Quick Drive: 2010 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL Hatchback

By Winding Road Staff

March 30, 2010

I am a big fan of small, plucky hatchbacks. Cars like our Nissan Versa 1.8 SL, are generally chuckable and zippy, which is an excellent recipe for a fun-to-drive car. Unfortunately, our Versa was fitted with an infernal continuously variable transmission.

Wide-open throttle is greeted with a harsh, high-pitched engine note, reminiscent to the sound a car makes before a piston is forcefully ejected through the hood. Although WOT was off limits, I refused to let this spoil my time with the Versa.

The steering sits on the numb side of the spectrum, but is in no way intolerable. Likewise, the suspension is communicative in the bends, and only slightly crashy over the bumps. Zipping around freeway ramps is a blast, as the Versa is always very clear about what is going on between it and the road. Push too hard, and understeer comes on in a very progressive manner and is easily cured by easing up on the throttle. The Versa really is a lot of fun to play with in the curves. Unfortunately, those curves will straighten out, and you will be greeted by a transmission that is in no way joyous or fun.

I realize this is not an enthusiast’s car. It can still be fun though, just not with the CVT.

−Brandon Turkus, Test Fleet Manager

 

I really like the 2010 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL. I think that it has plenty of power, plenty of room (especially as a hatchback), and the interior is totally livable. This instance of a CVT is one of the less obtrusive setups I’ve experienced. Yes, it can still get buzzy when getting on the highway, but for the most part, I didn’t find myself cursing it as I usually would have when driving around town.

Personally, I prefer the 1.6 Base to the $18,000 setup we had in the office this time around. While the manual transmission doesn’t feel all that great to shift, it’s still a manual, and is more fun to drive enthusiastically. But most of all, the base Versa, at under $10,000, is an awesome value. The slightly smaller engine isn’t much of a drawback. The hatch in the back is the only thing I would really miss. Even without it, tooling about in a sub-$10K car, and actually enjoying it, is pretty magical.

For $18K, though, get a Honda Fit Sport.

−John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor


I understand why Nissan needs to offer the CVT transmission in its Versa—I really do. Buyers of cars at this low end of the market are often primarily concerned with fuel economy and CVT transmissions, for all of their general horribleness to a driver’s soul, are efficient. That fact hurts this car, which is mostly really entertaining to toss around the urban drive-spaces of the world, but far less so without a manual trans.

Last year we test-drove the base (1.6-liter engine versus the “standard” 1.8-liter) Versa sedan, found it to be rather charming, but we did bitch a little about the very crude five-speed manual. I take it all back (sort of). Crude or not, the stick shift changes this car from boring to nippy.

−Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief

 

Pros

  • Its good if you stay below the SL trim
  • Plucky suspension
  • Cavernous interior

Cons

  • CVT may steal your soul
  • Engine noise is unpleasant at wide-open throttle
  • A good car, but the competition is better