Test Drive: 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV

This model year sees the 2017 Nissan Versa Note fresh out of an update that fits some interior upgrades and sharpened looks, to give shoppers more value in one of the hottest segments in the Canadian auto marketplace.

Many an economy car engine sounds like a stray dumpster cat in heat when pushed, but that’s not the case here.

Here’s the sticky on the tester: in SV trim grade – with a five-speed stick, back-up camera, 15-inch alloy wheels, an up-level central interface with smartphone connectivity, cruise, air, and remote keyless entry – the tester commanded a pre-fee sticker price of about $17,000. This included the (highly advised) metallic orange paint, for which you’ll dish out an extra $135. Steering-wheel-mounted controls and heated seats were on board, too.

As a package, this all adds up to a sharp and distinctive-looking wrapper for many of the modern driver’s must-have features – though the Versa Note appeals even more readily with functionality, flexibility, and certain driving dynamics.

Functionality, first.

The cargo hold is fairly shallow, but seats fold down with ease, and a trick folding panel comprises the cargo floor – it can be flipped and slid into various height positions, or used as a divider, to match cargo carrying abilities to the job at hand with ease. Further, you’ll appreciate the small cubbies at the outer edges of the cargo hold, which are ideal for keeping smaller items in place.

Up front, the driving position is upright and alert, with a height-adjustable driver's seat easing access to the ideal position. Cranked all the way down, even taller drivers will find plenty of headroom. Entry and exit are a cinch, thanks to the thin rocker panels and wide-opening doors.

Once seated, the low-mounted center console frees up room around inboard knees, furthering the sense of space. Hop in, get comfy and get driving, and Versa Note feels like a bigger car than it is, in virtually all dimensions.

This is especially true in regards to rear-seat legroom: even if a very leggy driver has their seat in the full rearward position, an average sized adult sitting behind him will have adequate space. Here’s a little car that’s big-guy or big-gal friendly – and this might just be the machine to have in the segment if you’re really tall, mobility challenged, or frequently travel with a full complement of growing or adult passengers.

All said, this one functions and feels like a bigger car than it is – and in some areas, it drives like a bigger car than it is, too.

Case in point? The rough-road ride quality. In many a cheap and cheerful car, hitting a nasty stretch of roadway makes the suspension feel and sound delicate and flimsy. In the Versa Note, I appreciated the suspension’s fairly consistent feel of durability, and its ability to keep suspension noise levels to a minimum, even on challenging surfaces. On the craggy roadways of Sudbury, Ontario, the Versa Note felt a measure more solid and dense than the norm at this price point, while the slightly heavy and nicely isolated steering helped keep things on course, with the wheel virtually never fighting me as bumps passed underfoot.

Ultimately, the Versa Note stays a measure more composed, quiet, and planted on the sort of roads that can make some rides feel like they’re disintegrating.

Highway noise levels were appreciated too. Though the cabin can get loud at higher speeds, noise levels up to about 100 km/h are kept nicely in check, and there’s little need to raise your voice for a conversation.

The Versa might benefit from a sixth gear – with five, highway cruising revs land around 3,000 rpm. That’s high, though the engine stays appreciably muted in the process. Mileage on my watch landed at 7.4 L/100 km, including plenty of highway driving at a good clip.

Versa Note’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder makes 109 horsepower – enough to move it around in a relative hurry when you stand on the throttle and get it spinning fast, which it doesn’t sound like it minds too much. Power is sufficient, and little more, at lower revs.

A laid-back driver will appreciate the engine’s smooth demeanour when operated gently, while a sportier driver will likely appreciate its relative refinement and not-unpleasant sound when pushed a little. Many an economy car engine sounds like a stray dumpster cat in heat when pushed, but that’s not the case here.

The shifter has long throws and feels ropey and imprecise, but shifts are easygoing, and require minimal effort. Further, the clutch has an appreciable level of feel and bite to it, and shouldn’t let manual transmission enthusiasts down.

This all sets up a little comparison to another car you should test drive, if you’re considering the Versa Note. That car is the 2017 Honda Fit.

Though the Fit’s cabin is more modern and its engine is more powerful, it’s the Versa that often does a better job of feeling more upscale – with a ride that’s better sorted and more refined on rougher roads, and a quieter, more pleasant engine. Fit has more clever storage on offer, and its flip-up or flip-down rear MagicSeat system is handy as can be, especially for dog owners and cyclists. Still, the Fit did leave me wishing for a quieter ride, both at speed and on rougher roads. The Versa Note didn’t.

Versa Note’s maneuverability is good, but the turning circle is larger than expected for a small car. The back-up camera is curious: it’s aimed downwards, providing a good view directly behind the car, but a wider angle would help aid with the detection of potential hazards farther away.

Complaints, keeping context and pricing in mind, are minimal. Certain panel gaps and trim pieces within the cabin have a low-budget look and feel to them, with some small, un-finished plastic edges visible on close inspection. Ditto the exposed bolts where seats are mounted to the floor. These will likely begin rusting and looking even more unsightly after a few years.

Your writer also longed for a covered center storage bin, though I was happy to find a fold-down arm-rest, which is a feature missing from many a little car in this segment. If you have arms, which you probably do, you’ll appreciate its presence on the daily.

Ultimately, a few elements of the cabin let the experience down slightly, but Versa Note stands as a compelling small car choice when shopper priorities include abundant spaciousness, flexibility, easy entry and exit, and good all round driving dynamics.

Be sure to drive one alongside the comparably priced Honda Fit – neither will disappoint, and both machines represent the big value automakers throw into their products in this segment.

2017 Nissan Versa Note SV
Engine Displacement: 1.6L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 109 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 107 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy: 8.6/6.6/7.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 532 L/1,084 L seats down
2017 Nissan Versa Note SV
Base Price $16,898
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,600
Price as Tested $18,733
Optional Equipment $135 – Metallic Paint $135
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.9
7 Styling
7 Powertrain
7 Quality
8 Comfort
9 Practicality
8 Drivability
9 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value