2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback
2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2011 Nissan Versa

In previous reviews of the Nissan Versa hatchback, I’ve mentioned how roomy and practical it is and how it’s a great value for the money in the subcompact class – but I’ve also warned readers that this is not a particularly sporty car to drive, particularly when equipped with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Yet, something happened on the way to the mall, the other day: I was unexpectedly lulled into submission by the Versa’s quiet cabin, comfortable ride, shiftless CV transmission, and easy driving manners. I suddenly realized that, for the majority of drivers, the Versa’s non-sporty attributes are what makes it such a great commuter car.

While other small cars often have a stiff, choppy ride, the Versa’s long (for a subcompact) wheelbase and forgiving shocks provide a comfortable city and highway ride which absorbs pavement breaks and potholes quite well. True, the Versa leans and dives in protest if you go around a corner too fast, but it handles just fine if you’re not in a big hurry.

2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback
2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback
2011 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

And whereas many small cars have minimal sound insulation and small, busy engines that are often noisy, the Versa’s large-for-its-segment 1.8-litre, 122-hp four-cylinder engine combined with the optional continuously variable transmission keeps engine revs under 3,000 r.p.m. most of the time, and generally under 1500 r.p.m. when driving in town. Cruising at 100 km/h on the freeway, the engine turns over just 2,200 r.p.m.: that keeps engine noise down, and with surprisingly little tire and wind noise, the Versa’s cabin is quiet for an economy car.

As well, because there are no gear changes with a CVT, the normal up and down chorus of engine revs is eliminated, along with the physical jerks that occur with regular gear changes. It’s true that, with a CVT, accelerating up a hill does produce a continuous drone from the engine – but it has to be a steep, long hill for this noise to become tiresome in the Versa.

Though the CVT tends to make the Versa feel slower when accelerating, there isn’t much difference in zero to 100 km/h times between Versa’s equipped with the regular four-speed automatic transmission and the CVT. Both are in the 10 second range. That’s comparable with the Honda Fit but a bit slower than the Yaris hatchback, according to AJAC’s tests. Versa sedans equipped with the smaller 107-hp 1.6-litre engine are a bit slower.

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