Unless something happens between now and next week, this is my penultimate COAL entry. It’s about my 2007 Nissan Versa hatchback.
Before we get to that, I think it’s worth talking about the lengthy and varied list of cars I’d driven up until this point. From two-door coupes to SUVs, the average length of time a car has remained in my possession has been annoying short, if you ask my wife. With the Versa, I set out to change that. While rather basic and boring, the hatchback ticked off some important boxes: it was safe, economic and low maintenance.
I got a good deal on a used example, and thought I would be set for the next 7-8 years. Turns out, the universe didn’t agree, but more on that in a minute.
In a nutshell, the Versa is just a rebadged and reconfigured Nissan Tiida. The Japanese car was assembled in Mexico for the American market, while this little world car can be found across Asia and Europe as well.
Here in the States, the 2007 was the car’s debut. It shipped with a DOHC 1.8 L four banger putting out 122 hp. My S model came with AC, but no cruise control. It did come with a nasty habit of losing hubcaps over the slightest potholes. I ended up pulling the two I had left off, driving around on the black steelies. It matched nicely to the sparse, cheap interior.
The higher-end SL would ship with cruise control and and alloy wheels, as well as an optional continuously variable transmission.
Many, many words have been spilled on the pros and cons of the CVT. A friend of mine’s Versa SL had one, and I found it very disconcerting to drive. The lack of feedback given by the somewhat unrefined automatic transmission I was used to was more than a little uncanny.
All in all, my Versa delivered on its promise. It ran well, sipped gas and the hatchback proved to be handy when we needed to use it to transport our growing family. Car seats were easy to get in and out, and with the seats folded down, I could pack in more than you’d think in terms of cargo.
While I certainly didn’t love this car, it served me well, and I thought we’d be together for a long time.
Yep, same bike as last time.
That’s when I was in the first accident. On the way home one night from work, someone changed lanes into the front quarter panel of the Nissan. Her much bigger and much heavier Audi was more or less fine, but my little car was towed away. Damage came in just shy of the percentage of the car’s value to be totaled, so it was repaired and returned to me. The shop did a good job, but the surgery was extensive, including a bumper, headlight, quarter panel, hood and a whole mess of suspension components.
While the car drove like-new when I got it back, my faith in our future was shaken. Nine months later, the dream would come to an end. I was sitting still on the interstate in traffic when the guy behind me got rear-ended by a driver at speed. The resulting end-to-end collisions totaled four cars and damaged two more. As mine was right in the middle of the line, it was last to be towed away. I knew it was probably dead when I couldn’t open the rear doors. I managed to pry the hatchback open to get some stuff out of it and noticed the floorboard was bowed up.
Image via Wikipedia
After a few days, the shop called and made it official: the Versa was dead. I got a check in the mail, and went shopping, yet again.
I had a 06 Tiida rental manual it was horrible, exceedingly uncomfortable and quite underwhelming to drive, I more recently had a 93 Sentra which went better rode and handled better than its newer sibling so I consider the Tiida a glich in small Nissans rather than where the brand is heading, I’d never have a CVT though, tried one in a Primera no thanks.
The Versa’s main claim to fame, as I recall, was a quite roomy rear seat with better rear headroom than a lot of big sedans. (I remember looking at the stats years ago for a friend who was in the unique dilemma of needing to get a second car that would fit a child who was still in the age range required by law to use a child seat despite already being taller than many adults.)
Stephen, It is an understandable and logical decision, get a nice roomy recent model car from a reputable maker and be spared the bother to have to find another car for the next 7 to 8 years.
I’m glad no one in your car was hurt. Unfortunately, despite what some some people say, size does matter. I’m all for using less gas and being more “green”, but it seems that the more heavy steel you have around you when you’re on the road, the better off you will be in an accident.
There are limits to this logic, specifically big trucks and buses and the like, but at least the odds are “less bad” when you’re not the little guy. In my last COAL I went from a type 1 bug to a Duster for this exact reason, and it probably did help me escape some physical injury, but not in the way I expected.
