Nissan’s new Versa Note scores in compact market

Nissan's new Versa Note scores in compact market

Just as musical tastes run the gamut, so too do automotive needs. Some buy for wants, others buy for needs – some for safety, others for technology, others for driving pleasure, and some for sheer fuel economy.

With the Versa Note, Nissan would like to play you a tune that’s heavy on the legato, while having only a pianissimo effect on your wallet. The question is: in the cutthroat small-car market, is the Note’s performance emphatic enough to be heard?

DESIGN

There’s not much a designer can do with a footprint this small, unless some element of retro-kitsch is what’s being aimed for. Rather than making their hatchback resemble the Datsun B210, Nissan’s gone for a fresh modern take that’s reserved. Given how well the old Versa hatchback has aged (it hit the streets more than seven years ago now), that’s a good thing long-term.

Standard cars come with 15-inch alloy wheels, but there’s a choice of top trims with 16-inch alloys. This week’s tester was the SR model, and had nicely machinefinished darkpainted rims shod with lowrolling-resistance tires.

The SR package is approximately the same as the old Sport package Nissan used to sell on its Versa, and includes unique front and rear fascias, side skirts, darklook headlights and fog-lights, and a rear spoiler. Judging by the album cover, this is potentially a sporty little number.

ENVIRONMENT

However, pulling the vinyl out of the sleeve, so to speak, reveals the Note’s true nature. As soon as you open the door, you can tell that this car is designed for easy listenin’, with a roomy, comfortable cabin.

Some demerits must be handed out for the way Nissan has used quite a lot of hard plastic in this interior, especially compared to how well the old Versa stacked up against its rivals. There are some nice touches, like twin gloveboxes, a leatherwrapped, threespoke steering wheel, and smart looking chrome door handles, but the lack of soft door armrests is a bit disappointing. Yes, this is an entry level car, but the old car hid its economy roots better than the new one does.

PERFORMANCE

How much you’ll enjoy driving the Note will very much depend upon how you intend to drive it. To come back to our musical metaphors, you’d have a heck of time trying to mosh to Vivaldi.

Powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder making a very modest 109 horsepower and 107 foot-pounds of torque, the Note is available with either a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission. The CVT is the only offering on SR models.

FEATURES

The Note comes very well equipped at even low levels, with a backup camera, Bluetooth handsfree and streaming audio, and a nice-looking colour display screen on mid-range models. There’s also the Nissan Connect system that allows you to access apps through your smartphone – fiddle as I might, I couldn’t get this to work with my iPhone.

The SL model is the queen of the range, with a 360-degree camera, pushbutton ignition and heated seats. SV models can be equipped with everything you need for prices in the midteens, and represent the best value in the Note line.

GREEN LIGHT

Spacious interior; comfortable ride; excellent fuel-economy.

STOP SIGN

Modest acceleration; hard plastics in interior; sporty looks don’t match the drive.

BOTTOM LINE

Hits all the high notes if you’re looking for a compact cruiser.