Glad I found this forum... am in the market for a new car and have tried to distill all the tons of info available from "neutral" sources/websites/rankings/etc. Sorry if this is overly long, but the Nissan Versa community may end up gaining a new (or renewed) enthusiast when all is said and done...
Bit of background: I currently own a 2011 1.6 manual xmission Versa sedan, no frills model (had to put in my own radio!), "human powered" windows/locks, etc... coming up to 40000 mi. It has been very reliable with few probs, perfect for city driving/commuting. Long distance driving is another story; on the open road steering seems a little unsteady and maybe a puff or two of wind can sometimes veer the car a bit offtrack. It was actually somewhat "painful" (literally/figuratively) to take on a ~2000 mi. driving trip last year.
In looking for an "upgrade" that might provide good mpg w/ some better degree of comfort/usability for longer trips (which I don't take terribly often, but still want to do from time to time) I've looked around in the usual places, including Ford Focus + Fusion, Nissan Sentra + Altima and others. I guess I could be accused of brand loyalty as I had Sentras for many years in the past and when I had trouble with another car a few years ago I got a Versa sedan (automatic) as a rental and immediately wanted to make a Versa my next car (hence the 2011 manual I ended up w/). So over time I've been partial to Nissan and to some degree Ford; Hondas and Kias have also emerged as possibilities but I don't feel overwhelmed by the choices there just now (let alone for Toyotas).
One thing I hadn't realized before was just how amazing the Versa interior space is compared to nominally bigger cars. This is a huge plus, as I do want to cart people around from time to time (w/o having to move my drivers seat way up just so an adult can fit in the back, as w/ the Focus). Trunk space is great too. I understand these dimensions have not been lost on the newer Versas. I'm also impressed you can get bells & whistles on newer Versas that might not be available on other subcompacts (e.g., keyless ignition, satellite radio).
I've sat in a new Sentra - headroom in front not great - and test driven a 2010 Altima - felt a bit like a wet sponge. Both models were at the top of my list for new acquisitions/leases. (Thus I haven't tested a 2014 Altima yet, only sat in one and did like the room in there Also HAVE to be impressed w/ its mpg.) I did also test a 2014 Versa Note. I thought it might be the answer but I was not impressed w/ the feeling of being "squeezed in" from the door side... never a problem w/ my current Versa sedan so I don't know what's up w/ the dimensions there. Note interior space was otherwise excellent and the hatch provides plenty of cargo space (w/ "privacy" flap available) but the ride - albeit involving CVT - didn't really win me over any more than w/ my current Versa sedan.
I have yet to test drive a new Versa sedan. I'm tempted but I don't want to go to the trouble of bugging the dealership one more time for something I might not be likely to buy. (Have bugged them enough already!) If someone has had the experience of moving from a slightly older Versa sedan to one of the newer ones I'd thus love to hear from you - I may be convinced to at least give it a try based on what I hear. Right now, the pros of a new Versa would obviously be: interior room, gas mileage, possibility of bells/whistles (which really I'm looking for by way of a bit of added comfort/convenience) and - assuming I do get that SL model - alloy wheels. Cons, as far as I can tell right now: cheap plastic interior, seats that may or may not be comfortable for a longer trip, possible concerns as noted above w/ 2011 (unsteady open-road steering, susceptibility to crosswinds).
No car is going to be perfect, I realize that. It's hard to ignore the good deal you can get on a Versa and the stuff that may come along with it. Thus can anyone speak to improved handling/feel of a newer (e.g. 2014) Versa compared to older ones...? For instance I notice the outer aerodynamic styling is a little different and wonder if that helps w/ some of the previous Versa problems. Can it be reasonably comfortable on longer trips? (Maybe just install some more comfortable cushions, if the standard seating is otherwise a problem?) What about the steering/handling? Could the alloy wheels on the SL give it an edge in that department, or is that more in a category of putting lipstick on a pig?
(Have never driven any car w/ alloy wheels before, so really don't know in general what good it does on the practical side, other than slight reduction in weight _and possibly smoother handling [but who knows...]).
Even when I tested the 2014 Note, thinking it would automatically be better than the sedan, the dealer said off the cuff that he didn't think there was much wrong w/ a sedan in comparison, and I think he was being sincere. I'd just written off the sedans out of hand at that point b/c of all the less than stellar reviews I'd seen, including one which compared a Note much more favorably vs. the sedan. But now I'm warming up again to the sedans.
So... wondering why I should get a new Versa sedan instead of a Sentra, Altima, Focus, Fusion, Accord or Kia Forte? I know it's not going to give you super German or Focus-type handling, but how often does any of us need to drive on twisty mountain roads for sheer fun? It may not offer the comfort of an Altima, Focus or (presently highly hyped) Accord, but sure would be easier to parallel park in the city (which is a frequent need of mine among other things). I've looked at, though not yet tested, the Kia Forte and can't admit to being overwhelmed. Thus... is someone in a position to convince me that concerns about comfort/handling on a longer trip might be overblown... that the 2014 Versa sedan is better than its 2011 counterpart in those regards ?
Part of me thinks that Nissan has a good thing going here w/ the Versa, almost to the point of wanting to keep it a secret. (Else, how are they going to sell all those Altimas etc...). I know Nissan has taken a lot of rap in recent years for quality/reliability, and the company has changed drastically w/ its renowned leader, perhaps moving away from the unique culture & brand expression it developed in the past. But something about the new Versa sedan seems to hearken back to the general brand I once knew and loved, and I don't want to feel I'm missing out on something here. Still have to do some research on things like 5-year cost-to-own, but to be perfectly honest - as mentioned before - there's very little fundamentally wrong w/ the 2011 Versa sedan I have right now, other than those concerns re: longer-distance handling and comfort (never mind the "reach-over" version of human-powered interior door locks...). Though I've only had it for 2 1/2 years and got it almost new, it's never had to go in the shop for anything other than routine maintenance... so I'm wondering, at least, why a 2014 wouldn't be similarly reliable?
Thus... would be very grateful if anyone can speak to the questions/concerns I have here... maybe in the end selling me on a new Versa sedan, maybe not... but you're definitely in my debt for any guidance & meaningful info. that can be provided beyond all those superficial/airbrushed "expert reviews" out there!
VersaJack (in a US urban area)