Looking for a practical, inexpensive and high fuel mileage vehicle can be a daunting task. Usually, the best fuel economy cars are either too small, or too expensive with a hybrid or electric-drive. That’s why the 4-door compact and subcompact vehicle categories have gained great attention lately due to its ability to strike the balance between all the various aforementioned purchasing criteria sought by the consumer. Entry-level cars like the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris all crowd the marketplace with a very respectable combined fuel economy well into 30 mpg range, and a starting price around $13,000 to $15,000. For 2014, Nissan jumps in the competition with the new Versa Note hatchback next to its Versa sedan sibling.
While exterior styling for a subcompact rarely moves anyone's needle, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note hatchback does make a fun and spirited statement. The short overhangs, the increased windshield rake, alongside drag-reducing active grille shutter and various underbody spoiler and deflectors, not only contribute to the car’s low Cd of 0.298, but also add to its overall sporty appearance. Inside the Note’s five-passenger cabin feels roomy. The front seats are comfortable, especially the 6-way adjustable front buckets sets with armrest. The dash and center console layout is simple, and gets the job done with various storage options. In the back, with the second row seats folded, there is 21.4 cu. ft. of cargo capacity available to help a friend move, or pick up supplies for that weekend project.
On the road, the Versa’s Note’s 109-hp, 1.6-liter inline-4 provides adequate power to move around town or pass slower traffic on the highway without too much labor. Coupled to Nissan’s second- generation continuously variable transmission (CVT) spanning a wider 7.3:1 ratio and reduced friction, the new hatchback achieves an impressive fuel mileage of 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. While CVT is usually associated with the “motor boating," the one on the Note is well tuned to minimize such effects. But for those that still prefer to take more control of the driving, a five-speed manual transmission comes with the base model, and with EPA rated fuel mileage of 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. The CVT-equipped Note’s combined 35 mpg beats out Ford Fiesta’s 33 mpg, Honda Fit’s 31 mpg and Kia Rio’s 32 mpg.
Riding on the same V-platform and 102.4-inches wheelbase as the Versa sedan, the Note cruises comfortably. However, perhaps due to the low-rolling-resistance tires, there seems to be more noise coming through the cabin despite efforts to insolate the cockpit with sound deadening materials on the door and the floor. Around winding inland roads near San Diego, the five-door Nissan’s front strut and rear torsion bar suspension respond well to the car’s electric power-assisted steering. Shedding some 300 lbs. off its weight compared to its predecessor also helped it to track the turns without too much squealing and complaining from the tires.
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note hatchback is available in three trim levels: S, S Plus and SV. The S comes standard with the five-speed manual, while both the S Plus and SV are equipped with the CVT. The manufacture suggested retail price for the S starts at $13,990, and goes up to the SV which stickers at $15,990. Three optional packages are available for the top-of-the-line model: the SV Convenience, the SL and the SL Tech packages. These different bundles include features such as AM/FM/CD stereo with satellite radio and iPod USB connectivity, NissanConnect navigation with touchscreen, voice recognition and Google point-of-interest listing. Nissan’s Around View Monitor, part of the Tech Package, is a popular feature for ease of parking in tight spaces, allowing you to see your car position from a birds-eye-view vantage point.
While entry-level cars don’t often get the limelight, they do power a good portion of the buyers’ market. For 2012, the Versa model alone sold more than 117,000 copies. And the segment is projected to grow by 28 percent. It’s no wonder there are more players entering the market, and the 2014 Versa Note will add ammunition for Nissan to compete in the battlefield.
2014 Nissan Versa Note
5-Passenger compact hatchback
Five-speed manual or CVT automatic
31 City / 40 Highway
Sporty styling and roomy interior
Moderate road noise inside the cockpit