It’s longer and wider, but less spacious?
ManyNissan Versaowners don’t care about cars. They look at its affordable starting price, sit in its spacious interior, and ask where to sign the paperwork. A popular car for ride-hail drivers and rental agencies, the Versa is known for being cheap and providing decent mileage. But apart from the last-gen Versa’s value, there was nothing really interesting about it. The design wasn’t compelling, and it lacked the technology that competitors offered. But that’s changing with the2020 Nissan Versa, which is getting lower, wider, and longer, with better looks and safety technologies that will keep it up to date with its competition.
The biggest change is styling. The Versa finally ditched its quirky look for a much more convincing and contemporary appearance. Although the platform is still the same as the outgoing Versa, designers made the 2020 model 2.3 inches lower, 1.8 wider, and 1.6 inches longer. With the addition ofNissan‘s Vmotion grille and signature headlights, the updated Versa gets new taillights and a C-pillar borrowed from the Maxima and Altima. Depending on the trim you choose (S, SV, and SR) you’ll get a slightly different look. The 2020 Versa S rolls on 15-inch steelies to the SV’s 16-inch alloys, but both get the same halogen headlights. The SR ups the game with LEDs, 17-inch alloy wheels, black mirror caps, and a darker grille.
The 2020 Versa’s interior also received a welcome upgrade. SV and SR models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a new dash brings character to the interior. The dash on the SR is party upholstered in leatherette, and SV models can get it in a different color. These trims also get a 7.0-inch screen on the instrument panel, bringing more tech to the interior. S trims also get a 7.0-inch display, but it doesn’t have the Nissan Connect infotainment system, nor is it compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But regardless of the version you choose, all of them come with three USB ports, push-start button, and Bluetooth for calls and audio streaming. The 2020 Versa continues to be spacious, but the rear seats actually lost some legroom compared to the outgoing model. Although front passengers gained 2.7 inches of legroom, those in the back lost 6.0 inches—now getting 31.0 inches in total. This is a huge change, as theHyundai Accent,Kia Rio, andToyota Yarisall have more than 33.3 inches of rear seat legroom. The back seat doesn’t feel cramped, but it doesn’t feel as cavernous as before.
All 2020 Nissan Versas will continue to be powered by the same 1.6-liter engine from the outgoing model, except this time it produces a little more power—122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed manual continues to be the standard transmission for the S grade, while the SV and SR trims only come with a CVT. You can still get the CVT on the S trim, but you’ll pay $1,670 for it—a lot, but that’s cheaper than the cost of adding a CVT on the 2019 model.
Like the outgoing model, the new 2020 Versa isn’t inspiring to drive; it still feels underpowered and slow. Step on the gas, and you’ll hear the transmission complain, as it whines to get its job done. When we merged onto Nashville’s highways, the Versa tested our patience as it took its time to gain speed; even when we floored it, the transmission wasn’t eager to react. Nissan says that it updated the powertrain to be quicker to respond, but we didn’t notice these changes during our drive. Once you get to a cruising speed, the ride is decent—the suspension keeps the body composed on the corners and the cabin is quiet for a subcompact sedan. The steering actually feels responsive and is on par with the rest of the segment.
When I started driving the Versa on the streets of downtown Nashville, I was hoping to get a similar experience to what the Kicks offers. The Kicks, which is based on the Versa, feels agile despite having only 122 hp; it has the energy and excitement you wouldn’t expect of an entry-level crossover. But the Versa doesn’t feel the same way.
The good news, however, is that the 2020 Versa adds new safety tech. All trims get standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, and lane departure warning. SV and SR trims add blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Cruise control is also standard on all three trims, but just like the Kicks, there’s no adaptive cruise control available. Another nice feature that every Versa gets is auto on/off headlights and high-beam assist—something we only saw on premium cars until recently.
Buying a small car usually means high fuel economy, and the Versa continues to deliver on that. For the 2020 model year, the Versa gets 32/40 mpg city/highway for the CVT, while the manual gets 27/35 mpg. That’s an increase of 1 mpg for CVT models, but the manual loses 1 mpg on the highway compared to last year’s model.
Overall, the Versa continues to deliver on the basics, except it will now do it with more style, tech, and standard equipment than before. But those who walk into the Nissan dealer will find a decent increase on its pricing to account for these upgrades. With the 2020 Nissan Versa starting at $15,625 for the S with the five-speed manual and reaching $19,135 for the SR, the Versa isn’t as cheap as it was last year. That’s also how the entry-level sedan market is today, and with the Versa facing steep competition fromToyota,Hyundai, andKia, it will be interesting to see how it fares after it arrives in dealerships in late August.