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Posted: August 07, 2014

Executive wheels: A really nice Note

Nissan's tiny car has a big feel

Jeff Rundles

2015 NISSAN VERSA NOTE SR

When the Versa Note was headed my way, I just assumed that the “Note” part was a trim of the small Nissan Versa. I thought it referred to some use of the sound system in the car or something. Wrong. The Note is actually its own vehicle, somewhat larger than the Versa, which is now a sedan-only vehicle. The Note is a hatchback, and apparently Nissan will soon drop the “Versa” part altogether and just go with “Note.” Confusing, as are many things in car-dom.

I was all set not to like the Note in that a) it is a Nissan and I am not a big Nissan fan, and, b) it is a little tiny car and I generally don’t like little tiny cars. But my mind was quickly changed as I drove the Note in first couple of days.

For Honda, the tiny vehicle is the Fit, and for Toyota, it is the Yaris – both of which I have driven and sorta liked. But the Note had one thing neither of its Japanese competitors has: while it is a tiny car from the outside, it transforms itself into a rather large ride when you are behind the wheel.

The car feels roomy behind the steering wheel – the dash is far away and there is plenty of elbow room – and it feels roomy when you are in the back seat – plenty of foot/leg room, the height is great for head room, and the back doors open wide enough for comfortable in and out. Plus, while the rear deck under the hatchback isn’t huge, it is more than adequate for most grocery runs, and the rear seat folds down (60/40) easily to take larger cargo, like golf clubs (which, of course, limits the seating capacity).

The handling in the Note is pretty good – the car is easy to drive and doesn’t lean in the corners, and for running around town, the Note is a great choice. It parks easily in just about any space, and makes maneuvering in traffic just fine. The Note is also a very quiet car – a big plus for a car in this segment.

And I found many other nice features in this vehicle. For instance, the controls for climate maintenance are very easy to use and to control, all on the face of the dash with classic dials. The test car featured a five-inch color display in the dash to easily handle the radio – AM/FM/Satellite – and all of the hands-free Bluetooth stuff – phone and streaming audio most importantly. Also, there is a rear camera which shows up in the screen, which is always nice and used to be just a luxury car amenity. The air conditioner is a little slow to get to full cool, but once it is there, it works quite well. Plus, the Versa Note has about the best visibility a car could have, which is great.

Also – and this is wonderful – the Versa Note for 2015 had 5-star ratings for side (driver and passenger) crashes, and a four-star rating for rollovers. It has not yet been rated for frontal crashes.

But – there’s always a but – there are some problems. This first-of-2015 vehicle features a 1.6-liter I-4 engine with just 109 horsepower, and it is a slim 109 hp. Coupled with a CVT transmission (continuously variable), which essentially feels like there are no specific gears. The result, I have found over the years, is that there is very little power, very little torque for acceleration, at low speed, so from a dead stop this car is sluggish. Oddly, the CVT is supposed to provide the most fuel efficiency at higher speeds, but in this Versa Note, the acceleration once you’re up to speed is actually pretty impressive, so on the highway, for instance, passing is no problem. Getting around town, however, is annoying because of the overall sluggishness of the engine/transmission combination.

There are five trims available in the Note, all with the same engine. The lowest-priced version is the S 5MT, a manual transmission vehicle, carries an EPA mileage rating of 27 city/36 highway, and a base price of $14,180. The SR I drove is second from the top, with a base price of $17,530. They added on $600 for the SR Convenience Package, consisting of the NissanConnect with mobile apps, satellite radio, streaming audio, hands-free text messaging, the rear-view camera, and a divide-N-hide adjustable floor in the back for storage. They also charged $180 for floor mats and a cargo net, and $810 in destination charges, bringing the bottom line to $19,180.

I guess I expect these little tiny cars to be a bit sluggish; it comes with the territory. It just takes some getting used to. One there, however, this is a great, well-made vehicle for commuting and around-town driving.

RATING: THREE AND THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)
 

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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