First drive: Nissan Versa hatchback strikes an upbeat Note

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We weren't terribly impressed with the redesigned 2012 Nissan Versa sedan, but the new hatchback version, called the Versa Note, is whistling a different tune.

The Versa sedan's vices are many. It is a clumsy, flimsy, and noisy car with a cheesy interior and lousy first-year reliability.

On the other hand, we're a whole lot more upbeat after spending a few days with the Nissan Versa Note. It's just reached the market, with a fictive starting price of $13,990. Decently equipped it stickers for $16,000 and change, which is still reasonable especially given its generous interior room and versatility.


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The Note has a chiseled look, lending it some Euro chic. The extended hatchback roofline and big doors make access a breeze, front and rear. The Note drives better than the sedan, with more responsive, surefooted handling, improved sound deadening, and a better-calibrated CVT (continuously variable transmission).

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Considering its tiny footprint, there's just oodles of room in this little car. It's true that the cabin is a little narrow but there's plenty of room to stretch your legs, especially in the rear seat.

Interior quality is rudimentary, but chrome accents here and there and a few other diversions manage to mask the blatant cheapness found in the sedan. Controls are about as easy as they come. There is a navigation system and rear-view camera offered as inexpensive options. It's no effort to pop open the hatch, and the cargo floor can do a handy adjustable-height trick, facilitating stashing items out of sight.

On the road the Note is notably calmer than the Versa because the CVT isn't constantly making the engine howl. The 109-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine feels sufficient for most tasks, as long as you don't expect to scorch the asphalt. Fuel economy should be similar to the sedan's, which we measured at 32 mpg overall. The ride is reasonably compliant but somewhat marred by short, frequent pitches.

With its impressive space, versatility, and fuel economy, the Note compares most closely to a Honda Fit, but it'll end up trying to entice customers away from the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris, as well.

The Note is much more appealing and versatile than the Versa sedan and could turn out to be an ideal runabout for the frugal urbanite. It can even serves as a mini-minivan at a moment's notice. And that could certainly hit a high note.

We'll see how it stacks up when we buy our own and test it thoroughly.

—Gabe Shenhar

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