First Drive Review: 2020 Nissan Versa is a budget-friendly commuter car

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

The redesigned Nissan Versa has come a long way since it's last generation.

The 2020 Nissan Versa isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off as a speedster or wow you with finery. What this new generation Versa needs to do, for its typical buyer, is deliver a lot of bang for the buck housed inside an attractive enough package. It does that and more.

The Versa is a subcompact car that fits in Nissan’s lineup at the bottom, sitting below the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima on the cars side of the aisle. The last-generation Versa came in both a sedan and hatchback but the 2020 does not. Nissan is intending for the subcompact Kicks SUV to pick up that slack.

The 2020 Versa comes in S, SV, and SR trim levels. Its pricing structure is designed to keep it among the lowest cost cars out there, but Nissan didn’t prioritize the Versa being the cheapest. Instead, the automaker focused on delivering a vehicle for the typical buyer who needs a solid daily driver.

2020 Nissan Versa

The Versa has many Nissan design hallmarks you’ll see in other models in the automaker’s lineup.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

For the 2020 model year, Nissan has completely redesigned the Versa inside and out, giving it many of the characteristics you’ll see on the Altima including a V-motion grille front and center, boomerang-shaped headlamps, and a floating roof. The new Versa is lower, wider, and longer than the outgoing generation.

The Versa’s new body is significantly more ridged than the outgoing model’s. Not only does this help with noise, vibration, and harshness reductions, it makes the vehicle more stable on the road when it encounters crosswinds. The engineering team has also improved the steering shaft’s rigidity resulting in a more responsive behind the wheel experience.

Under the Versa’s hood is the third generation of the company’s 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. That’s the same size power plant as is in the Kicks, only one generation newer. It achieves 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, a 12 and seven percent upgrade over the last generation, respectively.

2020 Nissan Versa

A five-speed manual transmission is standard but all other variants come with a continuously variable transmission.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In its base model, the Versa’s engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission, one of the few remaining vehicles on dealer lots with one. All other variants come with a continuously variable transmission.

While the Versa is not fast by any means, it’s competent in the city and can hold its own at highway speeds. Where the small car struggles the most is when going uphill at low speed. For daily driving situations in most of America, the Versa is competent.

Climbing inside the Versa, it’s immediately apparent that this model sits at the lower end of Nissan’s lineup. However, especially in the top SR trim, the appointments are nicer than what you’ll find in other small cars. The Versa has good fit and finish.

The list of standard features in the 2020 Versa is long and includes a 7-inch infotainment touch screen, Bluetooth, a 12-volt power outlet, three USB ports, Siri Eyes Free, an AM/FM radio, one-touch up/down driver’s window, front door bottle holders, cruise control, keyless entry, push-button start, and a rearview camera.

2020 Nissan Versa

The Nissan Versa delivers a lot of bang for the buck, including a standard 7-inch infotainment screen.Photo courtesy of Nisan North America

Buyers

can upgrade to a six-speaker audio system, an advanced 7-inch infotainment screen, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite radio. SR models also get automatic climate control, Nissan Intelligent Key with remote start, and adaptive cruise control.

The base model Versa comes with cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, high beam assist, a rearview camera, rear automatic braking, and hill start assist. Higher grades build on that also delivering Intelligent Driver Alertness, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring.

Nissan sells the 2020 Versa in three grades: S, SV, and SR. It starts at $14,730, a nearly $2,500 jump from the outgoing model. With the SV and SR grades coming in at $17,640 and $18,240, respectively, it’s easy to see the value proposition in the new Versa.

The 2020 Nissan Versa is on sale now at dealer lots nationwide.

Click here to see a slideshow featuring all the angles of the 2020 Nissan Versa.

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