Nissan’s small Versa hatchback, renamed the Versa Note for 2014, is a low-price, high-utility car with an attractive exterior, great fuel economy and a surprisingly roomy back seat that accommodates even 6-foot-tall adults.
The five-seat Versa Note also offers high-tech features not found in other hatchbacks, such as an all-around-view camera system that lets the driver see what is nearby the car on all four sides.
Drivers will appreciate that the Note with its 109-horsepower, four-cylinder engine is rated by the federal government at 31 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. This top rating is for Notes equipped with a fuel-thrifty continuously variable transmission.
Unfortunately, though, the engine power is lower than many competitors’.
Although the Note is a new version of Nissan’s Versa line, its safety rating in frontal crash testing by the federal government isn’t any better than the three out of five stars that the longer-running Versa sedan got.
Standard safety features on all Notes include frontal, side and curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.
The starting price, including destination charge, of $14,800 for a base 2014 Note is lower than many competitors’. As an example, the base, 2013 Honda Fit hatchback has a starting price of $16,215.
Be aware, however, that the base Versa Note S comes with a five-speed manual transmission that produced a lower government fuel mileage rating of 27/36 mpg.
The base Note also has manual, roll-down windows and a steering wheel that tilts but does not telescope.
For buyers to get the fuel-saving CVT, which comes along with an automatic grille shutter that closes when needed to improve aerodynamics and fuel mileage, they must move up to the Versa Note S Plus, with a starting retail price of $16,050.
People must experience the back seat to believe it. Although the car is less than 14 feet long and about the size of a Fit hatchback, it has 38.3 inches of legroom back there.
It’s enough to allow 6-footers to extend their legs. It’s also nearly 4 inches more than the Fit has and is even more back-seat legroom than is found in the much larger Nissan Altima midsize sedan.
Front-seat passengers aren’t squeezed, either; legroom up there totals 41.3 inches, which is on par with some sport utility vehicles.
Just keep in mind that although two adults in back do well, three make it tight. Still, back windows are sizable and go down virtually the whole way.
Also improving comfort in the Note: Passengers don’t sit low to the ground. Even back-seat riders sit up at a decent level and have good views out.
Still, the seat foam in the test SV had a cheap feel and was less supportive than preferred. This was especially true as road bumps came through regularly and ripples in asphalt were felt, and not just in the cushions but up to passengers’ backs.
The ride was noisy. Road and engine sounds were heard all the time, and the CVT kept the driver guessing when engine revving would quiet down.
The 1.6-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder was lackluster during acceleration and seemed to work hard during highway merges. Torque peaks at 107 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.
The commendable fuel economy ratings are not far-fetched. In mostly city driving, the tester averaged 30 mpg, just 1 mpg off from the federal government number, and this was without the driver focusing on top mileage. Fuel mileage was 32 mpg with highway travel added.
The cargo area behind the rear seats provides 18.8 cubic feet of space.
According to the government, the Note has better side crash performance – five out of five stars – than the Versa sedan’s four out of five stars. Overall crash rating, including rollover propensity, for the Note is four out of five stars.
In July, there were two safety recalls for the 2014 Versa Note involving back-seat bolts that might break in a crash and lower body bolts that were missing or loose.