Is Nissan’s mini sedan still a good option despite the continuous decrease in sales year over year?

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The current N18, third-generation Nissan Versa was released in 2019 among falling sales in a dying segment. Featuring Nissan’s latest design language, revised technology, and better materials, but it’s still one of the last few remaining subcompact sedans on the market, and the lack of interest is so obvious it hurts. In 2019, Nissan sold 66,596 Versas in the U.S., 2,369 in Canada, and 88,707 in Mexico, while the 2020 model year saw those numbers drop to 48,273, 125, and 68,013, respectively. That leaves us to wonder: Is there something inheritantly wrong with the Nissan Versa’s recipe, or are falling sales just the result of the COVID pandemic and a general lack of public interest in small sedans? We spent a week with the Nissan Versa to find out.

Nissan Versa Powertrain and Performance

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Versa resides in the compact economy car segment, which means there’s not a lot of “performance” to really talk about outside of what matters the most – fuel economy. So, if you’re looking for something that’s quick or fun to drive, you should probably look elsewhere, but if you want something that will keep you on the highway for extended periods of time or ease the pain of filling up to regularly, the Nissan Versa just might be for you.

How Much Power Does the Nissan Versa Have?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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All trim levels of the Nissan Versa come with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that delivers a dismal 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. Of course, these power figures are right in line with the competition, so the power output for the segment isn’t bad. In comparison the Hyundai Accent has the same size engine and barely falls shy at 120 horsepower and 113 pound-feet while the Kia Rio sedan offers 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque.

Nissan Versa Fuel Economy

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Versa is rated at 27 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg combined. Those numbers are pretty good for a non-turbo economy car, but if fuel economy is really important to you, you might want the check out the Hyundai Accent, which manages to get 29 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined. Taking things a step further, you could opt for the Kia Rio, which is the winner of the bunch with 33 mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway, and 36 mpg combined.

Does The Nissan Versa Have an Automatic Transmission?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Interior
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The Nissan Versa is offered with a CVT, however, you can opt for a five-speed manual if you go with the Versa S trim level. Likewise, the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are also widely offered with a CVT transmission, but these two cars can be optioned with a six-speed manual transmission if you still want to row your own. You should keep in mind, however, that to achieve maximum fuel economy in any of these vehicles, you’ll need to have the CVT as the manual will cut your down a point or two in each category depending on how you drive and your typical driving area.

Does the Nissan Versa Have AWD?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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Like most mainstream cars in the compact sedan segment, the Nissan Versa is offered with FWD only. The same thing can be said for bother the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio, however, this shouldn’t be an issue because at this size and weight, all three models will perform admirably, even in snow and rain with FWD only.

How Much does The Nissan Versa Weigh?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Versa tips the scales at 2,657 pounds, making it heavier than the 2,502-pound Hyundai Accent but lighter than the 2,767-pound Kia Rio.

How Well Does The Nissan Versa Drive On The Road?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Versa is an economy car at its core, just like its main competitors, the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio, so don’t expect world-class driving dynamics or the cushiest ride possible. Like it’s competitors, the Nissan Versa features electric power setting and a front independent suspension, so while the front corners can react independently to obstacles and impurities in the road, the rear corners are linked via the suspension. With that said, this isn’t the type of car that you drive in a spirited manor nor one that you’d expect to drive very quickly, so the suspension and steering systems are most definitely adequate.

Nissan Versa Interior Design and Technology

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Interior
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The Nissan Versa might be a compact economy car, but that doesn’t mean that Nissan didn’t go above and beyond to make it feel as nice as possible wherever it can. As you can see from our tester, there are generous helpings of leather for a car in this price bracket, and we even had a flat-bottom steering wheel. The design of the dashboard is quite attractive and the two-tone seat upholstery makes the Versa feel a little more upscale that it actually is. If there’s one thing the Versa excels at, it’s making you feel like you’re in a car of value.

