If the 2010 Nissan Versa were a restaurant menu item, it would be the $8 all-you-can-eat lunch special. You know the one -- available from 12-3 p.m., Monday through Friday. While this grub typically falls well short of being haute cuisine, there's usually a decent array of dishes to choose from at the buffet table. In other words, it gets the job done for very little coin.
Take a whiff and you'll find that the Versa has a similar aroma, and it's one that should smell pretty enticing to a lot of car buyers in these recessionary times. There's a Versa for almost every stripe of frugal car shopper. Singles will likely be drawn to the hatchback, while small families are best matched with the more practical sedan.
A smorgasbord of amenities is offered, including high-end features that were formerly available only on luxury cars Â? think keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth, iPod integration and satellite radio. Those with the tightest hold on their purse strings can opt for the stripped base models -- the base Versa sedan is the cheapest four-door on the new-car market, available for just over $10,000.
The one thing the 2010 Nissan Versa doesn't offer is driving excitement. Its suspension tuning heavily favors comfort over sportiness, and the result is a somewhat flaccid ride -- albeit one that does a good job of protecting the cabin from road inconsistencies. On the plus side, acceleration is good, even with the less powerful of the car's two available engines. At the track, a Versa with the base 1.6-liter mill proved quicker in the 0-60 sprint than the Honda Fit.
Whether the Versa is the right dish for you depends on your priorities. Those who want a side of fun-to-drive with their order will find the Honda Fit, Kia Soul or Mazda 3 more appetizing. Audiophiles and those seeking a ride with statement-making sheet metal will relish the Scion xB, which boasts a distinctive look and a superb sound system. However, if you have an appetite for comfort and value, the immensely practical Versa will likely hit the spot.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The compact 2010 Nissan Versa is available in four-door hatchback and sedan body styles. The two lowest trim levels -- 1.6 Base and 1.6 -- are available in sedan form only. The 1.6 Base comes standard with 14-inch steel wheels, a tilt steering column, intermittent wipers and not much else. The 1.6 adds air-conditioning.
Stepping up to the 1.8 S trim level brings a choice of either the hatchback or sedan body style with standard 15-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, air-conditioning, a 60/40-split-folding rear seatback (hatchback) and a four-speaker stereo with CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The S is available with a Power Plus package that adds remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, rear door map pockets, a door armrest pad and cruise control.
The Versa 1.8 SL comes standard with all the items in the Power Plus package, as well as alloy wheels, foglights, driver seat height adjustment, 60/40-split-folding rear seats (sedan), upgraded seat fabric, a rear-seat center armrest and a front center armrest with storage. A premium six-speaker sound system with speed-sensitive volume control and an iPod interface is also part of the SL's standard features list.
Optional on SL sedans is a Convenience package that adds keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. SL hatchbacks are available with a Premium package that features all the amenities of the Convenience package, plus 16-inch alloy wheels. A Moonroof package is also available on SL hatchbacks; this package includes a sunroof and dual illuminated visor-located vanity mirrors. Both the SL sedan and hatchback may be purchased with a Navigation package (late availability) that includes a navigation system, satellite radio and an audio USB port.
Powertrains and Performance:
All 2010 Nissan Versas are front-wheel drive, and buyers may choose between two engines. 1.6 Base and 1.6 sedans are powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 107 horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque; the 1.6 Base is available only with a standard five-speed manual transmission, but the 1.6 adds an optional four-speed automatic. All other Versas feature a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 122 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. The Versa S comes standard with a six-speed manual; a four-speed automatic is optional. The latter transmission is standard on the Versa SL sedan, while the Versa SL hatchback comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that improves performance and fuel economy.
Acceleration is decent for the segment Â? with the 1.6-liter engine and manual transmission, the Versa's 0-60-mph sprint takes 9.5 seconds. This ties the time logged by the Hyundai Accent and is a few paces ahead of the 10.2-second time posted by the Honda Fit. EPA estimated fuel economy for the 1.6 manual stands at 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway (33 with the auto) and 29 mpg combined. The Versa 1.8 with the four-speed automatic rates 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined, while the Versa SL with the CVT gets 28/34/30.
Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on the 2010 Nissan Versa. Antilock brakes with brake assist are optional on 1.6 Base and 1.6 models, and standard on S and SL models. Stability and traction control are standard on SL models and optional on S models.
In government crash tests, the Versa scored four out of five stars for all occupants in both front- and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Versa its highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The Versa offers a remarkably roomy cabin. Headroom is plentiful thanks to its tall roof, and its generous legroom allows it to comfortably accommodate 6-foot passengers in both front and rear seats. A fifth person can be wedged into the rear center seat, though the Versa's narrow body makes it a squeeze. Looks-wise, the car's interior is quite bland, but overall interior quality is high. The controls are simple and easy to use, and optional items like keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and satellite radio are welcome goodies in this budget-friendly car.
The car's overstuffed front seats are comfortable during hour-long commutes, but support fades on longer drives. Unlike Honda's Fit, the Versa hatchback's split rear seat doesn't fold down even with the cargo floor, but lowering it reveals a sizable 50 cubic feet of space. Likewise, the sedan's 13.8-cubic-foot trunk is on the large side for its segment, but doesn't come close to being as Versa-tile as the hatchback.
Thanks to its softly tuned suspension, the 2010 Nissan Versa offers the sort of pillowy ride that's usually reserved for much larger cars. Handling will be adequate for most drivers, but those seeking a truly engaging driving experience will be better served by sportier choices like the Honda Fit and the Mazda 3.
Both engines deliver strong acceleration with a solid midrange punch, making them capable performers around town and on the freeway. We're not huge fans of the six-speed manual transmission that comes with the 1.8 S -- the low-effort clutch can be difficult to modulate -- and the four-speed automatic is similarly uninspiring. We'd recommend going with either the 1.6's five-speed manual or the SL's CVT.