|✓ Great fuel economy||☓ Sluggish performance w/ CVT|
|✓ More standard safety tech||☓ Choppy ride|
|✓ Spacious, substantial trunk|
As a car enthusiast, I naturally look forward to driving sharp-looking, quick and interesting cars. From the exotic to the ridiculous to the just all-around good, it’s always an exciting week when we get something that stirs the blood in the fleet. On paper, the 2020 Nissan Versa is the exact opposite of all that. As cars go, the older versions were about as exciting as your yearly physical. Driving one is never really something you want to do, but sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. After all, it was for a time the cheapest new car in America you could buy. It just came with the territory buying an economy car that you weren’t in for a pleasant experience.
Happily, the 2020 Nissan Versa wound up proving me wrong. For just under $22,000, it’s a genuinely good little car. And trust me, the one you want costs much less than that.
Out of the Versa’s comfort zone
The 2020 Nissan Versa is a car aimed at the urban lifestyle. It has a tiny 1.6-liter engine, and most trims come with a leisurely CVT. It’s meant to handle the city beat as smoothly and efficiently as possible. To my mind, then, driving it around a city wasn’t going to really expose this car’s weaknesses. To do that, I decided to take the Versa far out of its comfort zone — onto the Interstates and into the rural wilds of northeastern Colorado.
Merging onto the highway is where the 2020 Nissan Versa expectedly showed one of its shortcomings: power. Again, it is a city-minded car, so you can’t expect much oomph from its 1.6-liter engine. The Versa does manage 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, which is a substantial improvement on the model it replaces. Mind you, the old Versa eked out 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft, also from a 1.6-liter unit. Power is better than before, but it still falls short of the 130 horsepower Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent. The Versa does beat the 106 horsepower Toyota Yaris and 98 horsepower Chevy Spark , however.
Dynamically, the 2020 Nissan Versa offers adequate handling with its MacPherson strut setup in front and torsion beam suspension in the rear. The short wheelbase and basic suspension make for a choppy ride, especially on anything short of glass-smooth roads. The surprisingly large 17-inch wheels on this SR model don’t help that choppiness either, thanks to the relatively low-profile tires.
Although you sacrifice some features, the five-speed manual would help make Nissan’s small car more fun to toss around. It’s unlikely you’ll find a base S with a manual unless you specifically order it, however, which leaves you stuck with the, ahem, uninspired performance of the CVT.
Where the 2020 Nissan Versa shines
On my 300-mile road trip, I eventually found myself outside Fort Morgan, Colorado. As far as interesting things to see goes, its a far cry from the booming cityscape of Denver. That said, I did learn quite a bit about the new Versa along the way. While its CVT-driven performance leaves much to be desired (no surprise, as it’s meant more for fuel economy), the technology, comfort and efficiency on tap did more than enough to compensate. The old models looked dated and felt cheap, but living with this new one should be a much more pleasant affair.
Despite its choppy ride, the 2020 Nissan Versa felt solidly put together. There were no rattles, nasty clunks or squeaks you may have expected from economy cars of yesteryear. The car’s seats are also fantastically comfortable, and I never felt achy or fatigued, even after several hours behind the wheel. I’m six feet tall, and the Versa’s cabin never felt terribly cramped.
The raked windshield made the car feel much more spacious, although that decision does impact visibility, as it was tougher to see with the A-pillar in the way. Nissan moved the Versa’s side mirrors down onto the doors and added a quarter window to try and address that, but the Versa’s sportier design does hurt overall visibility.
The sheer list of technology available in the 2020 Nissan Versa is where it stands well above its competition. All models come standard with Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes:
- Automatic Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Detection
- Rear Automatic Braking
- Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
- Lane Departure Warning
- Blind Spot Warning (SV and SR)
- High Beam Assist
If you opt for the SR model, you can also get Nissan’s Intelligent Cruise Control for another $300 as part of the Convenience Package, which also adds heated front seats. Another $690 adds colored footwell lighting and exterior ground lighting. It’s not strictly necessary, but the fact that you can get those features in a car like this is a nice, luxurious touch in an otherwise economy-minded car.
A 7.0-inch infotainment display comes standard across the range. Although, if you want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, you will have to go for the SV or SR trims. However, the base S still supports Bluetooth streaming, so you can get by sticking with the base model. A $300 factory-installed center armrest adds a little more practicality and even has coin storage, which is a thoughtful touch.
Outstanding fuel economy
One of the benefits of having that CVT, of course, is fuel economy. Even on paper, the 2020 Nissan Versa should manage 32 City / 40 Highway / 35 Combined mpg. Opt for the base S with a five-speed manual, and that drops by a 5 mpg.
According to the car’s trip computer, though, I managed over 42 mpg in mostly highway driving conditions. Things were more strange just looking at the electronic fuel gauge. Over the course of a 300-mile trip around Boulder, Colorado out to the northeastern Colorado plains and back, I only used half the Versa’s tank of fuel. That stretches well beyond the car’s 378 mile EPA projected range, as the trip computer said I still had 195 miles to empty. With the Versa’s 10.8 gallon fuel tank, that equates to nearly 50 mpg. That’s a remarkable result, although I should mention this was not an official mpg loop test, so that isn’t a verified result.
Buy, Lease, Rent or Forget?
To bring back a TFL staple of “buy it, lease it, rent it, or forget it,” I pull no punches in saying where I’d put the old Versa. I did actually rent one on a trip some years back, and was all too happy to turn it back over when I finished with it.
The 2020 Nissan Versa is a completely different story, however. It’s a sensible buy, even at it’s most expensive. This SR model starts at $19,135 including destination. Even if you add all the options like the Convenience Package, center arm rest, floor mats, lighting, and so on (and you really don’t need to), it’s still under $22,000 fully-loaded.
Even with its performance drawbacks, I’d still recommend looking at the 2020 Nissan Versa, particularly as a first car. It’s a comfortable, solidly built car with a wide range of technology and an efficient powertrain, if not dynamically a particularly engaging one. It’s even relatively practical, with a respectable cargo capacity of 14.7 cubic feet in its trunk.
Even the base S model with a manual transmission offers the tech you need to make for a livable daily driver. It’s not the cheapest car in America, but it’s still close at $15,625. What’s more, it’s solid proof that evolution and refinement works, and that even entry-level economy cars don’t have to suck anymore.
Check out Tommy’s impressions on the 2020 Nissan Versa below: