlarge

According to NRCan’s official fuel consumption figures, the Versa sedan equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission offers 8.5 L/100 km (33 mpg) City; 6.2 L/100 km (46 mpg) Hwy; while models with the standard manual six-speed transmission offer 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg) City; 6.3 L/100 km (45 mpg) Hwy. But in my week of urban and suburban driving with the automatic transmission, I averaged 8.6 L/100 km (31 mpg), considerably thirstier than the official combined rating of 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg), and certainly thirstier than its major competitors. Recently, CarTalkCanada editor, James Bergeron, averaged 7.5 L/100 km (37 mpg) in a Toyota Yaris sedan, and 7.3 L/100 km (39 mpg) in a Honda Fit.

Another difference between the Versa sedan and its major competitors is its ride and handling: the ride is better but the handling is worse. Due to the Versa’s longer wheelbase and compliant suspension, the highway ride is extremely comfortable and the cabin is surprisingly quiet. However, the Versa’s tall, top-heavy bodystyle makes its lean through the corners, and its vague electric steering and mushy brakes make it feel less responsive when compared to the Yaris and Fit. Still, the Versa is not meant to be a sports sedan, and as an everyday commuter, the Versa sedan is extremely comfortable and easy to drive – virtues that will likely appeal to the typical small car buyer who’s not hoping to emulate Mario Andretti.


Verdict

With more passenger and cargo room than its similarly priced competitors, the Nissan Versa sedan is a comfortable, easy-to-drive small car with an affordable price-tag – but it’s not a sporty car.


Pricing: 2007 Nissan Versa 1.8SL sedan

  • Base price: $17,598
  • Options: $2,325 (four-speed automatic transmission, $1,000; Convenience Package: $1,200 – Bluetooth hands-free phone, premium audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer, MP3/WMA capability, input jack, RDS, and six speakers, speed-sensitive volume control, steering wheel volume control, leather wrapped steering wheel, fog lights; Metallic paint, $125)
  • Freight: $1,150
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $21,173 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications


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Competitors


Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site

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