I didn’t say it was a desirable car, necessarily...

A while back I mentioned that my work purchased a couple of Versa Notes. I was less than charitable about them. I may have said to kill it with fire, can’t remember. Well, today I drove one of them for a few hours, so I have a little bit better perspective on them. (Note, I try to be reserved online about my employer so there won’t be specific details about them. Suffice it to say it’s a logistics company.)

First off, I need to say that it’s a perfectly adequate car. The people shopping these probably have limited options, and most new cars are reliable and pretty efficient. It will likely be trouble-free for at least a few years given proper maintenance, and while not luxurious by any stretch, even the cheapest ones I’ve seen have A/C, Bluetooth connectivity, audio controls on the steering wheel, and an AUX jack standard. Sure, it has manual locks and windows, but that’s not the end of the world.

Being in an industry where there is lots of turnover, not to mention a country where ability to drive a manual transmission-equipped vehicle is becoming scarce, we got the CVT. Lots of people hate CVTs here, but I’ve had the opportunity to drive my partner’s Juke AWD with the CVT and it isn’t bad in that application. It works well with the turbo. I think the problem is that when a CVT is paired with a low-power engine, its dynamic shortcomings become amplified.

The Versa Note is pretty slow with the CVT. It scoots around ok at low speeds, but acceleration is not what you’d want it to be. I’ve driven an older Versa with the geared auto and the 1.8, and it actually felt pretty lively. The Versa Note feels a bit like the life is being sucked out of it. You can still fling it around corners, but it does not have a sporty feel. The 1.6 just doesn’t have enough grunt, and it’s noisy at high revs. That would be ok, but the noise is not pleasant. It just drones. Acceleration starts out ok, but just runs out of steam.

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The driver’s seat is comfortable enough, though the upholstery is cheap and feels like it will wear quickly. It shows every bit of dust and dirt, too. Driving position is ok, but the knee bolster was in my way a lot. Controls are logical and easy to use. The steering was good, I thought it was just the right bit of heaviness.

The amount of legroom in the back seat is astonishing. Seriously, with the front seat in a realistic position it still almost felt like Town Car-level space. I’m genuinely impressed. And it doesn’t impact the trunk space much, either. With the seats folded, you can fit a lot of stuff in it. Shame that the seats don’t tumble forward into the huge legroom space, it could have been downright cavernous then.

My biggest issue with the car remains the terrible quality of materials and assembly. Every surface feels cheap and brittle. Things like the rear seatback release and interior door handles are so flimsy that they feel like they will be broken after 10k miles. Hard plastics abound, cheap-feeling carpet and upholstery, the hairshirt headliner, on and on. When they were delivered, the hood on one of them would not open correctly. I had to pry it open with my fingers. If you get into a Versa or Versa Note first and then drive most of its competition, you’ll notice the difference for sure. For God’s sake, my Fiat has better build quality and fit and finish.

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So, how do I feel about it now? I don’t totally hate it anymore. If I really had to suck it up and drive one, I could probably live with it. I’d no doubt prefer the manual, though I probably shouldn’t assume that without trying it first. The problem for the Nissan Versa Note is that nearly every other car in its class is a better choice. I’d personally much rather have a Sonic, Accent, Fiesta, or even a Rio.