Most car writers love to focus on the most expensive vehicles they can drive, whether it’s $90K luxury SUVs or $250K supercars. I get it, those are really fun to drive and who doesn’t want to live in the lap of luxury, if even for just a short while? When I talk to my friends, however, they’re all far more price conscious and while they may dream about spending $100K on a car, the reality is that $20K is going to push their budget. These buyers used to swim in the used car pool, but used vehicle prices have bumped up quite a bit since the pandemic, and show no particular signs of dropping significantly. There’s one more factor too; a lot of car manufacturers now have a hard time making affordable vehicles, leaving car buyers with surprisingly few choices in the under $20K or even under $25K market.
Enter the surprisingly comfortable and well-appointed 2023 Nissan Versa SR. The company was generous enough to loan me one for a week and it’s the first under-$20K base price car I’ve driven in quite a long time. Rather to my surprise, I really liked the Versa and found that there were precious few compromises that affected its interior, cargo capacity, or drive experience. It also had a lovely color: Gray Sky Pearl (with “Sport” interior):
Not a bad profile, is it? In fact, it’s sportier than I expected, with its new-for-2023 low front end and front grill design. Instead of being a bit embarrassed that your budget vehicle looks like an also-ran in the design department, the Versa has a surprising amount of curb appeal. Of course, it’s fairly light in the engine department, powered by a modest 1.6L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission. In fact, my only complaint is that there’s not a lot of oomph when you’re getting up to speed from a stop, something to keep in mind when you’re merging into traffic. Once you’re up to speed, however, there’s sufficient power to keep up with traffic and pass, as desired.
The flip side of that is fuel efficiency was really good. I averaged 35.1mpg and the EPA ratings are 32/40, meaning that you can go 400 highway miles on a delightfully modest 10 gallons of gas. Were that every car I reviewed had this level of fuel efficiency!
The interior is also surprisingly clean and elegant, a far cry from other manufacturers who seem to ignore the interior design of their entry level vehicles. In particular, it was a surprise to have a big, bright 8″ infotainment screen, plenty big enough when utilized with the (wired only) Apple CarPlay or Android Audio features:
Honestly, no one has to know that you didn’t drop $40K on your little Versa sedan, with all of these safety and convenience features. Speaking of which, new for 2023 the Versa includes Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Warning, Anti-lock Braking, Traction Control System, Tire Pressure Monitoring, and the Nissan Vehicle Immobilizer System to ensure it stays parked where you want.
The armrest for the driver includes the standard set of controls too; all four windows, lock/unlock, and sideview mirror adjustments. The seat has a manual slide control and back adjustments, which is a bit annoying but most drivers set it once and then forget it. I found it was easier to get out of the seat to adjust it to my liking too, but once I’d done that, I was good for the rest of my driving week.
It might be a bit old school but I appreciated all the controls on the steering wheel crossbar too:
This is the same basic design that Nissan’s used for many years with its steering wheels, but why mess with something that works? The left side controls the 7″ Advanced Drive-Assist Display on the main gauge control, plus audio controls for track, volume, etc. The right side is more focused on the cruise control feature, a definite must-have for any modern vehicle. Notice that the right control stick is for the wipers and the left is for headlights. Some manufacturers have started doubling up those controls on a single stick which can be a bit bewildering. Plus, for most vehicles, it’s easy to just leave the headlights (and, often, the windshield wipers) on AUTO and let the car figure out when it’s needed.
Speaking of the main gauge display, it’s not going to win any design awards, but the display is entirely functional and easily understood:
Notice the safety graphic in the middle that shows if you’re wandering out of your lane, etc. Particularly given that it’s a CVT transmission, it’s really hard to imagine why the tachometer on the left is useful, but at least it’s a bit of vehicular history!
As I mentioned earlier, the infotainment system is modest in size with its 8″ screen, but it felt plenty big enough for its feature set, including listening to some Jazz through the Sirius XM subscription:
Note that while there are built-in buttons for phone, audio and camera, there’s no option for an included map or GPS system. Nissan, correctly, assumes that the majority of vehicle owners will have a smartphone plugged in for the driving directions they might need. Old school volume and tuning knobs were also very helpful with the infotainment system.
The climate controls had surprisingly few buttons, but part of that is because those knobs serve multiple purposes:
Notice also that underneath the climate controls are the power and charging options: A button to enable Qi wireless charging (the charging spot’s below this point, behind the shifter), a 12V charging plug, and both USB-C and USB-A plug ports for charging and mobile app connectivity (Android Auto and Apple CarPlay).
There are no additional controls in the center console. It’s a shifter and the on/off button, nothing else. No drive modes. No easy ability to enable and disable all of the many safety features. Nada. But I didn’t miss any of that while driving the 2023 Nissan Versa SR. It’s a simple, modest car with an entirely functional design and no unnecessary distractions or features that you’ll never actually use. The trunk was surprisingly capacious, which proved helpful when I went to the hardware store to get some repaired window screens and realized they were too big for the Versa. I folded down the back seats which gave me plenty of space when the trunk area was included too:
Mission successful! Fortunately, I didn’t have a couple of adults with me, however, because this is a pretty cosy sedan so there’s not a lot of legroom for rear passengers, especially if those up front are tall:
And that’s about it. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed my week with the Versa SR and think Nissan has a potential winner on its hands with this quite modestly priced sedan (entry level base price is $15K!). Are owners going to be dreaming of upgrading to bigger, fancier vehicles? Probably, but that’s entirely as it should be: Start small and work your way up.
All in all, lots to consider with this affordable entry level Nissan vehicle.
2023 Nissan Versa SR in Gray Sky Pearl, powered by a 1.6L16-valve 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. BASE PRICE: $19,820. Options included: Premium Paint, Carpeted Floor Mats and Trunk Mat, Electronics Package. AS DRIVEN: $22,460.00.
Disclosure: Nissan loaned me the Versa SR for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Nissan!