What It Is
A compact hatchback for those on a tight budget.
The Versa Note offers a surprisingly roomy back seat.
Finding a comfortable driving position is virtually impossible.
For $17,605, there are better options out there.
I do a lot of traveling over the weekends, so I like it when the cars I drive are able to accommodate all the odds and ends I need to bring with me. Hatchbacks will theoretically provide you with more cargo space than a typical compact sedan, and when I heard I was taking the 2014 Nissan Versa Note for the weekend. I thought to myself, "Cool, a car that will actually fit my dog."
Unfortunately, that didn't prove to be true. As a newer model in the segment, we were surprised with the long list of things we disliked about the Versa Note. We would have expected Nissan to build on the strengths and work out the weaknesses of the Versa sedan, as well as those from its competitors. In the compact segment, the Nissan Versa sedan is one of the top vehicles, and now with a hatch variant, Nissan may keep its spot at the top, but not if the Versa Note trips up its customers. Read on to see what we thought of the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV.
What We DroveOur 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV, powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, came with a price tag of $15,990 before the added features, including the convenience package ($540) that added a 4.3-inch infotainment display, satellite radio, backup camera, a rear seat armrest with cup holders, and an adjustable floor, carpeted floor mats and cargo mat ($175), and a rear cargo cover ($90). Slap on the $810 destination charge, and our test vehicle topped out at $17,605.
Standard features included a six-way adjustable driver's seat with armrest, four-way adjustable passenger seat, remote entry, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, chrome interior accents, and a silver trim around the radio and shifter. Safety features included driver and front passenger airbags, side-impact and curtain airbags, anti-lock braking system, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist.
The CommuteAs a daily driver, the Versa Note may make sense as it offers more room for passengers than you would expect, and it's pretty fuel efficient. But that's where the sense stops. The first thing that grabs your attention while driving is the steering. It's nervous, and takes a second for it to figure out where you want the vehicle to go. Added to that, you constantly have to work to keep the vehicle in a straight line, as the slightest shift will send it into a different direction.
For such a new car--and an expensive one for its class--the Nissan Versa Note doesn't do anything great. While it does offer Bluetooth, there's no way to connect your phone through the infotainment system. You have to go through the voice commands, but if the vehicle is in motion, you can just forget about that. The system won't let you do anything while the vehicle is in motion. When switching between satellite radio and standard AM/FM channels, it's like a different set of speakers is being used. While the regular radio comes through loud and clear, when you switch to satellite radio, you get the sense that half the speakers have been turned off. Good luck trying to switch back, thanks to the glare on the infotainment display, you'd be lucky if you hit the right button.
Getting up to cruising speeds was difficult, as the Versa Note lacks a lot of power, but it maintained speeds well. However, that all changed when hills were involved. You could be going down the freeway at 70 mph, but as soon as you had to climb a hill, your speed dropped to the 50s almost instantly. Driving around on surface streets, though, proved to be easy and the Versa was quick around town. Road noise was a bit of an issue at highway speeds, and thanks to the issue with the speakers and the radio, it was hard to drown out.
The Grocery RunThe 2014 Nissan Versa Note sacrifices cargo room for the sake of rear legroom, but does provide some versatility. The bottom of the cargo area is adjustable, and creates a small, concealed compartment when needed. We were only able to fit the equivalent of nine grocery bags in that cramped rear cargo area, but as the seats fold down it makes it easier to accommodate bigger items. However, configuring everything can be difficult.
I was surprised by the amount of legroom in the Versa's backseat. Even with the front seats fully pushed back, there were inches and inches of room between my knees and the front seats. This was definitely a people-hauler, unlike the Honda Fit that was more suited to larger amounts of cargo room with a smaller backseat. The ride quality was overall decent, and the engine had decent power, although it struggled up hills or on a freeway entrance.
One of the main issues I had when taking the Versa Note out for a quick spin, either to the grocery store or just to get gas, was Bluetooth. After the phone would sync, I'd still have to use my phone when answering a call. And even then it was 50/50 if the sound would come through the car. The audio quality was grainy, making it hard for me to hear the person on the other end of the phone, and they could barely make out what I was saying. Added to that, the voice commands were dreadful.
