2023 Nissan Versa SR review: Baby bargain
No doubt Nissan would prefer that you refer to the base Versa S as the “least expensive” new car in America, rather than the “cheapest.” That’s all semantics, so here’s a fact: Base price is $15,830, and with $1095 shipping, which means you can get a new car for $16,925.
That’s assuming you want a five-speed manual transmission and that you can find one on a new-car lot. We searched several local dealers; all the Versa S models came equipped with the continuously variable automatic transmission ($1670). We had expand the radius of our search to 500 miles to locate seven Versa S models sporting a stick shift; all had carpeted floor mats ($170), so with shipping, the bottom line was $17,095. Not bad at all, though buying any car these days can involve “market adjustments” that add to the bottom line.
Affordable cars in 2023, like the Versa, come standard with many features that were optional not that long ago: A DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder, fuel-injected aluminum four-cylinder engine; air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, traction and stability control, antilock brakes, a 7-inch touchscreen display, a four-speaker AM/FM stereo, a rear-view monitor, lane-keeping assist, automatic front and rear braking, plenty of airbags, keyless entry, full wheel covers. For $17,095? We’d say that was a bargain, especially for a car with a NHTSA five-star safety rating. After all, according to Cox Automotive, the transaction price of a new vehicle in April was $48,275.
For the record, the other two cars that are under $20,000 include the Kia Rio LX and the Mitsubishi Mirage. The Rio costs $17,875 with shipping, and the Mirage is $17,340. Both are smaller and less powerful than the refreshed-for-2023 Versa, which is 177 inches long, with a width of 68.5 inches and a wheelbase of 103.1 inches. By comparison, the Sentra—essentially a direct competitor for the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and the next step up from the Versa—is 182.7 inches long, 71.5 inches wide, and has a wheelbase of 106.6 inches. At 15 cubic feet, the Versa actually has a bigger trunk.
Nissan didn’t send us a base Versa to test, instead sending a the top-of-the-line 2023 Versa SR. It looks fairly sporty. No manual here, but the CVT works well with the 122-horsepower engine and you can pull into expressway traffic without drama. Fuel mileage is quite good: an EPA-rated 32 mpg city, 40 mpg on the highway and 35 overall. We actually got 36.5 mpg in our testing, which was a mix of streets and highways. The CVT, by the way, gets far better mileage than the manual, which is rated at 30 mpg overall.
Inside, the SR had an 8-inch touch-screen color display with Sirius/XM radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Nissan Connect with a Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless phone charging. Instruments and controls are properly placed and easy to use. We especially liked the real-time tire pressure readout as you drive. Front seats, trimmed in charcoal and red fabric, are pretty comfortable but could use more padding. The steering wheel and shift-knob are leather-wrapped.
Rear seats are, surprisingly, large enough for two six-footers. The Versa is technically a five-passenger car, though, and that middle passenger had best be jockey-sized. Still, the EPA classifies it as a compact.
Outside, the Gray Sky Pearl paint—gray in one light, blue in another—is handsome but costs $395. It also had carpeted floor mats and a trunk mat ($270) and an $880 “electronics package” that I could have done without; it added a map pocket light, illuminated kick plates and an auto-dimming mirror with a universal remote. Base price on our car was $19,820, and with options and shipping, it cost $22,460.
Specs: 2023 Nissan Versa SR
• Price: $19,820 / $22,460 (base/as-tested)
• Powertrain: 1.6-liter four cylinder; continuously variable transmission
• Horsepower: 122
• Torque: 113
• Layout: Front-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger sedan
• EPA-Rated Fuel Economy: 32/40/35 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
• 0–60 mph: 9 seconds (est.)
• Competitors: Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage
The car gets no special suspension help for the SR model, just the independent struts with twin-tube shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar up front, and a torsion beam rear suspension with twin-tube shocks. The fact that the SR handles and rides as well as it does at this price point is a testament to its solid basic engineering. The SR does get 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/50-R17 Continental tires, which help looks—and handling, we’d wager—and are very quiet even on coarse pavement.
The overarching verdict on the Versa SR? This is as a real car, useable for a couple with a child or two. We noticed only three outward indications of cost cutting: drum brakes in the rear (they’re fine); an oddly placed prop rod (rather than struts) holding up a very heavy hood, and a plastic insert on the steering column covering up the spot where the key would go in the base Versa S (other models have push-button start located elsewhere). General construction quality appeared excellent.
The Versa SR is basic transportation that doesn’t feel like a penalty box, something I could appreciate on a daily basis. That surprises me as much as you.
2023 Nissan Versa SR
Highs: Supple ride and handling, many friendly features at a hugely compelling price point. Good mileage on regular gas. Huge trunk.
Lows: Slow. Front seats need more padding. Prop rod for hood is inconvenient. Rear seats are prohibitively tight for three.
Takeaway: A bargain in every sense of the word.