The cheapest new car money can buy
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Published on Sun, Jun 8, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Doug Stokes
Here’s the deal, there’s a mental picture that’s drawn almost immediately when your publisher calls and tells you that the next automobile that you’ll drive and review for LA Car is, and I quote: “The lowest priced new car sold in the United States.” Plainly harrowing words for one who usually gets sent on full boat/first class junkets to the old county to drive the latest Lambo or Maserati on the Via Veneto (oh, wait a minute, that’s not me, that’s Mark Vaughn over at AutoWeek). Well, anyhow, the anticipation of driving a cheap, bucket stripper is almost as intoxicating.
Not really sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t this. First of all, we don’t receive the bare-bones model (the S); we get the model one step up from bare bones (the SV). It’s still among the lowest priced new cars sold in this country. The latest version of the Versa is far less dowdy than any of its previous iterations. The exterior styling, while not flashy, is clean and speaks first of utility and usefulness rather than moonlit drives on the Cote d’Azur. The shape is clean, and actually looked very crisp in the dark metallic blue that our review model was presented in. By design, vehicles in this category and price range should look fairly plain; on the other hand, the Versa is not totally devoid of character either (balance).
Since our publisher brought it up, let’s talk price for a minute here. The window sticker on this one totals out at $16,805.00 (and $810 of that is the destination charge!). The only options to the $15,530 base price are the carpeted truck and floor mats and the auto-dimming rear view mirror (with compass and Homelink). Those two items are $180 and $285 respectively.
Everything else—the nice Xtronic CVT automatic transmission (I had expected a stick at this price), the four-speaker AM/FM/CD player with USB/iPod, the Bluethooth hands-free phone hookup, the power door locks, trip computer, power windows, outside temp display, and nicely illuminated steering wheel audio and control functions—is standard. Go back to that $15.5K price again and think back to the times when cheap cars came into our hands with none of the above and maybe even less.
This car is inexpensive—that’s a stone fact. But (try as I could in a busy week behind the wheel) I never once thought of it as “cheap”. In fact, far from it. For one thing, the innovative CVT (continuously variable transmission) that comes standard on our SV model works swimmingly with the Versa’s fairly smallish 1.6-liter engine to get (and keep) this one running right along in all sorts of traffic—from stop-and-go, to late night free-running. This powerplant never felt “lost” or out of step with the task at hand. In point of fact, this one’s 60-to-80 miles per hour ability felt downright quick. This engine is not turbo-charged, but it almost feels like it is when some serious boot is supplied to the GO pedal.
During my week with the Versa, I had the occasion to take an ailing animal (our dog Olive) to the family Vet in Pasadena for a squeaky right rear (leg). The day is said to be the hottest ever on record with the mercury right at the century mark. The day of the week is Friday, and the trip is in the mid-late afternoon. The payoff: the Versa’s A/C kept Olive and yours truly cool. We never felt that we had a Hobson’s choice of adequate acceleration or cold air under some heavy/sloggy traffic conditions. Chalk one up for a tough little engine.
There’s no mistaking that this is an entry level sedan, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that designation. The interior is best described as “conservative” (that’s a good conservative … livable), there’s room in all four seats and there’s a truck that will hold a whole bunch of family goods. In fact, the driver’s seat (six-way adjustable albeit manual) afforded better than expected support and comfort and (I always take at least a short ride in the back seat in every four-door I drive) the back seat area was a click or two better than roomy.
This one rates four stars out of five overall on safety from your Uncle Sam (which simply is another way of stating the old and obvious: “tonnage wins”). The good news about having a highly-efficient motor and transmission combination is the fuel mileage. 31/40 (city/highway) miles per gallon is the government’s best guess with a 35 mpg overall average.
Again, no one really expects this textbook small family sedan to hit the curves like a GTR, but the handling is okay-good. By no means a high G-load cornering machine, the Versa’s stability and “road holding” (that’s a feeling, not a number) gets passing marks in my copy book.
The electronic steering is just a tad (oh, maybe two tads) over-boosted at low speeds for my flavoring, but a week using it made it easy to at least understand. One thing that I really like is the ability to kick the CVT transmission out of overdrive by hitting a little button on the shift lever. It makes for a nice, crisp downshift when slowing for a corner as well as (of course) pulling the revs up for a hero-driver corner exit. The CVT transmission (if it has one downside), is not real good at engine braking. Lifting off the gas slows the car (of course) but there’s not as much retardation as with a standard transmission … the little button takes care of that with alacrity.
Okay, so this one has steel wheels and wheel covers. They aren’t all that bad looking and, like everything else here (and DO NOT TAKE THIS AS PUT DOWN) the operative term is sensible … serviceable.
This Versa is something of a surprise for me—a nice surprise. I was prepared to tough out a week in an inadequate, ineffectual, cheap automobile. Instead, I ended up really appreciating this car for value and style—an unflashy car that is quite able.
This one may not have been meant as a FUN car but it surely was fun to find out about.
“Pure Drive” is Nissan’s own feel-good name for some very careful driveline design and execution. With green monikers like “sky-active”, “eco-boost”, and others, it’s something that all manufacturers are working on all the time (engine efficiency). “Pure Drive” simply puts a clever name to Nissan’s efforts along that line. – Doug Stokes
As Doug says, the tested Nissan Sentra SV is one cut above the base model. So, what about the base model? At $11,990, the Nissan Sentra S 1.6 is the lowest priced new car you can buy in the USA. To get the price that low, a five-speed manual is substituted for the CVT automatic. Gone are certain luxuries, like cruise control, power windows, power door mirrors, the remote keyless door opener, intermittent wipers, and a split folding rear seat. You’ll have to ask yourself: “Do you really need these?” It wasn’t that long ago that the average car had none of these features. On the other hand, the base model does come with air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel with speed-sensing power steering, front and rear cup holders, a CD player with AM-FM radio, a rear window defroster, a tachometer, low tire pressure warning, electronic stability control, and traction control. For the lowest-priced new car in the country, that’s not a bad deal. – Roy Nakano
THE 10 LOWEST-PRICED CARS YOU CAN BUY (MSRP):
1. Nissan Versa S - $11,990
2. Chevrolet Spark - $12,185
3. Mitsubishi Mirage - $$12,995
4. Smart ForTwo - $13,270
5. Kia Rio Sedan - $13,990
6. Nissan Versa Note Hatchback - $14,180
7. Chevrolet Sonic Sedan - $14,170
8. Ford Fiesta Sedan - $14,355
9. Toyota Yaris Hatchback - $14,370
10. Kia Soul - $14,900
For more information about Nissan products, go to nissanusa.com
Name of vehicle:
2015 Nissan Versa
$11,990 (S base model)
$15,530 (SV model)
$16,805 (SV model, as tested
Engine type: 1.6 liter DOHC 16-valve in-line four EPA mileage estimates (miles per gallon) : 27 city/36 highway (base S model) 31 city/40 highway (SV model) Horsepower: 109 @ 6000 rpm Torque: 107 pound-feet @ 4400 rpm Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Transmission: 5-speed manual (standard base model) CVT automatic (as tested) Suspension Front: MacPherson strut independent with stabilizer bar Rear: Torsion beam with stabilizer bar Dimensions Overall length: 175.4 inches Overall width: 66.7 inches Overall height: 59.6 inches Curb weight: 2,363 pounds