EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 9, 2013

Nissan Versa Note gives economy new flair

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — Two aspects of the new, 2014 Nissan Versa Note that appealed to me most last week were characteristics I would have liked in any car, of any size, style or price range.

The first was its fuel economy. I measured consumption over more than 200 miles of ordinary, mixed driving, combining freeway runs and around-town jaunts. My average of 42 miles per gallon easily beat the U.S. government fuel-use rating of 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway – or 35 mpg combined – on Note models equipped with an automatic transmission, like my evaluation model was.

The Note is a small car, with an alluring, entry-level starting list price of $14,800. But a lot of other small cars don’t deliver such stellar fuel economy. In fact, a lot of expensive, gas/electric hybrid models set up to maximize fuel economy don’t do as well.

My other favorite thing was the advanced technology installed on my evaluation model. True, the most stunning features came as extra-cost options. They started with a $1,700 “SL Package.” That was augmented by an $800 “Technology Package” that included a touch-screen for controlling audio, a hands-free text-message assistant and high-function navigation that received traffic- and weather-monitoring information transmitted to the car. The tech package also bundled in Nissan’s “Around View Monitor,” which gives you a 360-degree camera view around the entire car.

I appreciated the navigation system for its ease and accuracy when delivering me to an appointment in a crowded Newton, Mass., neighborhood. I was flat-out impressed by Around View, finding its split-screen display of all four sides of my parked little Note both entertaining and useful. It aids parking in tight quarters. At a Market Basket lot in Salem, N.H., it alerted me to a shopper walking behind the car before I backed out – after I had missed her when making the usual, visual check. It was a good example of advanced tech correcting a driver’s deficiency, which is its most important role.

Such sophisticated features were unexpected on a small, youthful, sprightly and playful model like the Note. They seemed to turn the auto into an undercover wizard. They gave my test model a hip, trendy aspect that technology addicts would appreciate and enjoy.

But in Salem, N.H., most drivers who buy the new Versa Note don’t purchase all the extra gadgetry, reports Bret Chavaree, co-owner of Salem Nissan. More often people go for moderately priced versions, approaching Note as a stylish and functional economy car that saves a buck while fulfilling the transport needs of on-the-go strivers.

“The high gas mileage is a big selling point. And it’s so versatile,” said Chavaree. “It gives you a lot of room to put stuff in. You can get snowboards in there, and skis, and a lot of things like that.”

The Versa Note is a new, next generation model from Nissan. It arrived in early summer as a companion to the four-door sedan variation of the Versa. While the Versa sedan has a more traditional look, with a standard trunk in the rear, Versa Note strikes a sassier pose. Its hatchback body type, with back-sloping nose and steeply raked windshield give it a bullet-like, forward yearning. Goggling, cat-eyed front light groups, pointy side glass, and a big, kind-of parabolically sculpted indent across the doors accentuate the model’s zippy attitude.

Nissan advertises that, beyond stylishness, the Versa Note’s shape contributes to aerodynamic efficiency, improving air flow around the car to help boost gas mileage. Contributing most to economy is the model’s 109-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It incorporates advanced fuel-injection and valve-timing methods to wring greater efficiency than a standard motor its size might attain. Gas mileage is highest when the four-cylinder is paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The lowest cost version of Versa Note comes with a five-speed manual transmission that sacrifices five mpg in its combined, city/highway fuel-use rating. The more efficient automatic adds $1,250 to the base price.

Nissan positions both styles of the Versa, sedan and Note hatchback, as low-cost small cars for the entry market. But the zesty contemporary styling of the new Note is generally attracting younger buyers, noted Chavaree of Salem Nissan.

“We’re seeing people in their 20s and 30s buy it. They think it’s a really cool looking car. And they like that it’s a hatchback. It matches their lifestyle,” he said.

By contrast, buyers of the Versa sedan at Salem Nissan run about 10 years older than typical Note drivers, Chavaree added.

The hatchback comes in three trim levels, starting with the Note S that includes the manual transmission. The upgrade to automatic transmission is called the Note S Plus, which also picks up such additional features as cruise control.

At Salem Nissan, most people buy the top-level, Note SV, said Chavaree. It comes with such extras as power windows and door locks, higher-grade upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity and steering-wheel-mounted controls.

Even without the slick, addicting, but pricy technology options I enjoyed in my test model, the Note SV in standard dress is well equipped for its list price, which remains under $17,000. The fun and fancy features are available for those who want them and are willing to pay. For everyone else, the new Nissan Note provides the adaptable transportation young people need, in a package they like and at a price they want.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback Price range:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color $14,800 to $16,800 (plus options) Warranty:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty Engine:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 1.6-liter I4 Power:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 109 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 107 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm Base transmission: 5-speed manual Fuel economy: 31 mpg city; 40 mpg highway (with auto trans) Wheelbase: 103 inches Length:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 163 inches Width: 67 inches Height:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 60 inches Weight: 2,412 pounds Fuel capacity:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 10.8 gallons Turning circle: 34.8 feet