When trying to call out via Bluetooth, I hit the voice command button and followed the instructions for voice dialing. It couldn't understand the word "mom," and prompted me to say "help." It couldn't understand that, either. Finally, I got to the point where I just said the phone number-as that was another option-and it couldn't pick that up. By the end of day one in the Nissan Versa Note I had turn off Bluetooth and just use Siri and speaker phone when dialing and answering my phone.
The interior was what you would expect on a car in the sub-compact class, but not one that was priced over $17,000. There were cheap hard plastics that surrounded the entire cabin, which looked to be a step down from even the cheapest cars. The supposed leather-wrapped steering wheel didn't feel or look like leather, but just a softer plastic material. The entire cabin wasn't thought out too well, leaving much to be desired. LATCH points were easily accessible, and it was easy for all passengers to enter and exit the vehicle without difficulty.
The Weekend FunIt was hard not to compare our Nissan Versa Note to the Honda Fit. Both cars are so similar, but if you're looking to haul more people than cargo, the Versa is the better bet. But unlike the Fit, there's nothing about the 2014 Versa Note that makes it fun, or even just decent, to drive. Right when you sit down to adjust the seating position to your liking, you're immediately disappointed.
There isn't a telescoping steering wheel. That may sound like an odd gripe to throw at a budget car, but thanks to how the seat is positioned, it doesn't matter how low you make the seat or how close to the wheel you bring it: it's too uncomfortable. Before you can reach the steering wheel with your hands, your knees will be hitting the steering wheel column. The driving position ends up being straining on your neck and shoulders, with the possibility of bruised knees from hitting the column. Not one member on our staff could adjust the seat just so to make it comfortable.
On top of the bad seat configuration, it was hard to load up the weekend necessities in the limited rear cargo area. Because there is so much room in the back seat, it eats into the cargo room, where my average-sized laundry basket barely fit. And the small vacuum I needed to bring with me? It had to go in the rear seats as there just wasn't enough room for much more than my laundry basket and a Trader Joe's paper bag filled with food. Trying to rearrange the back seat to accommodate my dog was a hassle that I didn't want to deal with, as the seats didn't fold flat into the floor. I was able to raise the floor of the cargo area to match the seatbacks, but it didn't seem sturdy enough for a 70 pound dog to sleep on.
At the end of my trip, it was time to fill up the Versa Note, which was pointed out to me by a flashing symbol next to the speedometer. Although it was helpful in the sense that it showed how much miles you had before you were empty, it constantly flashed, distracting you from the road. And when that number dipped below 25 miles, it zeroed out and flashed dashes. If this feature didn't flash, didn't distract the driver, it would be handy.
SummaryIf you're looking for a car that can seat five passengers comfortably that won't break your bank to buy, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note may be the car for you. But if you're looking for something that is comfortable and offers great value for the price, you'll be sorely disappointed. For such a new vehicle, there are too many things wrong with the Versa Note. Looking at every other car in the segment, each one offers so much more, and won't cost you nearly as much. The best alternative to this vehicle is the Honda Fit. That car was fun to drive, offered way more cargo room, and offered more features for the price. The interior was better designed and easier to navigate. The Versa Note may be a good vehicle for those who don't care about what they're driving as long as it can get them from point A to B, but it's not good for much else.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $17,605
EPA City: 31
EPA Highway: 40
EPA Combined: 35
Cargo Space: 9 grocery bags Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Not Applicable
Estimated Combined Range: 378 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A
Notebook Quotes"At $14,500, the model we drove would be a fair, competitive player. But as is, I'd want to at least hop in competing vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, Ford, and others."-Matthew Askari, Associate Editor
"It's like the finest buttercream frosting has been delicately and thoughtfully applied to a cake made of Play-Doh. Sure, it looks nice, and it won't kill you, but it's going to leave a terrible taste in your mouth."-Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"I didn't think the Versa Note was a bad value, but it was hardly a good one, either."-Jacob Brown, Online Editor