2008 Nissan Versa S 1.8L TEST DRIVE

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        Generally when you purchase a car you'll decide where to put your money after only fifteen minutes behind the wheel! So, if you are in the market for a small compact hatchback here is my take on the new Nissan Versa. This vehicle is also available in sedan configuration, but you get much more utility, and head room, out of the hatch. This particular Versa model came equipped with the 4 speed automatic transmission and the S Value Option Package. New, with these two options will pull $18,573 before taxes from your account. Is it worth it? Lets see....

EXTERIOR:
        The exterior is eye catching at first. The wife even thinks it's 'cute'. The front end styling is very aerodynamic which also helps isolate wind noise. The windows are large, and give good visibility all around, even when checking blind spots. The headlights are large and make great use of lighting up the road ahead. One thing that this car could greatly benefit from (along with several others), are headlamp washers. In freeway traffic the dirt and grime blows up the bumper and onto the headlamps. I found that its easier to carry a towel or two to wipe the lights when I stop, rather than finding a service station which might be out of my way to get to.
        Overall packaging is good. The car is very manuverable which helps greatly in parking lots. The hatchback is also slightly shorter than the sedan. The wiper system took some getting used to. The rear wiper would work much better if the fluid sprayed in a fan style over the window rather than straight out of the nozzle. A more powerful motor would easily solve this.

INTERIOR
        My first impression when I began loading the car was 'is this thing ever small'. I loaded in a case of water, winter jacket, duffel bag full of clothes for the week and a pair of size 13 boots (see photo). The security cover that folds down over the cargo when you close the hatch covers it up with some room to spare. If I was single this is all the car I would need. However, if I had to plan a weekend getaway with my wife and daughter I'm sure I'd be strapping a container on the roof if we were gone any longer than four days. There are plenty of storage areas inside. The glovebox looks big, but is just large enough to hold the owners manual, a couple maps and your ownership and insurance papers. The cupholders are too far forward and won't hold large drinks; for a coffee lover they work fine. The long shifter blocks the cupholders, so spills will be inevitable!
        The seats are excellent for this class of vehicle. They're well bolstered and offer great support for long freeway slogs. I sat in the back seat and came away impressed as I had room to spare. With a 6'3", 245lb frame that says a lot. I did find that overall fit was a bit snug in the front. Even more so widthwise, as you cannot fit your hand beside the seat when the door is closed. I don't fancy the seat recline levers on the inside seat bolsters. A center armrest would be an excellent option - too bad there isn't one offered on the S.
        The grey and black plastics blend well and the interior has a modern, yet timeless look to it, so it should look in-style ten years from now. The rear seat was quite roomy. My head didn't come too close to hitting the roof liner. There was plenty of leg room as I left the drivers seat back on the sliders to make sure that my friends would be content back there for more than ten minutes!
        The quiet ride is very surprising. Nissan went out of their way to isolate road noise, and they succeeded! When semi-trucks pass, you can barely hear the rumble of the diesel engine. Marvelous! The dead pedal is placed right where it should be. I believe this car would be easy to drive for someone my size if it were equipped with the standard 6 speed manual transmission. Lots of footwell space that I could possibly even drive a standard version in my work boots!
        The lack of a steering wheel telesope feature has me wanting one. My arms are stretched farther back than I'd like. I'd also like to rake the seat back farther so I can stretch out my legs more as they tend to bunch up under the dash. Not so much that I'm uncomfortable, but my left knee rests against the door panel and my right rests against the automatic shifter. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn. Most of the knobs and buttons can be used when wearing gloves. A center armrest, even a folding one would be an added bonus to have in this car.

