2014 Nissan Versa Note road test: Bigger than it looks and frugal, too

2014 Nissan Nissan Versa Note

2014 Nissan Nissan Versa Note

Pull the diminutive 2014 Nissan Versa Note into a parking space next to the smallest Honda and you can’t help but notice that it is an almost exact Fit  — at least on the outside.

A more detailed examination of the Nissan Versa Note and the Honda Fit will, of course, reveal some significant differences, but the overall shapes are basically the same because they make the most sense for an entry-level compact.

Nissan Versa Note instruments

Nissan Versa Note instruments

The 2014 Nissan Versa Note arrives as a hatchback accompaniment to the second-generation Nissan Versa sedan, which was introduced in 2012. The hatchback adds $2,000 to the base price ($11,990 for Versa sedan, $13,990 for the Versa Note}, but Nissan is betting many will glad pay the extra price to get the extra practicality.

And, practicality, efficiency. ease of operation and some unexpected high tech (for a price) are what this perennial entry-level sales leader is all about. Looking for some excitement in the driving experience? Look elsewhere.

The Versa Note works most satisfactorily as a runabout second car, ideal for errands, parking in tight spots, zipping through the urban jungle. It also can work for college students and empty nesters on a budget, but it’s not the ideal choice for cross-country travel, nor is it intended to be.

For an entry-level vehicle, the Versa Note has a light and pleasant interior, but what’s likely to most impress the potential buyer is the surprising amount of room. Not only are the front bucket seats comfortable for two adults, the rear seat will hold two more in comfort.

Nissan Versa Note cargo space

Nissan Versa Note cargo space

Behind the second row is a generous 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space,  adequate for most errands and even for a possible vacation trip. Fold the rear seats forward and cargo space can jump to a maximum of 38.3 cubic feet.

An interesting innovation is the removable “Divide-N-Hide” panel that meets the folded rear seatbacks to create a flat cargo area.  Lift it up and you’ll find additional storage space beneath to hide valuables. Or you can remove it to add a few extra cubic feet of cargo space.

Power for the front-wheel-drive Versa Note is supplied by a fuel-sipping, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. That sounds a  bit anemic, but performance is adequate in most situations because the Versa Note weighs in at a modest 2,482 pounds.

To maximize efficiency, the engine in the top-of-the-line Note SV (SL) is mated to a continuously variable transmission which, to me. is the least-satisfying link in the performance package.