Looking forward to your next COAL; I’m guessing it will be a bit bigger than the Versa.
and of course I now drive a Miata. Some people never learn.
Yup, be glad you’re OK. I got rear-ended twice during my teen years and still feel it occasionally 35 years later.
My thoughts on vehicle crashes are:
– If you’re OK, who cares about the vehicle?
– If you’re not OK, who cares about the vehicle?
If this is the penultimate CC I am looking forward to the ultimate CC
I had a rental Versa with the CVT while in Florida at my wife’s parent’s 60th anniversary. Numbest experience I’ve ever had (car, not the anniversary).
The CVT in my third-gen Honda Fit (Jazz), while not as engaging as a manual (nor will it ever be, even with paddle “shifters”), is lightyears better.
Those disappearing hubcaps: thanks. I thought it was just me. Every Versa I’ve seen seems to have lost one or all of them.
The clips that hold them on are very thin and even without hitting a pothole or something big, they tend to crack.
I’ve lost 3 in 5 years.
I’ve driven two of it’s cousins, the cube. Drive one now with over 90kmiles. The CVT will never be my favorite but it does the job. We bought this car to be a people mover and it does it well. The Versas I have rented were essentially the same, just scaled down. Living in the country equals longevity for a car IMO. I used to have about a hundred mile commute (round trip) on city freeways. Lost a couple cars in this manner.
Thanks for the story and wish you luck.
I liked the Versa. It was a one of the few small cars that had mature styling. I felt that Nissan lost some of that in the second gen restyle. I looked at some used ones, but most of them were in rough condition. Like most small and cheap cars, they seem to lead hard lives.
The automotive press seems to pan CVTS, even the Honda ones they seem to be luke warm on at best.
I’m truly vexed as to why that is. It took me all of a day to grow accustomed to my Outback’s CVT; effectively there is no discernible shift ‘thud’. It’s my understanding the Honda CVT is far superior….
It is strange how some cars seem to be accident magnets. I had a almost new ’73 Sport Bug (super beetle) I bought in ’75 that was one. Rear ended while stopped at a light. T boned while stopped at a light. Backed into and dragged down the street by a pickup truck while parked. Locking pin pops out while running and locks steering wheel while driving, luckily was in a parking lot and able to stop before hitting anything. All this in less than 2 years.
Wasn’t sad to get rid of that car. Insurance dropped me after the third collision because I was an “unlucky driver”. Actually was only the second claim, the rear ender was covered by the other drivers insurance. The T boner had no insurance, and the pickup truck was a hit and drag down the street until my car broke free and run. More like an unlucky car. But at least never got hurt. The car was bright yellow, so it’s not like it was hard to see. Next car ’66 VW Bus camper, never got touched while I owned it.
My late father had three cars that seemed to be accident magnets, a ’69 Checker Marathon, a ’72 Pinto, and an ’81 AMC Concord, which was hit more than the other three combined. Not one single accident with any of those three cars was his fault, go figure.
My own Versa was a 2012SL with the CVT. Yes , the CVT is different , but I wasn’t expecting a race car when I bought the Versa. I wanted the best possible MPG and I quickly learned I could live with the CVT so long as I drove sanely and didn’t think about my 0-60 times. The Versa gave me no problems aside from a few squeaks around the a/c vents when the weather got down to freezing. Overall , for a small city commuter is was excellant. IT wasn’t bad on the highway either holding it’s own at 80 mph. I loved the simple Heater/A-C controlls, and the Nav. system was easy to work with.
You can’t blame the CVT for the tepid acceleration, the engine is the one to blame for that.
Fact is that a CVT allows the engine to operate at peak output throughout the acceleration event, assuming you are commanding maximum acceleration. With a transmission that has separate distinct gear ratios you are mostly operating above or below the engine’s peak output rpm. The engine exceeds that peak output point, the gear ratio changes and the engine rpm drops below peak output and that process is repeated with every gear change. The engine just passes through the peak output range briefly in each gear.
Of course that is negating the fact that the frictional losses are different between a conventional automatic, manual and a CVT with the CVT usually having higher losses than the manual. That extra frictional losses however are made up for by allowing the engine to operate at its most efficient rpm for the given load most of the time.