PERFORMANCE AND RIDE
        This is a very peppy urban vehicle that's more than capable of some long, out of town hauls. The engine is a 1.8L unit, the only engine that's available in the Versa. The transmission is a 4 speed automatic, which has now been replaced with a CVT unit. You can still get the 4 speed in the sedan version depending on trim. The transmission is very good at holding the required gear, unlike some Ford transmissions that like to use the highest possible gear for fuel economy. The engine puts out 122hp @ 5200rpm and 127 pound feet of torque at 4800rpm. In top gear, the Versa cruises quietly as it turns over 2400rpm @ 100km/h and 3000rpm @ 120km/h. It takes a bit of driving before the torque converter locks up. Until it does rpms at 100km/h in top gear are around 2700rpm. My test car had just over 9,500km on the ODO.
        The 4 speed auto is rated at 6.3L/100km highway, which is very frugal. If you compare it to the Versa's compact competitors that mileage may seem rather low, but don't be alarmed as the Versa has one of the largest engines available in its class! One thing that I find out of the ordinary for four cylinder engines is that the engine is undersquare. Meaning that the bore is wider than the stroke is long. Generally four cylinder engines are over-square to produce more low end torque.
        Granted, this engine does not completely disappoint. It's modest 122hp can be had at lower rpms over the Versa's competitors. Looking under the hood, everything is easily accessible from the washer fluid reservoir to checking the engine oil. If you plan to own the Versa for a long time you'll be glad to know most items are toward the top of the engine compartment such as the alternator, battery and power steering box. The air conditioner compressor however is mounted down below the alternator, which will be a costly item to repair/replace when the need arises.
        Throttle response is good if not a bit abrupt at first. If you're in heavy traffic and tap the throttle then ease off, the revs will hang on for an extra second or so just incase you change your mind and want to accelerate. Acceleration is leisurely on the highway, but peppy around town with just the driver on board. Locking out overdrive nets much better performance as the engine stays in the center of the powerband (around 2800rpm @ 60km/h, versus 2000rpm in over drive at 60km/h). With six hundred pounds of people and gear loaded into the car performance does suffer. A 50L fuel tank gives good range and is one of the largest in its class. Keep in mind that with any compact car, that once you load it up with people and luggage it will burn 1/3 more fuel than the EPA rates it for. For every 50lbs added weight you lose approximately 0.5mpg (imperial)!
        The suspension is forgiving over uneven roads. You do feel the bumps, even those small cracks! Surprisingly, it's not much of a better ride than my 2000 Dodge Durango R/T. I imagine the small tires on the Versa work against smoothing out the ride. If you've ever driven a Buick sedan you'll know how those cars tend to float over road discrepancies; whereas the Versa's suspension lets you know what you're driving over. Turn in is crisp and very confidence inspiring. This would be an excellent buy for a novice driver. It's easy to live with, easy to drive and easy to get in and out of with the large doors. I question the durability of the door seals. The window frames aren't very thick and the rear doors the frames square out abruptly so you have to watch yourself on the top outer corner.
        A few gripes I have with the Versa is that the ground clearance could be greater. Even another inch would make it much easier to live with when visiting relatives that do not live in the city. The hatch only raises five and a half feet from the ground, so for us taller folk, we have to duck to stand underneath. The fuel filler door seems flimsy. I put in $12.50 (11.5L) earlier today (it was down 1/4 tank exactly), and the fuel filler door seems like it will only give you a couple trouble free winters before the plastic part that holds the door toward the car, breaks. Be sure to keep the tank at least half full in the winter so you don't get excess condensation in the tank.
        To drive this car as an economy car, it'll serve you well and should last a very long time. The frame is sturdy and feels well built. There is adequare steering wheel feedback so you can tell what the tires are doing. For more spirited driving the four speed auto features an over-drive lock out button, which is good for stop and go city driving. It not only aids in engine braking, it saves wear on the transmission from constantly shifting in and out of over drive.

FINALIZATION
        If I had the resources to get a second vehicle, I'd get a GM product. This car is worthy for those who are used to driving vehicles with small displacement engines. The Versa has a simple design, descent performance for the size and weight of the car, and fitting a stroller in the hatch area is a very tight fit and requires you to remove the cargo cover that lifts up when you open the hatch.
        The skinny tires are helpful in deeper snow but fall short in handling. The tall stiff sidewalls contribute to a rough ride over bad roads. A lightweight alloy wheel package should be available for this vehicle, along with a telescoping steering wheel. Both features can be had on the SL trim levels along with a CVT gearbox. I haven't driven a Nissan CVT (yet), but the four speed auto seems more than capabable to move this car around. The gear ratios are well spaced and engine revs are low on the highway to reduce noise.
        Nissan engineers nailed the exhaust tuning with this car. It sounds as if there's at least a 2.5L engine under the hood when you drive the engine over 3000rpm. Over 4000rpm when you are forced to accelerate onto the freeway from a very short on-ramp, the engine sounds very raspy and would greatly benefit from a cold air intake system to help the engine breath better even at lower rpms.
        My hat goes off to Nissan for the great engineering done to this vehicle. A larger engine, such as the 2.0L 140hp unit found in the Sentra, would make a great option on the Versa. Perhaps a Versa Spec-V is on Nissans to-do list!

FUEL ECONOMY
        Well here it is. Before you peek ahead at the numbers keep in mind two things: First, when I drove in town I locked the over-drive off, keeping rpms higher for better performance and less engine lag around town. Second, a good sixty percent of the mileage was driven on the 401. I also kept OD locked off until I reached 90km/h when merging onto the highway. At that speed the engine easily turned over 3000rpm. Now for the numbers: Nissan rates the 4 speed automatic Versa at 6.4L/100km highway and 8.5L/100km city. For the 528km I drove the car this week I put in 25.61L of regular fuel. That works out to an average of 9.68L/100km. Not bad, but not great either considering it hasn't been very cold.
        If I had kept OD on during all driving fuel consumption would probably have been in the mid-to-high 8L/100km range. I should mention that the mileage I got with this car also included some idling time. Engine warm ups and when loading the car with boxes to move a friend of mine. Yes, its free to raid a tim hortons cardboard dumpster!

PURCHASE?
        If your on a budget there are many other choices available. It comes down to personal driving preference. Towards the end of my time with the Versa, a dashboard rattle was getting more prominent the more I drove the car. To counteract this, one just turns up the fan speed. This car needs cruise control. With the throttle by wire, electronically controlled drivetrain its hard to keep a steady pace on not only hilly roads, but any road. I found that the long raked windshield gets twice as dirty as the other cars I've driven. So be prepared to use lots of washer fluid when the weather turns sour. The intial cost of ownership is relatively low, but for some reason I can see the long term costs adding up quickly as the years pile on. If you order a Versa with air conditioning, don't forget that the compressor is mounted below the alternator along side the radiator, which will make for a very costly repair in 5-7 years time. I don't like how the snow sits on the rear bumper, since each time you want to open the hatch it's either iced shut or full of snow, making you scrape the debris away before you can gain access. Personally, if I was offered a better price than a comparibly equipped GM Cobalt sedan or other comparible model with more than a 2L engine would I buy a Versa. Would you want to own a vehicle that has less displacement than a pop bottle?