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Interior
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As far as the technology is concerned, you don’t get a whole lot. The instrument cluster is semi-digital with an analog speedometer on the right and a larger TFT display on the left where you can tell an analog tachometer was meant to be. The infotainment system feels like a small tablet with a bunch of physical buttons, and while it works fairly well, it really feels like it was added as an afterthought into a dash that was originally designed for something that was more embedded and flusher with the dash. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it does feel just a bit out of place.

How Much Interior Space Does the Nissan Versa Have?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Interior
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As a compact car, the Nissan Versa is not the most spacious vehicle out there, nor is it mean to be. The main talking point here is probably the front headroom and front legroom, which come in at 39.5 inches and 44.5 inches, respectively. These figures beat out both the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio, however, outside of that the Versa is smaller inside with the exception of rear shoulder room where the Versa beats out the Rio by 0.3 inches. Check out the full break down of interior dimensions in the table below.

Nissan Versa vc competition - interior dimensions
Nissan Versa Hyundai Accent Kia Rio
Front Headroom 39.5 38.9 38.9
Front Shoulder Room 53.1 54.2 54.1
Front Hip Room 50.9 51.7 52.9
Front Leg Room 44.5 42.1 42.1
Rear Headroom 36.3 37.3 37.4
Rear Shoulder Room 53.6 53.7 53.3
Rear Hip Room 50.1 50.8 52.4
Rear Leg Room 31 33.5 33.5

How Much Cargo Room Does the Nissan Versa Have

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Interior
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The Nissan Versa can hold a total of 15.0 cubic-feet of cargo room in its truck, which makes it superior to the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, both of which offer 13.7 cubic-feet of cargo room.

Nissan Versa Exterior Design

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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For a car that costs south of $20,000 the Nissan Versa is actually pretty stylish. With Nissan’s latest design language and the large chrome trim on the nose, the Versa look s a little more upscale than it actually is. The kink in the belt line at the rear of the back door helps to give the deceiving impression of length when you view it from the side. The rear end is quite bland, but our SR tester did have some pretty cool taillights and a mock diffuser in the rear that does help to liven things up a bit. The biggest downside to the Versa’s appearance is the front end which does have a bit of a pug appearance. The way the hood and nose angle down is just unappealing, especially with how tall the hood is on the sides. If the hood was longer or didn’t sit as high, it would look a lot better. From certain angles, though, it almost looks like the nose was compressed a bit.

How Big Is the Nissan Versa?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Version is nestled firmly in the compact sedan segement, which means it’s loosing competition each and every day, and is far from the largest car on the block. It measures up at 177-inches long, 68.5-inches wide, and 57.3-inches tall. It also rides on a 103.1-inch wheelbase. Compared to the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, the Versa is longer, wider, and taller than both. And, while it might be a bit bigger, you should have no concerns when it comes to parking in a garage. The Versa should be able to fit in a normal sized single-car garage, however, as you’d expect, that can be a bit tight. A 1.5-car garage will definitely be more ideal, but most one-car garages will get the job done.

Nissan Versa vc competition - exterior dimensions
Nissan Versa Hyundai Accent Kia Rio
Length 177 172.6 172.6
Width 68.5 68.1 67.9
Height 57.3 57.1 57.1
Wheelbase 103.1 101.6 101.6
Front Track 59.3 59.3 60
Rear Track 59.6 59.5 60.2

How Much Does The Nissan Versa Cost?

2021 Nissan Versa - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Versa falls well into the affordable car range, with a starting price of $14,980 for the base S trim level, which is also the model that comes with a five-speed manual transmission. If you opt for the Versa S with the CVT, you’ll have to pay up $16,650. The Versa SV comes in at $17,790 while the range-topping Versa SR commands a sticker price of $18,390. In comparison, the Hyundai Accent is priced from $15,395 - $19,500 while the Kia Rio comes in between $16,050 - $16,690.

Nissan Versa vc competition - prices
Starting MSRP Max MSRP
Nissan Versa $14,980 $18,930
Hyundai Accent $15,395 $19,500
Kia Rio $16,050 $16,690

Nissan Versa Competition

The Nissan Versa might reside in the affordable compact sedan segment, which is – suffice it to say – a dying segment. But, there’s still some pretty raw competition here, and in this case, we need to look to the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent.

