At its recent press introduction in sunny San Diego, California, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note five door hatchback could have easily faded into the background of a bustling medium sized city that has its fair share of blinged out supercars which no one even bats an eyelash should one drive by. It sort of defeats the purpose of buying a Lamborghini if you aren’t going to get any attention driving it, right? Well, to make matters worse for people who buy cars more expensive than the average median home price this all new 2014 Nissan Versa Note managed to turn heads and start conversations with interested strangers wherever we drove it.

Perhaps it’s because the Versa Note is a handsomely styled five door hatchback in a class of cars that can occasionally be the origin of oddly proportioned hunchbacked, hatchback subcompact monster. Sorry, we shouldn’t talk about the Toyota Yaris like that. Or maybe these folks had heard about the Note’s $13,990 base price well equipped and even the most lavishly equipped model in the lineup doesn’t surpass $19,000 and at that price it comes equipped with a ridiculous array of features that cars this small never had before.

But what they can’t have known is that upon getting behind the wheel of the 2014 Nissan Versa Note we were blown away by the grown up ride, the driving dynamics, the refinement (not always a Nissan small car strength), the upscale feel and overall fun to drive nature. Yes, we said fun to drive and this was true even with the newly refined and highly frugal CVT automatic which pushes EPA Highway fuel economy estimates to 40 miles per gallon. It seems to us that the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Kia Rio, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris all have a new, big problem on their hands.

Lineup

The 2014 Nissan Versa Note starts with an S model at $13,990 but feels more substantial and premium inside than the sedan with greater emphasis on nice feeling plastics and the robust nature of everything from the seat fabrics to the controls. Clearly the Note aimed for the Honda Fit and managed to one up that interior quality class leader in the process. The S trim comes with the usual air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player with auxiliary input jack, a tire pressure monitoring system, split folding rear seats and a class leading amount of cargo holding capacity with 21.4 cubic feet with the rear seats in use and 38.4 cubic feet when they are folded down. An S Plus variant comes standard with Nissan’s much improved CVT automatic which ups fuel economy estimates to 31 city/40 highway.

Probably the best value is the $15,990 SV trim level which adds steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control, power windows and locks, upgraded cloth seats with a driver’s armrest (perfect for road trips) and much more. Upping the ante to the $17,690 SL package adds alloy wheels (also available as a stand-alone option on the SV), fog lamps, heated front seats, a back-up camera and push button start with Intelligent Key entry.

Topping off the range is the still very affordable $18,490 SL with tech package which adds an in-dash navigation system, Bluetooth audio streaming, Nissan’s around car camera viewing system and a hands free text messaging assistant. We must admit that we loved having all of the goodies featured in the SL with Tech Package trim and although most subcompacts don’t offer these features now, by the time you choose to sell on your Versa Note this technology may already be demanded by used car buyers. So sometimes buying a car with all of the gadgets isn’t a bad idea.

Exterior Styling

The styling of the 2014 Nissan Note is not only upscale in appearance but it also manages to look modern and sporty at the same time. It really is the looker in the subcompact hatch segment with no other model managing to maintain the Note’s level of utility while also endowing it with a unique and coherent sense of style. Truly, the 2014 Nissan Note looks great from every angle.

Interior

The Versa Note boasts a thick, leather wrapped steering wheel from the Sentra which really helps to elevate the interior feeling out of the bargain basement and into a very pleasant middle ground. On SV and SL trim the steering wheel has audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls all of which come in handy. Unlike most of the Versa Note’s competition, your vehicle can feature heated seating, heated side mirrors, Pandora radio, hands free texting via the center dash mounted screen and a multi-camera view of everything around the car which is invaluable when attempting to parallel park. There are even optional sporty looking 17-inch alloys available that fill out the wheel arches nicely should you decide to really pimp out your 2014 Versa Note.

The 2014 Nissan Versa Note can haul as much as 38.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat via Nissan’s clever Divide N’ Hide storage system. Although it doesn’t come standard on all Versa Note trims, the Divide N’ Hide system really enhances the usability of all the vehicle’s space thanks to a hidden cargo sub floor behind the rear seats and a completely flat and low load floor. When you are carrying passengers in the back seat the Versa Note can still haul 21.4 cubic feet of cargo.

Finally, the Honda Fit has met its match for cargo hauling ability and just finds itself surpassed thanks to the Versa Note’s exemplary interior quality and fit and finish. We also love the large dual gloveboxes in the Note as they ensure plenty of hiding spots for all of your junk, smart phones, pens and gum wrappers. There is also a thoughtfully well-placed armrest for the driver on SV and SL models. In the subcompact market, you don’t get more features, more utility and more interior quality for less than you do from the 2014 Nissan Versa Note.

Driving Experience

Now, the 1.6 liter 109 horsepower 4-cylinder when mated to a CVT automatic transmission may sound like a recipe for a car that accelerates as quickly as molasses out of a maple tree but you would actually be wrong. Even at Southern California freeway speeds where you go as fast as everyone else or perish, the 2014 Nissan Versa Note demonstrated it still had enough accelerative oomph to get you out of any dangerous defensive driving situations. From a stop power is plentiful for this size vehicle and notably most engine and road noise is very well muted from the cabin even under hard acceleration. There is some slight wind noise around the side mirrors that you can mask by listening to the stereo.

Lastly, Nissan did a tremendous amount of work on its once annoying line of CVT automatics which thanks to  being made smaller, lighter, given a wider ratio spread for the gearing and new internal fluids designed to reduce 30% of friction, noise and wear this gearbox is now a tremendous asset. To give the sensation that the CVT is actually “shifting” instead of holding the gear forever on uphill grades, Nissan added a 2 speed planetary gearbox which helps make the car drive smoothly, quietly and without any undue annoyance. The CVT always had us at the right point in the rev range to access this rather small engine’s sweet spots power and efficiency wise.

Out on the open road the 2014 Versa Note showed a knack for being a capable long distance commuter just as it is obviously talented in the cut and thrust of tight urban traffic. One last time we will reiterate how much more solid and grown up a car that the Versa Note seems to be compared to its competitors and it is that completeness of character that will make you appreciate this subcompact for years to come should you choose to buy it. It’s just more complete, more solidly built, more useful, more fun and better to drive than everything else that’s out there right now.

Competition

The 2014 Nissan Versa Note is, we feel, best suited to take on the best engineered competition which includes the aforementioned Fit, Chevy Sonic, Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta. These four subcompact vehicles had been the leaders when it came to being fun to drive but the new Versa Note keeps up with even the best. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are compelling buys as well although neither are as polished from a driver’s perspective as the rest of this group. Lastly, you could buy a Toyota Yaris if you really wanted to but with a nasty interior, poor cargo room and passenger space and gawky styling we would have to wonder why?

What We Love

  • The Exterior Styling and Materials Choices for the Interior
  • The improvements to the CVT automatic
  • The Smooth Ride, Communicative Steering and Terrific Fuel Efficiency

What We Would Change

  • The 1.6 liter 109 horsepower engine can feel strained at times
  • Make a manual transmission available across the trim Levels not just S
  • Just Call this it the 2014 Nissan Note as it is more refined and stylish than the Versa sedan.

Vehicle Tested

We tested 2014 Nissan Versa Note models in a number of colors in both SV and SL with Tech Package trims during our drive routes. Both models performed flawlessly with no mechanical failures and no signs that these were still just pre-production models.

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