Short Take Review: 2008 Nissan Versa 1.8S Sedan
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2011.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver
Nissan has a long and successful history of building great cheap cars. Case in point: the Sentra. Particularly in its first three generations (pre-1995 model year), it was a little compact that established Nissan as a company for people on a budget who didn't want to give up every semblance of fun.
This particular author, for instance, recalls terrorizing the streets of West L.A. in a gray '88 Sentra two-door throughout his college years. With its 70-hp, 1.6-liter four-banger, five-speed stick, and wobbly tires, it was no Corvette, but the indestructible stripper Sentra lived for high revs, yielded 35 mpg, and showed me, a muscle-car guy in high school, the indescribable joys of driving a slow car fast.
Versa's Task: Fill the Shoes Sentra No Longer Fits
Perhaps more important — for Nissan anyway — the Sentra's growth spurt left the company without a car in the very market segment — i.e., the cheap car — on which the company relied so heavily two decades ago. Enter the Versa sedan, the original Sentra's successor.
Not Made in — or for — the U.S.A.
But the benefits of this packaging are immediately evident from the instant one sits in the commanding driver's seat. Headroom is outstanding, outward vision is excellent, and the rear seat offers as much space as an Acura TL's and enough legroom for an adult male to cross his legs. The 13-cubic-foot trunk is as voluminous as the Acura's, too, and deep enough for tall boxes.
Sentra's Successor, but Is It Spiritual?
The six-speed manual transmission offers one more cog than is offered by most of the Versa's classmates, it features an ideally located shifter, and it does a respectable job delivering what little power and torque the buzzy-at-the-limit 1.8-liter four-pot has to offer. The tightly packed ratios no doubt aided our nine-second-flat 0-to-60 run and 16.9-second quarter-mile at 83 mph, figures clustered closely around the class average. Braking, at 195 feet from 70 to 0 mph, is well behind the competition, as is pedal feel. The pedal does exactly nothing until your foot is all the way to the floor, at which point it grabs unexpectedly abruptly.
If you are among those who have owned some of the great cheap cars in Nissan's past, you might expect more willingness from the Versa. For pure driving fun in this segment, we like Honda's Fit — a comparo and 10Best winner — much better. But the Versa comes closer than anything else in the class to the Fit's moves, with more interior space for four or five and a comfortable commuter side to satisfy mainstream demands.