2015 Nissan Versa Note SR – Driven

When Nissan brought me its cheapest hatchback, the 2014 Versa Note, earlier this year I found myself impressed with its nimbleness, abundant interior space great features despite its bargain price. I did wish it was a little faster, and the CVT isn’t the best, but in general I recommended it as a great bargain runabout. For 2015, Nissan has the new sportier looking Versa Note SR, and the automaker sent it my way for a week of testing (read: flogging). The new car has revised visual cues inside and out, and the equipment list is a little different than my last Versa. Best yet, it’s even a little cheaper than the last one I tested as well.

Does the new looks and revised interior make this car even better than the old model? Does the lowered price and reduced equipment options make it a better deal or a drearier place to spend time? Did that CVT magically get any better?

Exterior

The 2014 Versa Note wasn’t attractive in the general sense, but it did at least look interesting. The soft curves and sculpted shapes made it look far more handsome than a tall hatch with flat-sides should be allowed. With the new SR, Nissan Nissan added a lot of small changes to the outside that combine to make a huge difference. The grille is a dark diamond mesh pattern that looks a lot classier than the long horizontal stripes of my last tester, and the headlamps have been modified ever so slightly. The outside amber reflector on the headlamp has been moved down and widened slightly. It is a tiny change, but it more closely follows the angles and lines of the car to make the front end look a little more aggressive.

The SR features a whole new front bumper that sees the flat and boring horizontal body line shaped into a “vee” that mirrors the angles of the upper grille. The lower grill has a more three-dimensional look with a new front lip and lateral cuts that frame the revised fog light housings. There is more black diamond mesh in the lower grille, and the fog lights now have black surrounds with sharp chrome trim highlighting the top and outer edges.

Down the side of the Versa you can see the new side-view mirrors that are one of my favorite changes to the exterior. The old models were large and bulbous round units, but the 2015 SR arrives with squared units that look more aerodynamic and interesting. There is a large and thin LED strake that runs through the front of the top-third of the mirror to act as an indicator light and it really shows of the new sculpting and shape of the mirror housing. To match the new nose there is also an aggressive side skirt that runs the profile of the Versa SR. The alloy wheels of the SR are also new with an exclusive and stunning two-tone silver and black color scheme coupled to a split-spoke design. They are 16 inches in diameter, same as the last model.

The tail of the Versa Note SR gets the same level of attention that the rest of the exterior does. The new rear bumper is wider at the bottom, giving the car a more square and planted visual stance, and there is a plethora of new cuts, sculpting details and trim changes. The bottom of the bumper tucks up into a visual representation of a diffuser that is made from a carbon-look plastic of surprising quality. TO the outer edges of that trim, there are sculpted cuts that mirror the new shape of the fog light housings in the nose. To finish the new go-faster styling, there is a spoiler mounted to the top of the hatch. It’s not as large as the one you will find on the Fiesta ST, but its dual hump design is attractive.

Interior

The inside of the Versa range has always been its strongest selling point. It may be a hatch, but the Versa Note is designed to provide passenger space and comfort more than cargo room. While it didn’t get any more space for 2015, the SR trim does add some cool visual upgrades, as well as some improved trim and ergonomics.

The seats of the SR are built to match the sporty exterior and feature a cloth that is similar to suede in the way it feels. It is much stickier than the standard cloth and does a pretty good job of trying to hold you in the seats. It also just plain feels nicer. Along with the new cloth material, the seats of the SR get a new design that features a cool orange stripe and orange dimpled inserts. Even on a car wearing Metallic Blue paint like mine, the orange just seems to work. The seats are also held together with orange contrast stitching, and you will find the same dimpled cloth on the doors.

Front and center there is an SR-special leather-wrapped steering wheel. Directly behind that is what Nissan calls Fine Vision Vision gauges and they are gorgeous in all the right ways. The cluster is filled with three large black circles, and they are backlit by brilliant white light. Even in direct bright sunlight all the gauges are incredible crisp and clear. Despite this, they are not glaringly bright at night. Regardless of conditions or light, they just always seem to be at the perfect brightness. If Nissan told me these gauges were powered by unicorn magic I would believe them.

In the center of the speedo there is a small LCD that seems to float in a bowl black inky nothingness. It serves multiple functions that you can scroll through with a single button mounted to the steering wheel that include mpg measurements, remaining range and more. To the right is a more traditional LCD display that notifies you of selected gear, outside temp and odometer readings.

