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Similar structure, but new Versa sheetmetal makes a more upscale statement. (SAE/Visnic)

What we’re driving: 2020 Nissan Versa SR

The new-generation Nissan Versa’s tech-for-dollar ratio is a positive signpost for the compact-car segment.

The 2020 Nissan Sentra’s most important asset isn’t as obvious as its all-new sheetmetal, although nobody could deny the sharky new body is an immense upgrade over the dowdy previous generation of Nissan’s smallest (and least expensive) car. Nor is it the extra 1.6 inches (41 mm) of overall length or 1.8 inches (46 mm) of width that help make it look more substantial.

It's the price. Even though the Versa used to be best-known for being the least-expensive new car in the U.S. and it’s not anymore, the new Versa is an amazing example of value. The line-topping SR trim that Nissan sent for us to test starts at $18,240 and really requires nothing else. That price brings a NHTSA-satisfying load of not-unsubstantial safety tech that includes: automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection; automatic braking for reversing; blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.

Adaptive cruise control is option-packaged with heated front seats for a measly $300; a European maker of luxury off-road vehicles is asking $1700 for a package of adaptive cruise/blind-spot assist/emergency braking – for a vehicle that starts at more than double the Versa SR’s price. Oh, and LED headlights – high- and low-beam – are standard for the Versa SR trim. We probably don’t have to tell you many automakers continue to charge serious money for LED headlights on markedly more-costly vehicles.

The 2020 Versa’s cabin is a substantial upgrade, too, and no longer looks like something in which you’d be a little ashamed for a date or coworker to eyeball. The much-faster new roofline and a heavy slash in rear-seat legroom mean the Versa’s back-seat accommodations are compressed and the front strut and rear solid axle suspension is nothing special, although the ride quality is mature enough.

Power is up 12% to 122 hp from the revised version of Nissan’s HR16DE 4-cyl and it’s hooked (unless it’s the base trim) to the latest iteration of Nissan’s ever-evolving continuously variable transmission (CVT), meaning the thing’s quieter and still working on eradicating all the other reasons why CVTs remain almost universally reviled. The 2020 Nissan Versa may not necessarily be aspirational, but it’s inspirational. There’s so much worthy equipment here that if safety and features are a chief concern, the new Versa makes a serious case against pre-owned vehicles of a couple classes above. 

2020 Nissan Versa SR

Base price:      $18,240
As tested:        $21,885
Highs:              Standard safety technology; much-improved sheetmetal; solid fuel economy
Lows:               Resides in the non-aspirational end of the market; meager rear-seat space
Takeaway:       Premium safety tech and upscale styling for used-car money          


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