Tested: 2021 Nissan Versa

Manufacturers – and consumers – are abandoning cars. Nissan is bucking the trend.

Dodge (Stellantis), Ford, Honda, Mazda, and Toyota no longer offer sub-compact cars. Nissan bucks the trend with five cars in its lineup. The new Versa joins the Altima, Sentra, Maxima and all-electric Leaf.

With a starting price of less than $17,000, the 2021 Versa is among the least expensive cars on the Canadian market. It brings a host of safety features and technology at an affordable price.

Nissan does not claim the ‘least expensive’ title in this small class. A quick look at and inside the new Versa reveals it doesn’t look like a contender for that moniker. It only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to discover it doesn’t drive like one either.

Very few cars near this price point offer as much safety, features and technology. Those that do, cost thousands more.

 

2021 Nissan Versa SR (Photo: Matthew Guy)

 

 

Nissan’s baby has grown up!

The third generation Versa is categorized as subcompact, but it comes across as a much larger vehicle than others in the class. The spec sheet backs up that impression with both passenger and cargo space exceeding that offered by the remaining competition in the sub-compact segment.

This puts the Versa in an interesting position, and makes its price/value even more attractive. The average consumer appears to have chosen height, space and utility as the reason to buy a crossover instead of a car. That decision has been made easier by pricing. There is very little difference now between the cost of a car and that of a crossover, especially in the sub-compact ranks.

 

The well-equipped 2021 Nissan Versa costs thousands less than a crossover with less space

The amount of interior space in the new Versa, especially in the rear seat, allows it to compete very favourably with subcompact crossovers.

 

2021 Nissan Versa SR (Photo: Matthew Guy)

 

Nissan throws a wrench into the cost comparison by pricing the Versa thousands less than a crossover offering anywhere near as much room. Especially if equipped with the same level of standard equipment, safety features and technology.

Versa’s pricing is tough to beat.

It starts at less than $17,000. But let’s admit, most dealers don’t stock this model, because most consumers are not interested.

Step up to the $19,500 SR trim and you get 16-in alloy wheels, an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, tilt & telescope steering column, cruise control, blind-spot warning and so many more features (see list below).

 

2021 Nissan Versa SR (Photo: Matthew Guy)

 

 

All that for less than $20,000! That’s what I mean about Versa value.

For another $1,500 you get the SR trim with upgraded interior trim, automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and remote engine start, six-way drive seat, sport cloth trim, heated front seats, advanced driver assist.

That’s the one I spent a week and nearly 1,000 km with.

The exterior appearance is very current and bears more than a passing resemblance to its Sentra, Altima and Maxima siblings, from the V-shaped grill to the curved roofline.

 

2021 Nissan Versa SR (Photo: Matthew Guy)

 

Step inside and you are greeted with an airy and roomy cabin. Rear seat space is especially impressive in light of the size of the car. The trunk is large enough to beat the space behind the back seat of sub compact crossovers and easily accessed through a low and wide opening.

The V-shaped instrument panel mimics the front end. The 18-cm ‘floating’ touchscreen for the infotainment system is integrated into the design rather than tacked-on as is often the case.

 

The 2021 Nissan Versa is wider than the norm in this category and that adds to the roomy impression.

At this trim level, the seat coverings feature contrasting stitching. The front seats boast Nissan’s excellent Zero Gravity design with lots of support above and below the waist. I emerged after four hours at the wheel with no need for a chiropractor.

The Versa shares its stiffer platform and drivetrain with the Nissan Kicks. This third generation Versa gets its power from a 1.6-litre four. It has 122 horses in the corral, 12 more than the previous version. Not exactly exciting on paper or in use, but sufficient for all normal activities.

 

I’d say the 2021 Nissan Versa is best suited to urban life but requires patience if accelerating at higher speeds.

The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is one of the better units of this type with simulated gears allowing it to avoid the droning common with CVTs – under all but wide-open throttle conditions. Fuel economy is excellent, I saw numbers dipping into the low 6L/100km numbers with no attempt to ration fuel.

There is nothing special about the suspension – MacPherson struts up front solid axle in back -or the brakes, discs in front and drums behind. All are proven long-life components and there is no intention of this being a sports car. The ride is comfortable and composed over all but the worst surfaces.

The 2021 Nissan Versa is practical rather than exciting. It offers a surprising amount of space, technology and features at a very attractive price.

 

FACTS & FIGURES – 2021 Nissan Versa SR

 

PRICE

Base: $20,998

As tested: $22,968 including freight

 

SAFETY

Intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intelligent rear emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, blind spot warning, intelligent drive alert, rear door alert, rear cross traffic alert, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry

 

INFOTAINMENT

18-cm infotainment screen, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, streaming audio via bluetooth, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto compatibility, Google Assist voice-recognition, hands-free text messaging, wireless phone connection, three USB ports and satellite radio

 

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

17-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, power windows, cruise control, heated front seats, automatic climate control

 

SIGNIFICANT OPTIONS

Three-coat paint, $300

 

MECHANICAL

1.6-litre four-cylinder, 122 horsepower, 114 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel. Continuously Variable Transmission, front-wheel-drive. NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 7.4 / 5.9

 

DIMENSIONS

Length, 4,495; mm; width, 1,740 mm; wheelbase, 2,620 mm; weight, 1,221 kg.

 

COMPETITION

Chevrolet Spark, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio

 

(Lead Photo: Garry Sowerby)

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