For years, it’s been a firmly held tenant of this writer that new-car purchases generally fall into one of two categories: aspirational or perspirational.
The aspirational purchase is made by someone who genuinely wants the vehicle in question, a car that’s bought -- even if it stretches the budget -- because that’s the car that’s coveted.
The perspirational purchase, on the other hand, is made by someone who settles, simply to avoid sweating a high car payment.
The Nissan Versa has always fallen into the latter category. But, judging from the top of the line SR we drove, this all-new 2020 edition didn’t get the memo.
Fully redesigned, Nissan’s subcompact sedan is available in three trims: S, SV and SR. But don’t let its subcompact status or its $15,625 base price give the wrong impression. This little guy wears comely styling and, even in base S trim, provides, at the very least, minimum creature comforts.
Regarding styling, the ho-hum, working-stiff look of last year is gone, replaced by a swoopy profile flanked by Nissan’s trademark “V” grille and sharply drawn horizontal taillights. And, in a nice touch of heightened haberdashery, even the base S model boasts body-color bumpers and a chrome grille.
Inside the base car is a versatile driver’s seat that is (admittedly, manually) adjustable six ways, along with standard cruise control, Bluetooth talent, power windows, locks and mirrors, push-button engine start, backup camera and 7.0-inch infotainment screen.
The top-of-the-line SR we drove, based at $19,135, adds such standards as upgraded duo-tone seat fabrics, 60/40-split folding rear seat, single-zone automatic climate control, keyless door locks, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio receiver and safety nannies like blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Throw in our car’s $2,355 in options, including heated seats and intelligent cruise control, and, at a bottom line of $21,490, it sure didn’t feel like a cheap car to us.
That said, power remains modest.
Carried over is Versa’s 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated I-4, which can be managed, in base trim only, by a five-speed manual transmission or by a CVT automatic, which is optional in the base S but standard in everything else.
That engine has been massaged in 2020 to generate 13 more hp and 7 additional lb.-ft. of torque -- now 122 and 114, respectively -- but drivers are unlikely to notice. On the road, this guy remains slower than a school-zone speed limit. Boasting a leisurely plus-9-second stroll to 60 mph, its at-speed acceleration for highway passing feels even more glacial. Plan two-lane passing maneuvers far in advance.
On the other hand, the drivetrain’s civility is admirable, the cabin decently quiet, the engine’s demeanor smooth, the CVT automatic’s “step gear” impersonations welcome, and the car’s fuel economy remarkable. In 150 miles of mixed city/hwy driving, we registered a gratifying real-world 35 mph, just as the EPA figured.
Inside, the big-knobbed, easy-to-use infotainment equipment is handy -- even includes knobs for radio volume and tuning -- while cabin room is fine up front. That room in our SR was accompanied by sporty, big-bolster buckets that were notably firm but provided excellent support.
In back, Versa’s swoopy new exterior styling takes its toll. Backseat head room is cozy, although average-stature adults will do OK, but leg room shrinks from last year, meaning aft passengers will require kindness from front riders to have any knee room.
Although the decor in our SR was dominated by hard plastic, the surfaces were nicely grained and the appearance avoided a bargain-bin look, thank you very much.
In the final analysis, the all-new 2020 Nissan Versa subcompact may be a perspirational purchase, but it makes it a happy one by sweating the details. For the record, we should note that the hatchback “Versa Note” is history.