2014 Nissan Versa Note

SAN DIEGO — Nissan introduced its new Versa sedan nearly two years ago and since then it has become the best-selling subcompact in the country. Now comes the hatchback version, which is being tagged around the world as the Versa Note. It also has the makings of becoming a best seller in North America.

The Note, known in the past simply as the Versa hatchback, is a stylish five-door — perhaps the best looking small hatchback on the market depending on your taste in design — with the same extraordinary passenger space as the sedan.

The Note is another good example of the new trend in B-segment cars that go well beyond the small car stereotype of "basic transportation," cheaply made small vehicles that are sold as inexpensive boxes with small, sluggish engines designed to get from point A to point B as inexpensively as possible.

Yes, the Versa Note can be purchased relatively stripped down for a starting price of $14,710 including destination (you might have trouble finding one of these S trim line models on a store lot, however, and you may not want to return to crank windows, manual door locks, etc.), but for a couple of grand more the Note offers a lot of good things to make driving something to look forward too. And for another couple thousand, Nissan will endow the spacious hatchback with a plethora of goodies including a feature that originally was offered only on its premium Infiniti brand.

The high end SL with Tech Package at around $19,000 — a very competitive price next to other loaded hatchbacks from Honda, Mazda, Ford — will give you Nissan's Around View Monitor, which provides a 360-degree view around the car to make parking a snap. To prove the point, Nissan provided a car with blacked-out windows to be parked using strictly the camera. Hey, it works. Other goodies on the that SL model include keyless ignition, navigation, upgraded audio with satellite radio and heated front seats.

Nissan figures the most buyers will settle on the mid-trim SV, which brings full power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity, remote keyless entry, an interior trim package, automatic transmission (CVT), cruise control, and a decent-sounding audio system. The price, $16,780.

We found after driving in and around San Diego on a variety roads that the Note should appeal to the customers it is seeking. They will initially be attracted to the car's good looks and its cavernous interior. And once on a test drive they will experience good ride quality, a quiet interior, acceptable acceleration and decent handling.

On paper you might figure that acceleration would be the Note's weak spot. The hatchback is motivated by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. With the possible exception of a turtle, those numbers aren't going to impress anyone. But surprisingly the Note can do its transportation business with reasonable efficiency.

We figure that it is capable of 0-to-60 times of around 10 seconds with the CVT, which we discovered was good enough in stop and go city traffic, good enough to keep things moving on mountain roads and good enough for merging and passing. Nissan engineers say they have equipped the Note with a low fixed-ratio gear that helps in launch before the CVT takes over at 10 to 15 mph.

The numbers that may more persuade would-be customers to plunk down hard, cold cash for the Note are 31 and 40. That's the miles-per-gallon rating for city and highway driving.

The competition is tough in this segment, but we think the new Note has the right stuff to successfully duke it on out.

— Jim Meachen