I am not convinced. The dismal 0-60 times of CVT-equipped cars are not just due to weak engines. For an example, see a drag race on YouTube between manual and cvt-equipped Scion iMs by ‘The Fast Lane Car’ (/watch?v=95HqyUDxr4Y). The manual car crossed 1/4 mile ahead by (Run 1) 0.8 seconds and (Run 2) 0.3 seconds (out of ~19-1/2 seconds).
I have a theory. CVTs may suffer accelerated wear when handling large torque and when the ratio change is great (as it is when starting out from a standstill). On the small pulley, a large amount of force is being concentrated on relatively few links of the chain.
Now, suppose you are on the engineering team tasked with getting these CVTs through the warranty period at least. If, for cost or size or weight reasons, for example, you cannot specify a different unit, you have to come up with another solution. So, you ‘cheat’ in a way, you modify the throttle and RPM mapping.
You modify it so the transmission allows the engine to roar to the redline, but you keep the throttle at part throttle, not wide open. (Remember, all cars are now ‘drive by wire’. Your foot mashing the accelerator to the floorboards is only a suggestion to the computer, there’s no longer any physical connection to the throttle plate.) Lots of noise, slow acceleration is the result. Power = torque x rotational speed. More rotational speed means less torque need be supplied for a given power output.
At intermediate road speeds, neither pulley will be in the small position. At these speeds, maybe a full throttle opening is allowed by the computer, and maybe then the full power and peak torque of the engine are experienced. So, do CVTs have equal or better passing performance than manual? Or, at least, 40-60 mph times more comparable to manual cars, vs their 0-30 times where they seem to fall flat?
If, in fact, the poor performance from a standstill appears as friction heat in the transmission, I think the lifetimes of these units would be even poorer than they are seen to be now. As I said, I think it’s more likely a result of throttle mapping with the objective of saving the transmission.
Just a theory. I am not an automotive engineer or designer.
We have two Versas as news vehicles. Get to drive them around quite a bit.
While it is a bit numb, I sort of like the CVT. Then again, I have one on my Prius as well, so maybe I’m used to it.
It will take practically anything you throw at it, including a 35 mile trip down a dirt trail to write a story about lost hikers.. Didn’t think I was going to make that, but the Versa pulled me through beautifully.
Richard, Does the Prius have a “real” CVT or one that feels like a CVT?
I have researched the Prius as it is a top choice if I ever want to get a new car (I always have a ready to buy list handy), and in that research somewhere I read that the Prius has a geared one speed transmission with electric engine boost at startup.
If my understanding is correct, the Prius is like a 1950 Buick Dynaflow with JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off).
OK, I think this is what I read during the Prius research: http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/Understanding/ContinuouslyVariableTransmission.htm
The Prius “transmission” is technically a CVT, since it is continuously variable, bit it does not work like all the other CVTs out there, which are all based on the DAF principle of having a steel “belt” driven over variable-sized pulleys. The Prius CVT is a planetary affair, but the end result is largely the same.
Not only is the eCVT in the Prius (and other Toyota and Ford Hybrids) a real CVT is it the simplest, most durable and elegant solution to the CVT problem. Not the best solution to hwy MPG though since the traction Motor/Generator saps some of the power to run the range MG to actually make a connection between the engine and the wheels as well as provide the desired gear ratio.
For the ultimate solution for the hwy mpg that falls to the recent Accord hybrid because at a steady state cruise above a certain speed the motors are just along for the ride neither supplying power nor consuming it. Since much of the time the engine is not mechanically connected to the wheels it allows the engine to operate as if it was connected to a CVT that just happens to also have a source to boost output in the form of the battery, assuming of course that it has a sufficient SOC.
That link has it pretty much all wrong about how the eCVT works. This link is much better and it has a neat little animation that you can play with the speeds of the various components and the resulting effect. http://eahart.com/prius/psd/ Be sure to play with negative speeds (reverse) and you’ll see that because of the max acceptable rpm of the range MG the car can actually go faster in reverse if the engine is off, than if it is on, assuming of course the battery SOC is high enough.