Is the Kia Rio Better Than the Nissan Versa?

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Marketed as a “small car with big confidence” and slapped with a tagline “get up and go,” you might expect a little more out of the Kia Rio than what you actually get. The exterior is a blend of old Kia Soul design cues mixed in with be blocky headlights that are too big and a very short nose that, like that of the Versa, makes the Rio look a little disproportionate. Outside of this, the Rio is a fairly attractive little sedan, but nobody will ever mistake it for anything made in Europe. That said, the interior is fairly well appointed in terms of technology for a car that starts out below $20k. You’ll get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard as part of the standard 8.0-inch touchscreen display. There are little helpings of faux leather here and there, but you do get the typical “kia-feel” plastic in areas like the dash trim, around the door handles, and even the hub of the steering wheel. The infotainment display does feel a little more integrated that that of the Versa, though, and the system is very responsive.

Under the hood sits a 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated, inline-four that delivers 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. Depending on what trim level you choose, you can have a CVT or six-speed manual transmission, both of which will send the engines power exclusively to the front wheels. Where the Rio really excels, though, is in the fuel economy department where you’ll get class-leading figures of 33 mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway, and 36 mpg combined. Pricing for the Rio starts out at $16,050 for the LX trim level and maxes out at $16,690 for the range-topping (and second) S trim.

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Nissan Versa vs Kia Rio
Nissan Versa Kia Rio
Engine 1.6-Liter Inline-Four 1.6-Liter Inline-Four
Horsepower 122 HP 120 HP
Torque 114 LB-FT 112 LB-FT
Transmission CVT or 5MT CVT 6MT
Driveline FWD FWD
Fuel Regular Unleaded Regular Unleaded
Steering Electric Electric
Suspension Front Independent Front Independent
Tires P205/55R16 P185/65R15
Curb Weight 2657 LBS 2767 LBS
Fuel Economy 27/36/30 33/41/36

Read our full review on the Kia Rio

Is the Hyundai Accent Better than the Nissan Versa?

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While the Hyundai Accent is related to Kia Rio, Hyundai did a much better job at making the exterior a little more attractive, a bit piece of which can be attributed to the sportiness of Hyundai’s current design language. That big Hyundai grille goes a long way to making the front end look decent. Otherwise, the exterior is about what you’d expect from a car in this class – decent looking, but not overly aggressive and definitely not arrogant. The interior design of the Hyundai Accent feels a little more modern than that of the Kia Rio, but it is relatively on par with the Versa. The center stack is dominated by the embedded infotainment display while the position of the center vents feels like 10-year-old GM design, to be honest. Like the Kia, however, you’ll find a lot of cheap-ish overly shiny plastic trim, but that is to be expected below the $20,000 price point.

Under the hood of the Accent sits the same 1.6-liter four-banger found in the Kia Rio. Here, it’s good for 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque, and like in the Rio, you can have it with a CVT or a six-speed manual transmission, but for some reason, the EPA has rated the fuel economy a bit lower at 29 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined. These figures do put it ahead of the Versa, though, so it does have that going for it. In the end, you’ll have to pay anywhere between $15,395 and $19,500.

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Nissan Versa vs Hyundai Accent
Nissan Versa Hyundai Accent
Engine 1.6-Liter Inline-Four 1.6-Liter Inline-Four
Horsepower 122 HP 120 HP
Torque 114 LB-FT 113 LB-FT
Transmission CVT or 5MT CVT or 6MT
Driveline FWD FWD
Fuel Regular Unleaded Regular Unleaded
Steering Electric Electric
Suspension Front Independent Front Independent
Tires P205/55R16 P185/65R15
Curb Weight 2657 LBS 2502 LBS
Fuel Economy 27/36/30 29/39/33

Read our full review on the Hyundai Accent

Philippe Daix
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read full bio
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