If like most of us, as you see the price of gasoline on the rise again, you are beginning to think about adding a more fuel-efficient vehicle to your collection. There are many cars out there that get much improved fuel mileage, but many of them also include a hefty price tag, which makes the trade off an expensive one.

Consider Nissan’s fuel-efficient model, the Versa. With styling that definitely falls more from the European than the Asian side of Nissan’s family tree, the Versa stands out in the crowd. Priced and marketed in the sub compact segment, the car is actually closer to a mid size in actual dimensions. In either the sedan or five-door hatchback version you’ll find excellent interior space, with plenty of room for five adults that includes ample head and legroom. Our pick would definitely be the five-door for its amazing versatility. Perhaps the name Versa itself is derived from “versatility.”

How versatile is the Versa? Well, for us on a pre Christmas trip from metro Atlanta to the Carolina Mountains, Santa would have envied the bounty of cargo we were able to easily pack into the Versa SL five door’s rear area. We did fold down the rear seat. Which if it folded just a wee bit more flat the cargo capacity would be even larger. None-the-less, out stash included a boxed 36-inch cook top, four boxed outside carriage light fixtures, a 25lb. box of laundry detergent, a 40 lb. bag of dog food, my personal luggage and the family Sheltie and Dachshund along with their associated travel gear. A mini van would have done well to carry as much. Did I mention that I averaged 34 mpg during the 300-mile trip?

“Green” people with welcome the fact that it is an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. Powered by a 122 hp, 1.8 Liter 4 cylinder engine with 127 ft-lb. of torque, the Versa is not a stop light rocket, but has more than adequate power for both city and highway driving chores. The SL model five-door is only available with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission, while manual gearboxes are available on alternate configurations. Our five-door hatchback SL test car was equipped with the CVT automatic and we averaged 34 MPG in combined driving.

Customers will find the Versa well equipped in its segment, including 185/65/15 all season tires, halogen headlights, standard AC, AM/FM/CD, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers 60/40 split fold down rear seat, and one touch rear hatch release to name just a few.

The Versa comes well equipped in the safety department with driver and front passenger seat mounted air bags, roof mounted curtain bags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Nissan is upfront in admitting that for 2011, “Versa returns essentially unchanged — once again delivering an exceptional combination of value, fuel economy, roominess, an impressive array of available technology and fun-to-drive performance.” Some would say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The enhancements for 2011 include a new 6-disc CD player for the Sedan 1.8 S and the addition of Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) for the Versa Sedan 1.6 (except 1.6 Base).

We are not alone in our high praise of the Versa, as the Nissan Versa enters its fifth year of production on a roll. Along with an extensive slate of exterior, interior and content enhancements last year, the roomy Versa Sedan and Hatchback added an impressive list of 2010 awards — including being named a Consumers Digest “Best Buy” for the fourth straight year*, as well as being chosen as a Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick**, Versa earned the highest ranking for front, side and rear impact collisions The 2010 Versa was also named a “Top 10 Least Expensive Vehicles to Own” by ForbesAutos.com

From a driver’s standpoint, we found the Versa to be as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans. Nothing flashy, the user friendly Versa is just real pleasant transportation at a very affordable price. With its wide range of models and available features such as navigation, Nissan Intelligent Key and Bluetooth® Hands-free Phone System, Versa is not your typical entry-level vehicle. It’s a great choice for buyers looking for big enjoyment in a compact package. Choices included for the 2011 model line up are Versa Hatchback and Sedan 1.8 S and 1.8 SL models equipped with a 122-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine. Versa Sedan 1.8 S models offered with a choice of 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions. The Sedan 1.8 SL is offered only with the 4-speed automatic, while the Hatchback 1.8 SL is available exclusively with Nissan’s advanced Xtronic CVT transmission. With transaction pricing between $9,990 and the low $18,000 range, most everyone can find a way to fit a Versa into their family budget

LOCAL BUZZ; Derek Williams, sales consultant at Sutherlin Nissan brags, “The Versa has the most power and room in its class. Customers love all the standard features – both safety and creature comfort wise that are add-ons with the competition. They also like that they can get Blue Tooth and IPOD technology in an entry level vehicle.”

STATS:

  • Horsepower: 122 hp – 127 lb-ft of Torque
  • Mileage: 28 city / 34 highway
  • Price as tested: $18,415.00
  • Seating capacity: Five
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