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Nissan Versa Note: Agreeable reality check

In the weeks before the redesigned 2014 Nissan Versa Note landed in my driveway, I’d driven a succession of not-inexpensive vehicles.

The Note (from $14,800, including destination) is on the near end of the cost continuum and I admit to approaching it with a certain reserve. (It’s distressing to realize how quickly one grows accustomed to the good life.) 

As it turned out, the Note provided a surprisingly gentle return to reality. Amid the hard plastics and fabric seat covers, I found a more-than-competent and generally agreeable little piece of basic transportation.

The Note is the compact, five-door hatchback version of Nissan’s entry-level Versa sedan ($12,800). It delivers a quality ride, accommodates four full-size adults and swallows a substantial amount of gear or groceries in its roomy cargo hold.

The Note’s redesigned sheet metal is also a big plus. Its steeply slanted windshield provides a visual transition between the short, sloping hood and extended roofline. A so-called “squash line” -- named for the trajectory of a squash ball -- is carved deeply the door panels. It all comes together quite nicely.

Though almost entirely utilitarian in approach, the Note’s cabin is well-ordered and comfortable. High-end trims, like my well-equipped SV ($16,800) tester, can be outfitted with such upscale accoutrements as keyless ignition and entry and a 360-degree parking camera system.

Also available is NissanConnect. It includes the usual -- color touch-screen, handsfree text messaging assistant, Bluetooth streaming and Pandora radio -- plus Google’s new Send-to-Car service that allows the user to send any address to the navigation system using a computer. When the car is started, directions are delivered and loaded into the system.

All Notes are powered by a 109-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers attractive fuel efficiency numbers. Paired with the five-speed manual transmission that’s available only on the base S trim, it earns EPA numbers of 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. In the other two trims, SL and SV, the engine mates to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and garners 31/40/35.

The rubber-band quality characteristic of CVTs is most pronounced when paired with a small four-cylinder engine and the Note is no exception. It’s not notably slower than most of its competition, but there’s a lot of fuss under acceleration, as the transmission struggles to find its optimal ratio. At stable speeds, the effect diminishes, and most drivers are likely to enjoy the Note’s smooth, shift-free performance.

CVT-equipped models include Nissan's first-ever Active Grille Shutter, which limits the amount of air entering the engine compartment, reducing drag force. The Active Grille Shutter is generally closed at speeds above 20 miles per hour.

Despite the Note’s short wheelbase and torsion-bar rear suspension, its ride is for the most part smooth and forgiving. Despite its sporty appearance, though, broken pavement and highway grooves can upset its composure, though without any real negative effect on handling.

Life’s realities are always less appealing than its fantasies. But Nissan’s newest baby proves that reality isn’t necessarily painful. It may not be the stuff of which automotive dreams are made, but the 2014 Versa Note is a nice little slice of real life.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2014 Nissan Versa Note SV
Vehicle base price: $13,990
Trim level base price: $15,990
As tested: $20,015
Optional equipment included splash guards; SL package (Intelligent Key, Easy Fill Tire Alert, rearview monitor & more); Technology package (NissanConnect with navigation; Around View Monitor, Pandora radio, Google Send-to-Car and POIS, streaming audio & more); cargo cover and spoiler.
EPA rating: 31 city/40 highway
​Regular unleaded fuel specified

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