I just remembered this old army training video actually shows the basics of how the eCVT as used by Toyota and Ford works actually works, in the metal so to speak. The only significant difference is that the second input is that range motor generator and instead of running that second input at a fixed speed it is allowed to vary. The part about the 2 input system starts at about 9:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrkzaQRDtuM It even has state of the art graphics like the other link showing the speeds of the different members.
It’s a shame, but Nissan cars, well, the sedans, of the last 15 years+ or – “seem” to have been built to satisfy a set of standards that have nothing to do with driver enjoyment.
Most rear seat headroom? Highest number of standard safety features? Biggest trunk opening?
I’ve considered a small Nissan, either a Versa Note or a Cube, several times but I would only buy one with a manual transmission…..but they can be hard to find.
I did have a 94 Sentra as a rental about 20 years ago and thought it was quite decent but not as good or better than my Civic. It just seems as though the merger with Renault killed the spirit in Nissan. Odd, though, as Renault has been on a small car “tear” for the last 10-15 years. I thought the Note was supposed to share a platform with a Renault?
I’ve rented a Versa twice. One was a drive from Chicago to Nashville. Horrible, awful seats. I don’t think I could ever own one of them.
Great write up and you should thank your lucky stars that in these crashes you were driving a modern car with airbags and crumple zones.
Hmm, neither of these crashes were helped by those things. The front air bags don’t deploy in a glancing blow like the first crash and even side curtain or side bolster air bags are going to deploy in a minor crash that is not directly at the passenger compartment. (One look at my wife’s car after the collsion it was n last night will show you that) Crumple zones don’t really exist in the rear of cars, particularly a hatch back where the back seat is almost at the rear of the car. They rely on the fact that if a car is damaged in the rear it is either from being hit by another car that hopefully is designed with a crumple zone in the front, or it is a low speed collision from backing into something.
Yes some cars do seem to be cursed and attract people running into them. My wife’s current car seems to be one of those. Last year she was hit in the rear twice by the same inattentive driver and then last night she got clipped in the front end and this one I think is going to total the car too. Sad because she really liked that car and I looked for some time to find one with the desired options, color and at a good price. That time I could wait until we found the exact right car but this time I fear we will be stuck and have to choose what ever is close that we can find w/o looking for months.
Can you at least give us a clue to what car you’ll show us next? Is it an suv, coupe, sedan, van? American, European, Korean, or Japanese brand?
We have a local company that picks up lab samples from medical offices. Their Versas have cable ties around each spoke of the wheel cover.
I have rented Versa Notes twice. I am 6′ 2” with a long spine. These have plenty of head room. The last rental was in Northeast Ohio for a February funeral. Two degrees and eight inches of snow. The heater was good. The CVT was not a factor with the snow. It did well with its standard tires, and I hadn’t driven in snow since 1998.
Re: cable ties holding the wheelcovers on
You’ll see all the law enforcement Crown Vics with the wheel covers held on by black cable ties. Apparently all the fleet management offices got tired of buying new wheel covers!
The first gen Versa hatchback report relates well with the Renault 16 one above. Renault and Nissan have a relationship and at that time the head of Nissan design was French. It’s pretty obvious. Also check out the Quest. They have a lot in common, although for various reasons the Quest was less, not more practical than the competition.
The Versa has some of that French practicality (maximum interior cubic feet) with somewhat awkward but artistic exterior. The interior also reflects some unique artistry. It feels much more mid century modern than the competition to me. The Quest is even more arty inside.
The Versa platform was from some Renault, probably the Clio. So better ride – maybe more wheel travel than the norm, and less precise darty handling than the competition.
This interior is the series 2 when they moved the instrument binnacle from the stupid but Citroenlike center position to the normal one behind the steering wheel. About the coolest minivan dash ever. Very designerly.
The original and more designerly minmod Quest interior. Note also the wide flatish Citroen Cactus style lounge chair front seats.
Yes, Renault owns a controlling share in Nissan.
