2007 Nissan Versa
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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Niagara Falls, Ontario – It’s been a while since Nissan offered a sub-compact car in Canada. The Micra disappeared from our market in 1991, and the Sentra has been Nissan’s small car forever, it seems.

But Nissan is well aware that the compact car segment represents 50% of all passenger cars sold in Canada, and the entry-level portion represents 20% of that segment. So without further ado, let’s hear it for the 2007 Nissan Versa, Nissan’s subcompact with a difference.

The difference is obvious as soon as you see the Versa, as this is the jumbo shrimp of the entry-level class. Although Nissan identifies its competitors as the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Chevrolet Aveo, the Nissan Versa is considerably bigger in all dimensions than those cars.

For instance, the Yaris hatchback is 3,825 millimetres long; the Aveo measures 3,881 mm, and the Nissan Versa is a comparative stretch-mini at 4,295 mm. Wheelbase for the Yaris is 2,460 mm, for the Aveo it’s 2,480, but the Versa has a very long-for-the-class 2,600 mm wheelbase. Fuel tank size for the competition is 45 litres, but the Versa’s is 50 litres, the same as most compact cars.

2007 Nissan Versa
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Furthermore, the Versa comes with 15-inch wheels standard, not 14-inch; the engine has 1.8 litres of displacement, and makes 122 horsepower, as opposed to the 1.5 or 1.6 L engines of its competitors that make 103-110 hp. And because of the long wheelbase, the interior is roomy for both front and rear seat passengers. In fact, the front seats are so wide, that the seat-height control is mounted inboard in order to maximize space for the seat cushion.

So you get the idea: the 2007 Nissan Versa is one-upping the subcompact competition in size and power. It’s not quite as big as, say, a Mazda3 or a Ford Focus, but this is not a tiny car by any means.

2007 Nissan Versa
Click image to enlarge

Transmission choices for the Versa include a four-speed automatic, an “Xtronic” continuously variable transmission (CVT), and unexpectedly, a six-speed manual. Nissan is very big on CVTs, due to their reliability and positive impact on fuel economy, and is expanding their availability to its entire sedan line-up. This particular CVT is the latest generation, with technology and programming to improve responsiveness and operation in all driving conditions.

The 2007 Versa will be available in three trim levels – 1.8 S, 1.8 SL and 1.8 SL Technology – but all receive full side impact, and side curtain airbags as standard equipment, along with active head restraints (front seats).

2007 Nissan Versa

2007 Nissan Versa
Click image to enlarge

The base 1.8 S features intermittent windshield wipers, tilt steering column, a satellite-radio ready, four-speaker audio system with CD player, power heated outside rearview mirrors, and rear privacy cover. Anti-lock brakes can be selected for an additional cost, but front discs and rear drums are standard on all trim levels.

Nissan expects the “volume seller” to be 1.8 S with the VOP package, which adds air conditioning, power windows (which even have “auto-up” for the driver) and door locks, remote keyless entry system, door armrest pads and rear door map pockets. According to Nissan Canada, pricing for this vehicle will be under $17,000.

The 1.8 SL includes the VOP package, but adds alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, six-way driver’s seat, front folding armrest, cruise control and the available CVT gearbox.

Finally, the 1.8 SL Technology features a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Rockford Fosgate audio system with six-CD changer and six speakers, steering wheel mounted audio controls and leather wrapped steering wheel.

2007 Nissan Versa
Click image to enlarge

On the road, the Versa 1.8 SL with CVT is quiet and comfortable. The long wheelbase translates into smooth driving, even when the road surface becomes uneven or broken. Steering from the electric power assisted system is sharp and responsive, and tracks straight without continuous fine adjustment (some electric power assists tend to wander).

Fuel economy with the CVT is 7.9 L/100 km, city, and 6.1 L/100 km, highway, using regular grade fuel. Fuel consumption with the six-speed manual is 7.9/6.3 L/100 km, city/highway, and with the four-speed automatic, 8.5/6.2 L/100 km, city/highway.

2007 Nissan Versa
Click image to enlarge

The instrument panel and dashboard are of a higher quality than you would expect in an entry-level car, and reminded me of the very fine Mazda3. The glove box (does anyone really put gloves in there?) is big and there are compartments for bottles and cups in the doors and between the seats. Visibility is good all around. Fortunately, the A-pillars are not so thick that they obscure vision.

The new CVT gearbox permits 120-km/h highway cruising at about 2,000 rpm, and at that speed the Versa is eerily quiet. No engine noise is apparent, and pretty much all you can hear are the tires and the occasional gust of wind as it hits the car. Turn on the radio, and that disappears as well. Even when passing trucks, the noise from their howling diesel engines barely intrudes. This CVT transmission is much better than early versions, which tended to whine and allow engine speed to increase unnecessarily when ascending hills. No such issues here.

2007 Nissan Versa

2007 Nissan Versa
Click image to enlarge

The hatchback body style offers great interior flexibility, and lots of cargo room. The backs of the split folding rear seats fold flat, but still take up some room. It would be so nice if they’d tumble forward, which would open up the rear cargo area even more. Additionally, there is some untidiness caused by the fabric “skirts” attached to the privacy cover.

Other minor criticisms are the volume knob for the radio, which is too small (too short, to be precise), and the location of the 12V power point between the seats. From that location, you can’t plug in your dash-mounted mobile navigation system without an extension cord.

But overall, the Nissan Versa may already be redefining a segment that’s only just becoming established in our market. In gambling parlance, it sees the competition, and raises it. But there are no poker faces at Nissan Canada.

They think they have a good hand in the Versa, and value-conscious Canadians will likely agree.


At a Glance: 2007 Nissan Versa

  • Type: Front-drive, five-door hatchback

  • Available: July 2006
  • Price: TBA, but expected to start below $15,000: 1.8 S with VOP less than $17,000
  • Notable features: Bigger than expected engine for its class (1.8L), bigger dimensions than competition, smooth ride, roomy, well equipped, standard side impact and side curtain airbags.


Competitors

  • Test-Drive: 2007 Honda Fit Sport

  • Test Drive: 2006 Toyota Yaris CE 2-door
  • Buyer’s Guide: 06 Toyota Yaris
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Chevrolet Aveo
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Suzuki Swift+
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Kia Rio/Rio5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 2006 Hyundai Accent


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