Review and photos by Mark Stevenson

San Diego, CA – Nissan’s new subcompact arrives in North America with less power than its Tiida-based predecessor. But, where it matters – fuel economy, technology, and affordability – the Japanese automaker believes it’s hit a home run with the new-for-2014 Versa Note.

First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note nissan first drives
2014 Nissan Versa Note. Click image to enlarge

Marketed in other locales simply as Note, Nissan didn’t want to lose their already well-earned equity in the Versa nameplate. As a result, the two names were amalgamated, with Versa Note being the product.

During our day in the San Diego area driving Nissan’s new subcompact offering, it’s easy to see how many will elect for the new Versa Note over the competition. But, let’s start with the basics.

Underneath the new sheet metal is Nissan’s new V-platform (basically a second generation B-platform), which also underpins the Versa Sedan and other global products. This means the two Versas are pretty much identical when it comes to suspension and hard points.

First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note nissan first drives
2014 Nissan Versa Note. Click image to enlarge

The 1.8L seen in the previous Versa hatchback is gone. In its place is the same engine as the sedan, a 1.6L DOHC four-cylinder engine with dual fuel injection and Continuously Variable Timing Control (CVTC) for intake and exhaust. The engine also makes the same amount of power and torque as it does in the sedan: 109 hp and 107 lb-ft. Not earth shattering numbers by any stretch and less than the old Versa hatchback’s 122 hp and 127 lb-ft.

On our drive, the 1.6 four-pot was very quiet to the point where you could mistake it for a Leaf for most of the journey. However, due to the underpowered nature of the engine, full throttle was used on numerous occasions for passing, creating a buzzy racket up front due to a combination of a small displacement engine and a rubber band CVT.

There is a method to this seeming madness. People who buy commuter cars care about fuel economy and tend not to care about horsepower numbers. When the engineering boffins went to work on the new Versa Note, the focus was simple: make a more fuel-efficient engine and ignore the dyno.

First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note nissan first drives First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note nissan first drives First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note nissan first drives
2014 Nissan Versa Note. Click image to enlarge

And fuel efficient it is. The new 1.6L mill sees a decrease of consumption by almost 1 L/100 km on the highway when mated with the CVT. In the city, the decrease is over 1 L/100 km compared to the outgoing engine and CVT, mostly due to the wider gear ratio range of the transmission. The new Versa Note has a combined fuel economy rating of 5.5 L/100 km with CVT-equipped models. A highway rating of 4.8 L/100 km and 6.1 L/100 km city makes it easily one of the most frugal conventionally powered vehicles in Canada. Manual-equipped models (yes, they still have them!) get rated at 7.4/5.4 L/100 km (city/hwy).




About Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson is a former IT professional turned freelance automotive writer and news editor for Autos.ca. He's a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and former member of the Texas Automotive Writers Association (TAWA). Mark spends an inordinate amount of time on motorcycles and resides in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his two dogs - Nismo and Maloo. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.