Mountain Wheels: Nissan Versa Note SR: Cute is what we aim for
2015 Nissan Versa Note SR
MSRP: $17,530; As tested: $19,195
Powertrain: 109-HP 1.6-liter four-cylinder, CVT automatic transmission
EPA figures: 35 combined MPG (31 city, 40 highway)
My overall experience with the — yes — alarmingly sporty and stylish SR rendition of the Nissan Versa Note was a bit of an eye-opening, worlds-colliding, who-woulda-expected-that kind of deals.
For here is a space shuttle-shaped car that mixes small-dog attitude, 40 mpg and a bit of practicality, all wrapped up in what seems like a well-written press release on the value of efficient but still usably spacious small vehicles.
But as long as gas remains less than $3.50 a gallon, it’s still going to be a stretch to convince anyone but a dedicated urban dweller — or someone on a tight budget, or with a low FICO score — that a small marvel like the Note SR is what is right for their driving needs, starting at $17,530 as it does.
That’s too bad as the good looking, mostly fun-to-drive Note — the happier and more lively version of the small-but-still-somehow ungainly Versa sedan — will fit in literally any parking spot with its 163-inch overall presence.
And while the 109-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder seems miniscule compared to everyone else’s engine choices, I experienced mileage that began to creep closer to 50 mpg on occasions, and still had (almost) enough power to comfortably tackle steep hills. That took a bit of effort, but was not impossible, given the Versa Note’s 2,523 pound curb weight; flatter highway passing power was also relatively easy to access, even with an electronic CVT transmission.
I even felt pretty grounded on late-season snowy roads, and able to safely and comfortable careen around the curves on those 16-inch tires and alloy wheels.
Give it some extra gas and you’ll be able to do stuff that would put a giant-by-comparison midsized SUV up on two wheels.
The ride feel can be just a bit telecommunicative, in that you’ll feel absolutely everything on the road, but so it goes with a vehicle that makes a Yaris or a Mini Cooper seem big by comparison.
For the 2015 model year, the second for this newest rendition of the little five-door, the Versa Note can be had in five different variations. The SR I drove, the second from the top of the food chain, gets an array of special looks and gear both inside and out — special fascias front and back, fog lamps and a rear spoiler, plus goodies including suede seats and the aforementioned custom footwear.
And despite the relatively inexpensive entry point, technology is quite abundant — although you’ll need the $660 convenience package to get the 5-inch color screen housing the Nissan Connect apps and Bluetooth streaming audio, XM satellite radio, some newfangled hands-free text messaging assistance and a rear-view camera. The around-view monitor, like you used to only find on an Infiniti, is also an available option that comes standard on the slightly fancier SL model.
Even without the load of electronics, it’s quite miraculous to drop the rear seats and still have some 38.3 cubic feet of storage in a vehicle this petite. The Divide-N-Hide adjustable floor in the back is also part of that inexpensive package of stuff.
I did appreciate the Note SR’s stylish overall design, sharing elements of the cross-Nissan look with lines that give the teardrop-shaped minicar some extra oomph.
A deeply pointed, curb-oriented nose and face, filled with mesh and chrome highlights, reaches out with such gusto that it looks like an under-$20K reboot of the old Lexus IS-F.
Big aerodynamic angles and a hood edge that melds directly into the window frames, coupled with heavily accented wheel wells, all rather effectively give the Note a look of more substance and width.
The tiny aircraft-style windows open up those huge forward A-pillars and the rear window spoiler and aggressive, SR-specific aero fascia treatments are also quite evocative; there’s even a wide, faux-carbon-fiber skirt on the rear to embolden the look.
The interior is also considerably brighter and more engaging than you’ll find in the standard Versa, with orange-highlighted suede seating juicing things up, plus a 370Z-inspired steering wheel.
And unlike other larger-engined members of the family, an electronic mpg gauge located between the instruments dances around so much it seems like a random number generator (so it goes with the varied inputs required to keep a 1.6-liter engine alive).
Other technologies built into the Versa Note, but less obvious: active grille shutters that clam up above 20 mph to improve fuel economy, electric power steering and that horn-tooting tire pressure warning alert.
Kelly Blue Book has gone positively bonkers for the entire package, naming the Versa Note one of the coolest cars in its price range and one of the tech-savviest vehicles under $20,000, which we must heartily agree with.
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