Nissan Versa Note
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Overall

Smaller than the car it replaces, the Versa Note used smart packaging to make it feel bigger on the inside

Drivetrain

Same 1.6-liter four-cylinder as the outgoing wagon, but less weight means better fuel economy; manual and continuously variable transmission options

The original Versa wagon – a 2007-model-year arrival – was all about low price and fuel efficiency. Its replacement, called the Versa Note, expands on that theme by actually shrinking in size, although not where it really counts. It’s shorter in overall length by more than six inches (it’s 13 inches shorter than the sedan) without reducing the distance between the front and rear wheels or the interior volume, which has actually increased slightly. Curtailing the size contributes to a new car that’s 300 pounds lighter than the retired wagon. Virtually all of the shrinkage occurs ahead of the front wheels where the aerodynamic nose slopes downward in a way that’s reminiscent of the Honda Fit. Both the Versa sedan and Versa Note wagon lead their respective entry-level categories in cabin space, but the Note’s clever interior packaging gives it a clear advantage. Open the hatch and the load-floor height is 1.7 inches lower than its 2012 predecessor (there was no 2013 wagon). An optional adjustable-height load floor called “Hide-N-Divide” can be raised to match the height of the rear seats when they’re folded flat, all the while creating a hidden storage spot below. Like the sedan, the dash and door panels are on the plasticky side, but the fit and finish is generally solid and doesn’t seem out of place on a vehicle that emphasizes a low base price. The Note’s 109-horsepower 1.6-liter engine comes through with an estimated 31 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. That’s with the optional continuously variable transmission. Those numbers best the previous wagon’s 28/34 numbers by a wide margin. For comparison, the Note’s standard five-speed manual transmission earns a 27/36 rating. Helping out fuel economy are grille shutters that automatically close at highway speeds and reduce aerodynamic drag by keeping air out of the engine compartment, thereby reducing the parachute effect. Trim levels begin with the $14,800 1.6 S that, except for air conditioning and a basic radio/CD player, is pretty plain. You can add options or step up to the SV with its upgraded seats, hands-free Bluetooth wireless connectivity and other niceties. The SV trim is required if you want a navigation system or Nissan’s “Around View Monitor” that shows a 360-degree depiction of the vehicle in relation to its surroundings.

Base price (incl. destination): $14,800
Type: Sub-compact four-door hatchback
Base engine (hp): 1.6-liter DOHC I4 (109)
Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Transmission: Five-speed manual; continuously variable (opt.)
MPG (city/hwy): 31/40 (CVT, est.)
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
Weight (lb.): 2,460