2014 NIssan Versa Note SV
2014 NIssan Versa Note SV
2014 NIssan Versa Note SV. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Introduced in June, the surprisingly roomy and economical Nissan Versa Note is turning out to be the car to beat in the subcompact hatchback class, a fiercely competitive category already occupied by such notables as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic.

Replacing the previous Versa Hatchback (last seen in the 2012 model year) the 2014 Versa Note can claim the most interior room, the best fuel economy (excluding hybrid competitors), the most advanced technology features, and probably the best value in its class.

But (spoiler alert) it’s not a particularly exciting car to drive, especially with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). It doesn’t have the nimbleness of a Mazda2 or the steering precision of a Honda Fit. The Versa Note emphasizes ride comfort, steering ease, and urban drivability over performance and handling.

In other words, it appeals to mainstream buyers!

The only engine available, a 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing can be matched with a five-speed manual or a CVT in all trim levels, S, SV and SL. Fuel economy with the optional CVT is best in class (not including the hybrid Toyota Prius C), according to the EPA. The 109-hp Versa Note’s city/highway fuel economy ratings are 7.6/5.9 (31/40) (L/100 km and US mpg) or a combined average of 6.7 L/100 km (35 US mpg). The next best rated subcompact is the 120-hp Ford Fiesta (six-speed auto) 8.1/6.0 (29/39), and our Subcompact Comparison Test winner, the 138-hp Hyundai Accent (six-speed auto) isn’t far behind at 8.4/6.4 (28/37). In a week of mostly city driving, my onboard fuel economy display was showing 7.8 L/100 km, close to the EPA’s 7.6 city rating.

2014 NIssan Versa Note SV2014 NIssan Versa Note SV
2014 NIssan Versa Note SV. Click image to enlarge

Like most subcompacts, the Note’s performance is adequate but not particularly quick: my handheld stopwatch clocked our CVT-equipped Versa Note SV accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in just over 10 seconds. That may sound slow, but it’s within a second of most of its competitors except the Chevy Sonic with the optional turbocharged 1.4L engine. And I was pleasantly surprised with the Versa Note’s CVT. Rather than winding up the engine to a crescendo when accelerating, it engages quickly at relatively low engine revs. Climbing a slight grade at 60 km/h, the engine remains at about 2,500 rpm. On the same grade at 80 km/h it maintains about 3,500 rpm. Put your foot to the floor, and the engine will rev to over 5,000 rpm and stay there until you ease back on the throttle, but this doesn’t happen unless you’re really in a hurry. The CVT is at its best when cruising on a level road: at 100 km/h, the engine revs at under 2,000 rpm, minimizing engine noise and vibrations to a barely audible and ‘feel-able’ level. It’s also one reason why the Versa Note gets such good highway fuel economy.

A button on the shift lever acts like a lower gear to raise engine revs for downhill engine braking or quicker acceleration, but we felt it just created more engine noise for no particular reason.

Though the Versa Note’s continuously variable transmission does its job well, it’s still a different experience to a traditional automatic transmission; personally, I still prefer a traditional automatic.

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