Fuel economy for the Nissan Versa depends on the powertrain. Versa SL with CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission, gets an EPA-estimated 28/34 mpg City/Highway. Nissan has been a standout in CVT technology. In addition to delivering exceptional fuel economy, it's very smooth and most drivers probably won't notice it's anything other than a regular automatic.
A CVT doesn't shift gears like an automatic transmission. Instead, a segmented belt rides up and down on cone-shaped pulleys to vary the speed ratio between the engine and the drivetrain. It works more efficiently than a traditional automatic, which is why the Versa equipped with a CVT delivers such good highway mileage. Around town it has the same economy as a manual transmission, better than an automatic, in other words.
We've been pleased with the Versa. It has plenty of zip and there's no problem merging into traffic on a fast free-flowing freeway. When you stomp on the gas pedal the sound of the engine revving instantly before the car accelerates, a phenomenon of the CVT, can be a bit disconcerting at first. We found it not unpleasant. In regular stop-and-go traffic under slow acceleration there is no sensation other than the car moving forward smoothly with no sound or feel of shifting gears. It's certainly a far cry from the clumsy gear shifting once common on small four-cylinder cars with three- and four-speed automatics.
On winding roads in Tennessee, near where Nissan is building its new U.S. headquarters, we found the car's handling to be perfectly adequate. It's not sporty like a Mini Cooper, nor is it sloppy like budget cars of a few years ago. Sporty drivers might wish for more feedback from the steering and more power, but there's no reason for others to complain.
The Versa is one of the first cars in this price category to feature electric power steering. In the past we have been disappointed in the poor feel of electric steering, but Nissan seems to have designed this system so it feels just as good as any hydraulically powered steering. No complaints here.
Thanks to the long wheelbase, with the wheels pushed out toward the four corners, the ride is better than one usually expects from a small car.
The brakes are fine. If you decide on the base model we strongly recommend ordering the anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist for their ability to help you possibly avoid an accident.