2020 Nissan Versa — Sensible pick as a starter car

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(February 3, 2020) Better than the preceding Versa generations, the 2020 Nissan Versa is a more rounded, better looking small sedan than its predecessors. I'm going to make a statement that, if applied to almost any other area of our culture, would be called bigoted by some. But, hey, I'm a journalistic hero, so here goes, some cars are simply more fun to write about than others. It may not be science, but it's a fact.

As I shuffled through copies of the window stickers (Monroney labels) of recent test cars I've driven to decide on a subject of this review, I passed over several more interesting models like the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, the Chevy Colorado 4WD ZR2 Bison and the BMW X2 M35i. Certainly expressing my impression of such upmarket vehicles would be more entertaining — to me, at least. But, I selected the Nissan Versa. Why?

For one thing, the third generation released last year as a 2020 model represents a giant leap forward. Secondly, as a small, entry-level sedan, it makes a valuable contribution as basic transportation. There is a place for that, particularly for a car that does it so well.

In looking at the Versa SR Monroney, the largest number staring me in the face is 35. This is the government-estimated combined mileage with the CVT automatic. It's based on 32 mpg city and 40 mpg highway estimates. Even with sub $3 gas, these numbers represent a boon to family budgets. That works out to 2.9 gallons per 100 miles. I could make the 700-mile slog from my home in South Carolina to Delray Beach, Florida on about $55 worth of gas. Sign me up!

Unlike Versas of the past, the 2020 version has a personality. Lower by 2.3 in, it is also 1.8 in wider and 1.6 in longer. Versa now sports the Nissan family V-motion grille, boomerang headlights and C-pillar. Its contemporary sheetmetal offers some definition. Looking much more like its bigger siblings Altima and Maxima, the remade Versa shares Nissan's Emotional Geometry design language.

Also shared with Altima and Maxima is what Nissan calls the “Gliding Wing” design of the instrument panel. It's an emphasis on the horizontal helping create the feeling of a larger space. Instrumentation is uncluttered and easy to read. Versa is furnished for five. CVT-equipped versions get a 60/40 split/folding backseat. The cabin is roomy and comfortable.

The 2020 Nissan Versa is available in three grades: S, SV and SR. Even after adding in the $925 factory delivery fee, the base Versa S rings the register at a tidy $15,655. Granted, this price for the S is with a 5-speed manual, but we are talking basic transportation. If you don't want to stir the tranny yourself, pony up an additional $1,670 for the CVT automatic that is standard in the SV and SR. A good reason to pop for the CVT in your S is, fuel economy with the manual is 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway with a combined number of 30 mpg.

Every Versa derives its go from a 122-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 114 lb-ft of peak torque. This doesn't sound like much oomph, but it pulls this front-wheel-drive sedan around rather effortlessly. Athletic it's not. The handling is rather conservative. There is little joy to be had tossing it into the curves, but it handles and steers predictably. Wonderfully easy to park, it's well suited to an urban environment.

Standard features in the S include 15-in steel wheels with covers, auto on/off halogen headlights, power windows, locks and outboard mirrors, cloth seating, 6-way manual driver's seat, 4-way manual front passenger seat, cruise control, push-button start, remote keyless entry, rearview camera, six air bags, Bluetooth connectivity, 7-in color touchscreen, 4-speaker audio system with Siri Eyes Free and a USB port. Every Versa comes with Nissan's Safety Shield 360 with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, rear automatic braking, auto high-beam assist and hill-start assist.

My test Versa was a fairly loaded, top-of-the-heap SR. Absent of add-ons, the base price and factory destination fee the total price for the SR is $18,240. For this sum, standard gear over and above the S includes the CVT, 17-in alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED headlights, LED fog lights, upgraded-fabric seating, driver's-seat armrest, automatic climate control, rear-door alert, driver alert that helps prevent drowsy driving, 6-speaker audio system, Nissan Connect, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite-radio capability, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

My test Versa also had several options, including special exterior paint, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, center console with armrest and an electronics package that added $2,750 to the bottom line for a total of $21,885.

Even in its SR guise, the Versa probably isn't a vehicle many aspire to own, but it is a sensible pick as a starter car. It's gussied-up basic transportation. First-time buyers, small families and empty nesters are its target audience, and it should fulfill most of their needs quite nicely. And, ya gotta love that fuel economy.