2015 Honda Fit EX-L Navi vs. the 2015 Nissan Versa SV Sedan:
Battle of the budget-conscious babies.
This week: 2015 Nissan Versa SV Sedan.
Price: $16,805 (which includes $285 for an auto-dimming rearview mirror and $180 for carpeted trunk).
Marketer's pitch: "The big little car."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "roomy interior with an adult-friendly backseat; low base price; comfortable ride; many available convenience features; large trunk; high fuel economy with CVT" but not the "bland performance and driving dynamics; noisy engine; no telescoping steering wheel."
Reality: Not too bad, for a roller skate.
The bones, they are bare: The first thing I noticed about the 2015 Nissan Versa that the fleet folks parked on my street was how spartan it was. A little sedan with a trunk, it's definitely the plainest of the plain, no matter how much the screaming royal blue paint tried to make me think otherwise.
But for a buyer overwhelmed by the gadgets in today's cars, the Versa might offer a welcome respite.
A new look refreshes the Versa for 2015, and some cabin upgrades are intended to make it feel a little pricier.
Note that for $16,000, this was the top-of-the-line Versa I drove; I assume in the $11,999 base model there may not even be bones to leave bare.
Surely, you have no junk: I guess in this price range, it's assumed that you have no money for extras, because there is no console adorning the center pod. Just cup "holders" with no grip, holding your coffee in place simply through good fortune, I suppose.
Golf cart: As continuously variable transmissions have improved over the last few years, some modern cars have begun to be well-served by a CVT. The Versa, unfortunately, is not one of those models. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder just seemed to rev all over the place, and that revving rarely translated into actual movement. It reminded me of a Plymouth Reliant I used to drive 20 years ago.
On the road: But then we, the Versa and I, headed out on the highway. And it wasn't so bad. I kept up with traffic thanks to the 109 horses under the hood. It gets up to speed rather quickly. The handling felt fine.
The combination of engine and CVT left the Versa a little uneven on some hills, mostly at one-half to three-quarters acceleration, a situation most Pennsylvanians would have experienced.
Rough roads: The Versa also did fairly well over the bumps - and because the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat has a Kia Soul, I know from bumps. The only real downside to the Versa's ride was a migraine-inducing thud thud that left me wishing for the Soul's bouncy quietude.
Play some tunes: Still, the Versa kept its composure on bumps better than big brother Rogue, which bounced so hard that my CDs would skip on certain under-construction highways. All my songs played through without a jolt in the Versa.
In contrast to last week's Honda Fit, the controls are extremely simple. Buttons change from CD to radio (what? You thought there might be Sirius XM?) to USB. And the buttons are bigger than the Rogue's - no worries about hitting tiny controls at just the right spot while flying at 70 m.p.h.
Cheap seats: I could tell that these seats were pretty soft and low-budget from a glance. The recliner control is awkwardly located, and too much lumbar left me wishing for more choices. Short seat bottoms kept my legs uncomfortable, and would be especially troublesome for those six feet and taller.
Friends and stuff: Despite the front-seat complaints, rear legroom is actually fairly generous, something for which Nissan makes much ado on its website.
For something more comparable to the versatile Fit hatchback, though, a Versa Note offers the extra storage.
Keeping warm or cool: Heating and cooling are maintained through simple dials, although the fan speed is hard to read. Round vents on the corners direct the flow easily, while the center squares aren't so easy.
Lining it up: The steering wheel tilts, but does not telescope, which also added to the seating position's lack of versatility.
Fuel economy: 36.8 m.p.g., almost as good as the Fit.
Where it's built: Aguas, Mexico.
How it's built: Consumer Reports gives the Versa an average reliability prediction.
In the end: I'd love to try a Nissan with a stick, because the CVT does the Versa a disservice in the comparison. The budget pricing alone may make the Versa worth a look. But just comparing the two, I'd spring for the Fit.