This was the 1st brand new car I ever purchased. Loved it to start but ithe glamour quickly wore off. I’ve owned a lot of cars during my life but the Versa had the worst cloth along with the hottest interior I’ve come across. You had to take a pet roller to clean it. Vacuuming it would not work.
I never liked the styling of the Versa. It’s lame, and looked from the start too much like Renault cues applied to a Nissan. Reminded me of what was then the current Megane.
The Tiida does make for a great taxi! Rear legroom is impressive. When I take the share taxi here, I wish I get to take the Tiida.
I had a current generation (2016) Versa sedan as a rental recently. Regrettable little car. No power, weird operation from the CVT, twitchy in crosswinds, uncomfortable seats, plus I think some of the most uninspired styling on the market–it looks like a Chinese knock-off of a Nissan. Cheap, cheap, and more cheap. Did it have good points? Yes, there was a lot of headroom, and surprising legroom in the back seat. The A/C worked. It was easy to park because it was startlingly narrow. But I have zero desire to experience another one.
The previous generation, like yours featured, were more attractive if nothing else. Plus your not having the CVT was, at least judging by my experience, a major plus. And the hatchback would be considerably more useful than a trunk in a car of that class.
I am on my second cube which, at first, shared the power train with the versa I think. The CVT on the second one is easy to drive and simply takes getting used to. Otoh, the first was a 6mt and it was sweet. I think a versa with a mt would be great for urban use. Rented several when carting my wife around the state in her prior job. Not bad if the trip isn’t too long. Pretty much kin to the Toyota Corolla.
Our problems with the cube or versa are certainly first world problems.
My 2015 Versa Note is the SV version, which means more shiny interior bling and a better level of standard equipment. The instrument panel is very different from the base Note dealer shop car I rode in when being schlepped home for my only warranty repair to date.
My thoughts on the CVT are that it seems counterintuitive to normal auto trannys. Instead of increasing the throttle when hills are encountered on the highway while in cruise control, the rpms rise while the throttle stays in mostly the same place. It’s not unusual for rpms and engine related sturm and drang to go to a Hyundai Accent reminiscent 3200+/- at 65 while going uphill then going back to a normal 2000 rpm once level terrain is reached again. The CVT in my roommates Prius doesn’t seem to do that, but then there is no tachometer present and engine harshness wasn’t as present. I do wish that Japanese automakers would offer standard transmissions on other than base models tho.
Mine is the same color as the poster’s car. NIssan loves their grayish colors, don’t they?
I like the looks of these circa 2007 Hatchbacks and I thought the one I drove was alright enough. The current Versa Note is alright looking, but feels tinny and the the Versa Sedan is just meh.
I just recently purchased a 2012 SV loaded with the 6 speed manual. I love it. Because it had only 1800 km’s (1150 miles) on the odometer, it was sold as a new car, even though it’s almost 4 years old! I got the Nissan new vehicle warranty coverage, the drive train warranty and got a screaming deal on Nissan’s extended warranty (don’t bother yelling at me; it’s something my wife absolutely insisted we buy) so I’m covered until 2025 after the extended kicks in!
I only just returned from a 4,800 kilometre (3,000 mile) trip out to the coast and back and the Versa is a great little highway car. It’s incredibly quiet, and as the torque peak is right in the middle of the rev band it’s quite peppy passing on two lane roads. My only issue is the wimpy HVAC system which had difficulty keeping the interior cool in the sun, even with the generous tinting applied. I average slightly under 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres for fuel economy (about 37.4 mpg according to Google translate) which I felt was more the adequate considering the spirited driving I frequented (took BC Highway 3 with a dozen or so 30 kph switchbacks and 3 different high altitude passes).
It has a reasonably compliant ride and decent handling (it’s a nice mix between the Focus sporty handling and the Corolla soft ride) and has acquitted itself very well so far. The only niggling issues that I worry may become full time gripes are the numb electric steering and the crappy shifter. I’ve been spoiled by the sticks in our 05 Focus, 01 Ranger and ’10 BMW E92. Yup, that;s how bad the gating is on the Nissan’s transmission, it’s less favourably compared to an 01 Ranger!