It’s no surprise that Nissan brought the Versa back to Canada. After the 5-door Versa Note packed and left with the subcompact Micra, Nissan needed to fill the blank in the entry-level page of its catalogue – and it did it with something other than an SUV. Because Nissan seems to keep invested in sedans to do just that – fill voids in the market where others have left.
With the Altima sitting on a brand-new platform and the new Sentra launched just last year, the world is looking at a company that is struggling, but still leaving no stones unturned and snatching opportunities as they arise.
Canadian Versa 4-door pricing: let’s start with the financials
Nissan takes the term “entry level” seriously, hitting the market with a very decently loaded Versa S equipped with a 5-speed manual gearbox for $16,498. It comes with a few advanced safety systems like Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, High Beam Assist, Rear Automatic Braking and Lane Departure Warning, as well as Nissan’s Zero Gravity Seats. The company will curiously only grant you the privilege of having a 60/40 rear seat if you opt for the CVT, which comes with a $1,500 surcharge.
Need heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? You’ll have to jump to the SV trim ($19,498). The range-topping SR trim brings interior finishings and a bit more tech for $20,998 – and this is the model we tested.
As far as comfort goes, the Versa’s Zero Gravity seats are no gimmick – they genuinely provide a superior level of comfort. The fit and finish of the cabin is coherent with what you will find in a value-oriented car, with plastics on the base model and accent stitching on the higher grade. Although the rear passengers won’t get the magic NASA seats, they’ll benefit from decent head-and legroom.
Performance and handling: a pretty cool drive with minor hiccups
First off, Nissan makes the Versa easy to like with a well-balanced chassis, a surprisingly precise steering feel – with decent feedback at low speeds as well as very stable and tolerant at high speeds on the highway. The thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel adds to the experience, providing a perceptible feeling of control. Moreover, it has an urban-ready radius for that quick U-turn (as your phone yells “recalculating”). The suspension does a good job – for a sub 20K compact sedan – at keeping passengers comfortable and taming road imperfections.
As far as ponies go, the 2021 Nissan Versa supplies enough with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine that churns out 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. But the response is handicapped by Nissan’s party-pooping continuously variable transmission. The good ol’ 5-speed stick-shift transmission would probably take better advantage of the cavalry, but impact on the fuel consumption is noticeable on paper, with 7.7 L/100 km (combined highway/city) versus 6.7 L/100 km for the CVT.
We found that the somewhat successful engine/CVT pairing was much better with the Altima.
Why not buy a Nissan Kicks?
Why not? More space, similar price range, higher driving position? Well, first off, the Versa looks a heck of a lot better than the Kicks, and second, the Versa is just more comfortable. I’m not talking about the standard Zero Gravity seats, but the overall ride is much more soothing than with the Kicks, which will tend to Kick you around on rough pavement. So if you don’t need the space or the height, the Versa is a choice to consider for the same dollar.
The 2021 Nissan Versa does fill a void in Nissan’s lineup. And it also has a chance in a segment that is making it easy for it at the moment; everybody is jumping ship. But it does it with some style and substance. It is far from being sporty, but if you want a small car with some character at a good price, it should be added to your shopping list.