The front-wheel-drive Versa is offered in 4-door hatchback and 5-door sedan body styles; the sedan is offered either with 1.6- or 1.8-liter engine variants, while the hatch is only available in 1.8-liter form.
A 107-hp, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is included on those basic 1.6 models, but the rest of the lineup comes with a 122-hp, 1.8-liter four. Both engines have a modern aluminum-block, double-overhead-cam design. Models with the 1.6-liter engine get a standard 5-speed manual gearbox and a 4-speed automatic is available. The 1.8-liter models come with a standard 6-speed manual and offer optional 4-speed and CVT transmissions.
Among all these powertrain combinations, the 1.8-liter feels sprightly with the 6-speed manual and confident with either of the automatic options. The 1.6-liter feels a bit slower with the 4-speed automatic, but is capable of achieving 26 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Opt for the 1.8-liter and CVT for the highest mileage, at 28 mpg city, 34 highway.
The Versa has a rather conventional suspension layout for a small car with struts in front, a torsion-beam setup in back and stabilizer bars. Ride quality is smooth and well-damped, with a more settled, secure feel overall than many other small cars and the electric power steering feels precise and confidence-inspiring. The standard braking system includes discs in front and drums in back and anti-lock brakes are standard on all but the 1.6 Base model, on which they are a $250 option.
Passive safety features are well-represented in the Versa; a full roster of airbags comes standard and includes front-seat chest-protecting side airbags as well as head-protecting side-curtain bags for front and rear outboard occupants. Active headrests are also included in front. However electronic stability control is only standard on the 1.8 SL model.
Whether you choose the sedan or hatchback, the Versa is surprisingly spacious inside for such a small vehicle; in particular, the back seat is unusual in that it can comfortably accommodate two adults, even with enough headroom for taller passengers--or three kids across in back. Hatchback models include a 60/40-split folding back seat that can accommodate larger cargo items.
Base 1.6 Sedans have very simple appointments and as they're among the lowest-priced vehicles on the market, feature offerings are quite slim. 1.8 S are the least expensive models with the larger engine and include a few more features such as upgraded upholstery, chrome trim and a 120-watt CD sound system with aux input. Then 1.8 SL models step up to alloy wheels, a front armrest and an iPod interface. Top options are grouped into packages-- most noteworthy packages include a Convenience Package that includes an Intelligent Key system, Bluetooth hands-free interface and leather trim and a Navigation/Satellite Package, which adds an in-dash navigation system and Satellite Radio capability. Anti-lock brakes, stability control and a moonroof round out the option list.