The center stack should look much nicer and classier to anyone who owns a current Versa Note. The black plastic from the old car has been banished and replaced by glossy piano-black trim. The stereo in our car doesn’t have the Navigation system and tech package upgrades, so it lacks some of the buttons and features of my old tester, but it does have nice orange light rings around the main control knobs; a feature the old car lacked. There is also a dedicated display button that allows you to turn the screen off with the push of a single button. When going on long night trips, being able to quickly deactivate the bright screen is a welcome touch.

Move a little south from the stereo unit and you are greeted by revised climate controls. The cheap and chunky gray plastic knobs have been ditched for black units, and the fan control knob now has a nice chrome trim ring. The large circular cut in the plastic to make room for these controls is also gone, and it makes the center stack look much nicer and higher quality. Again, these are all subtle touches, but together they add up to make the cabin a much nicer place to be.

Drivetrain

While the 2015 Versa Note SR got a whole pile of visual goodies added to its repertoire, the greasy bits that keep it moving haven’t changed at all. That means you still get a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. Despite its sporting disposition and looks, the SR is still only sold with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT. If you want to row your own gears in the Versa you are stuck with the base S model.

Performance is only adequate with the 0-to-60-mph sprint coming around in the high nine-second range, and while I didn’t test it, I wouldn’t expect the Versa to manage more than 125 mph on the top end. Since the running gear hasn’t changed, the fuel economy ratings haven’t either. The sticker still proudly claims 40 mpg on the highway with 31 in the city and a combined rating overall of 35.

With my last Versa I only managed to clear about 30 mpg which was more than disappointing. I am not 100-percent sure of what has changed between now and then, but I managed a healthy 36-plus mpg on this go around with the Versa Note, despite the fact that I pushed this model even harder than I did the last one. The CVT even seemed to behave better for me this go around when I was traversing the rapid elevation changes in the area. Nissan hasn’t said anything about changing the tuning of the CVT for the SR, so I am not entirely sure what prompted such an improvement in fuel economy or driveability.

Price

The SR sits in the middle of the Versa lineup between the value priced SV and the top-trim SL. The lowest price you can pay for a Versa Note SR is $17,530, but with some options you can push that higher. Our car came with the SR Convenience Package that added the 5-inch display in the dash, SiriusXM satellite radio and backup camera all for the sum of $660. Add in $180 for the carpeted floor and cargo mats, plus the $810 destination fee, to brings the grand total up to $19,180.

That is almost $500 cheaper than the last Versa I drove, but that $500 secured Navigation, a trick AroundView monitor setup and keyless entry with a push-button start. The body kit and revised interior trim is nice, but I expected the SR to be just a touch cheaper, or maybe a tad better equipped.

Driving Impressions

Driving the 2015 Versa Note SR, unsurprisingly, was just like driving the 2015 model. That isn’t a bad thing though. The car isn’t equipped with a set of race-spec coilovers, but its lower ride height and stretched wheelbase do create a platform that is more fun than you would likely give it credit for. There is a fair bit of body roll, but once the weight transitions, the car will stick and sling your through a corner. If you are good with some late left-foot braking you can even get the tail to step just slightly.

Understeer can be an issue at the absolute limit but during normal brisk driving, it isn’t a problem in most situations. The engine is small, and mounted fairly far back in the nose between the wheels so the amount of weight on the nose is reduced, thereby reducing its tendency to understeer you straight into a tree around that one banked hairpin you love so much.

When you aren’t trying to set a new back-road record, the Versa Note SR settles into a competent commuter machine. NVH inside the cabin is more hushed than you would expect from a car in this price range and the seats are plenty supportive for longer drives. The stereo is not the greatest-sounding thing in the world, but it serves its purpose well and smartly placed controls make it easy to operate when on the move without taking your eyes off the road. Nissan was even kind enough to include a text-messaging assistant that is designed to read incoming texts aloud to help curb the pandemic problem of texting while driving.

When driving around in tighter urban areas, the large windows, upright seating position and tight turning circle are huge bonuses. The steering is also better in the city than out on the great wilds of rural America with its quick action and light weighting…

Conclusion

The Nissan Versa SR builds on the already great new Versa with revised designs inside and out that add up to make the car look faster, classier and more expensive. Despite the new looks, price has stayed the same, and that is great for potential buyers. I wish that Nissan would have added just a touch more power to match the more aggressive looks. Still the Versa Note SR still offers a great option for buyers looking to get lots of space and practicality in a smaller size with a cheaper price tag.

Read the full article on: http://www.topspeed.com/cars/nissan/2015-nissan-versa-note-srdriven-ar166668.html#main

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