Published on March 29th, 2014 | by Jo Borrás2
2014 Nissan Versa vs. the California Mountains (Mini-test)
Earlier this week, I had the chance to fly out to San Diego, California and drive a collection of new subcompact through some seriously twisty mountain roads. One of those cars was the 2014 Nissan Versa Note- a car that I’ve asked Nissan to let me test drive more than once since the SR version debuted at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. Before we get to the Versa’s driving experience, however, let’s talk about what a 2014 Nissan Versa Note is all about.
With a starting price tag under 12000 dollars, the new Nissan Versa is one of the cheapest new cars you can buy in the US. It’s also a solid performer, delivering 40 highway MPG and 109 HP- which doesn’t sound like much, these days, but it’s a great deal better than the 26 highway MPG and 102 HP that a 1989 Geo Prizm would give you. So, that’s something for your 25 years of progress.
Outside, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note is a sharp-looking car. Being totally honest, the car’s combination of good looks, decent fuel economy, and low price had me strongly considering buying one as the new baby-mobile, once the time came.
Inside, the Versa had plenty of room and comfortable enough seats. Still, while I looked at the outside of the Versa and thought “How did they build that for $12K?”, I’ll admit that, after a few minutes spent checking out the inside …
… I’d found my answer.
As it sat, the 2014 Nissan Versa I drove carried a sticker in excess of $16,000. While still relatively inexpensive, that’s a full 30% higher than the typically advertised $11,990 Nissan Versa starting price- and it wasn’t obvious what I was getting for that price premium, either (power windows? cruise control?).
Putting the mild sticker shock aside, I set off on the canyon roads. I’d been driving other cars from competing brands on these same roads the whole morning, and fully expected the 2014 Nissan Versa to shine in the twisty roads. Nissan was, after all, the company that invented Super HICAS four-wheel steering and put a fully-active suspension in the Infiniti Q. The Z, of course, is legend- as is the old ’91 Sentra I used to drive around Patrick AFB. The last Nissan I drove was this GTR. I had high hopes, in other words, for the little Nissan Versa. After about 20 minutes of flogging it, though, let’s just say that I get why Nissan doesn’t have a lot of these in the press fleet.
Under hard braking, the Nissan Versa’s back end got very light. On a few corners I’d taken flat in other cars wearing similar sticker prices, the Versa’s excessive body roll and utterly numb steering scared me into braking- and acceleration out of any corner with an incline had me convinced I’d broken the car (I hadn’t).
Aggressively driving the 2014 Nissan Versa Note through California’s mountain roads was, frankly, a terrible experience. If I’d just spent $16,000+ for the privilege to do so, I might have seriously considered driving the car into a canal.
To be clear, the 2014 Nissan Versa isn’t an awful, terrible car.
You won’t be left stranded on the side of the road if you buy a Nissan Versa. You won’t spend a bajillion dollars to maintain it, and it’ll swallow four adults and a spring break’s worth of soft luggage well enough. The AC will work, the car will start, and all will be right with the world if you buy a Versa. Heck, the long wheelbase and lazy CVT might even make it an enjoyable highway cruiser … but if what you really want is a tossable playmate that will bring a smile to your face every time you start to feel like the only reason you’re not a Formula 1 WDC is that your dad never bought you a go kart, go get yourself a Chevy Sonic Turbo or a Mitsubishi Mirage.
The Nissan Versa is probably better than both of those cars- but your inner child will hate you for buying it. Here’s hoping the SR version- once that car becomes available- is more fun.