2020 Nissan Versa
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The third-generation 2020 Nissan Versa has a revised powertrain and larger dimensions and is assembled in the company’s Aguascalientes, Mexico, plant. (Nissan)

New-generation Nissan Versa breaks for higher ground

Nissan packs standard features into the all-new 2020 Versa, which now is underpinned by the company’s V architecture.

Subcompact cars hardly are spotlight-grabbers at the moment, but Nissan has nonetheless delivered up an all-new 2020 Versa that notches higher fuel economy, quicker acceleration, tighter S-curve poise and a quieter cabin compared to the outgoing Versa.

“Nissan’s third-generation Versa is well-balanced in terms of performance, handling, and ride comfort,” Jose Romo, the car’s marketability engineer, told Automotive Engineering during a recent media ride-and-drive program in Nashville, Tenn.

Versa’s styling makeover extends the exterior dimensions, making the four-door 1.6-in. (41-mm) longer, 1.8-in. (46-mm) wider, and 2.3-in. (58-mm) lower. A refreshed interior provides best-in-class front legroom at 44.5 in. (1130 mm), a 2.7-in. (69-mm) increase versus the previous model.

Versa’s competitive set includes the 2018-redesigned Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and Chevrolet Sonic. It joins Nissan’s Kicks compact crossover SUV on the company’s global V-platform. Versa’s dynamic and NVH upgrades include powertrain improvements, steering-system revisions and noise-isolation enhancements.

More power, enhanced CVT
A Gen-3 version of the Versa’s 1.6-L 4-cyl. produces 122 hp at 6300 rpm and 114 lb-ft (155 Nm) at 4000 rpm—12% more power and 7% greater torque versus the prior 1.6-L. Much of the newfound power can be attributed to an increase in the compression ratio, going from 9.8:1 to 10.4:1 for the Gen-3 engine. The powerplant mates to either a 5-speed manual or the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

“Our next-generation Xtronic CVT achieves a 12% lower gear at 25 mph (40 km/h) with the addition of a belt reinforcement,” Romo said. The CVT’s revised D-step shift logic control enables quicker acceleration and better fuel economy with a 20% wider ratio spread. The car’s Xtronic-equipped fuel economy is 32 mpg city/40 mpg highway, with the combined 35 mpg rating representing an approximate 2% increase over the prior model. Fuel economy with the five-speed manual transmission is rated at 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway/30 mpg combined.

Flatter cornering, better stability
Versa continues with an independent strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear axle—with twin-tube shock absorbers for each corner. Polyurethane bump stops replace the prior rubber stops to help provide a more rigid structure. The car’s roll angle is reduced by 15% and crosswind stability improves with various changes, including larger tire widths and a 0.8-in. (20-mm) front chin-spoiler expansion. “The changes help to keep the car flatter during cornering,” Romo explained.

Cornering, S-curves, lane changes and parking maneuvers also benefit from changes to the steering layout. Versa’s steering shaft now is attached to the lower yoke via a weld rather than the prior fixed-by-bolt. In addition, the female portion of the intermediate steering shaft now is longer. “The changes help increase by 30% the steering shaft rigidity and that translates to more responsive steering,” Romo said, adding, “We also changed the mapping for the electric power steering and revised the damper tunings to get a good combination of comfort, ride and handling.”

Interior quietness improves with various noise-intrusion measures, including thicker dash insulation, thicker front side glass (from 3.5 mm to 4 mm), and 30% thicker carpet for driver and all passenger positions; the car’s stiffer suspension components also help isolate road noise. “The noise-isolation improvements mean the driver can have a normal, low-voice conversation with passengers,” Romo said.

The 2020 Versa, on sale now, is sold in three grades: S, SV, and SR. The SV and SR grades provide Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 as standard fare; that safety package includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and high-beam assist.

“This car over-delivers on what the expectations are for this segment,” said Rob Warren, director and chief marketing manager of Nissan North America. The Versa often was billed as the least-expensive new car in America. That’s no longer the case, but the 2020 model remains one of the lowest-car new vehicles on the market, with a Versa S with 5-speed manual transmission carrying a base MSRP (before destination) of $14,730, while the top-trim Versa SR with the standard-equipment Xtronic transmission has an MSRP of $18,240.

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