Test Drive: Expectations keep Versa in play

Nissan’s subcompact Versa, little changed from 2016, is a fixture in America’s rental car lots — where we picked one up last month for a week’s reliable, reasonably comfortable service. But Versa sales have been slumping this year, falling short of 2016 numbers in every month except January.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our high-mileage (36,000 miles) silver 2017 Versa SV, one of two or three we’ve rented over the years, as much as ever. And why not? Versas don’t use much fuel, averaging 34 mpg. They provide a fairly high seating position, offer plenty of rear-seat and cargo room, and ride fairly comfortably and quietly. So what if they don’t accelerate briskly or handle crisply? The point is comfort and functionality, not excitement.

As usual, our Versa SV had a 109-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, power windows and locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt steering, and 15-inch steel wheels. The car was priced at $16,605. A base Versa S, with a shorter list of amenities, can be had for about $12,000. A hatchback version, called the Note, has a different look and a more functional interior.

In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Versa received the top “Good” rating for side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats. In 2015, the last year the Versa was subjected to the small-overlap crash test, it received a “Poor” rating. In government crash tests, the Versa received four stars of a possible five for rollover avoidance and frontal impacts.

Buyers’ (and renters’) expectations keep the Versa in play in a tough market that includes models by Ford, Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda. One doesn’t expect much from a car that costs $15,000 or less. In very few respects — mainly, acceleration and handling — it may come up short. But the Versa exceeds enough expectations to make it an easy choice on the rental lot, and an acceptable pick at the dealership.

 

2017 Nissan Versa SV

Price: $16,605

Engine: 1.6-liter inline Four, 109 horsepower, 107 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Curb weight: 2,489 lb.

Wheels: 15×5.5-in. steel with full wheel covers

Tires:  P185/65R15 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 10.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city, 39 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

 

Update

It’s time for the update we promised with regard to our 2015 Jeep Renegade, a new model from Fiat Chrysler that we leased last year. It’s the first Jeep model to be built in Italy, though the engine and transmission are American.

With about 12,000 miles on its odometer, the Renegade has been virtually flawless. A few months ago, throttle response seemed a little boggy, so we brought the Renegade to the dealership for a diagnosis. The service department updated the computer module, and the car’s performance returned to normal.

We’ve detected no other problems with the Renegade, the smallest member of the Jeep family, but indisputably the most rugged, off-road-capable subcompact SUV on the market. Generally, the car is easy to live with, and fuel economy is well within the acceptable range at about 24 mpg.

The Renegade is on track to meet or exceed its 2016 sales of 106,605.

 

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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