2020 Nissan Versa: The price of entry-level goes up, but so does value [First Look]

2019 Nissan Versa SR 21.JPG
2020 Nissan Versa SR (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

The first thing I noticed about the all-new 2020 Nissan Versa was the interior. The sleekly styled center stack. The high-quality cloth seating surfaces. The 7-inch touch-screen color display.

It all spoke of a vehicle that could easily be in the $20K to $30K range.

Yet the base price of the all-new Versa is $14,730, without the $895 destination fee. And before you say it, yes, this is about $2K more than the outgoing model.

Nissan has set a new direction with this third-generation entry-level sedan.

“It’s not our goal to be the cheapest car in America; it’s our goal to be the best value,” said Rob Warren, director and chief marketing manager at Nissan North America.

To punctuate that point, Nissan added four impressive safety features as standard fare: automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam assist and automatic reverse braking.

That last one is a big deal since most automakers don’t even offer it as an option.

I’d also like to point out other vehicles in the Nissan lineup don’t offer most of these features as options until you get into the up-level trims.

So, I’ll take that $2K price bump and say thank you.

Plus, as you level up through the trims, you’ll add additional tech features such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and heated front seats.

The kicker: If you go all in with the top tier trim, add premium paint and the one available package, you’ll still top out less than $20k.

I consider that value.

The Versa is the entry into the Nissan lineup, and it plays an important role by often being a person’s first car. So, safety and a low price point are important.

The fact it also happens to be attractive is a bonus.

The exterior gets up-styled, adding the pronounced signature V-motion Nissan grille and floating roofline, and the aforementioned interior brings the Versa into the modern era.

The 2020 Versa gets the new Gen3 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This is a 12 percent power increase and a 7 percent increase in torque over the previous Versa engine.

Another bonus, the extra power doesn’t ding the fuel economy. EPA estimates you should get 32 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. In combined driving during our one-day test, we were averaging around 37 mpg.

One thing to know, however, is the Versa is not a powerhouse. It struggles on hard off-the-line accelerations, in passing maneuvers and up hills. It gets the job done, it’s just not effortless.

Once you get to your cruising speed, the interior of the cabin is oddly quiet for an entry-level vehicle. Very little engine or road noise creep into the cabin.

Our test vehicle for the day was the top-tier “sporty” SR model, and it added more upscale interior accents, a nice orange reverse stitch on the dash, orange threading through the cloth seating surfaces, passive entry, attractive 17-inch wheels and automatic climate control.

Another big change for the 2020 model year is the fact it fits a petite driver’s position. In the previous generations of the Versa, I had a hard time getting comfortable because my far-forward, height adjusted seat pinned my right knee between the seat and the underbelly of the dash.

Someone must have heard my cries of frustration because the underbelly of the dash was designed with a scoop so my knee didn’t brush any surface it shouldn’t.

Versa will have three trims, and the Xtronic continuously variable transmission is available across the entire lineup. Only the base S trim will be available with the 5-speed manual transmission.

The trim and pricing breakdown is as follows:

  • S ($14,730/$16,400): The base S trim comes equipped standard with a 5-speed manual transmission, but you can add the Xtronic continuously variable transmission for $1,670. This trim comes standard with automatic emergency braking, rear automatic reverse braking, lane departure warning, high-beam assist, auto on/off headlights, push-button start, cruise control, a 7-inch touch-screen display, 3 SUB ports, zero gravity seats and 15-inch wheels.
  • SV ($17,640): This trim adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, the rear door alert, driver alertness, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, steering wheel controls, driver seat-mounted armrest, body-color heated outside mirrors with integrated turns signals, body-color exterior door handles and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
  • SR ($18,240): This top-tier trim adds remote engine start, automatic climate control, LED headlights, fog lights, black painted outside mirrors, dark chrome front grille, body-color trunk lid spoiler, SR seat fabric with interior trim accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome parking braking button and 17-inch wheels.

The destination fee, which isn’t included in the above prices is $895.

There is only one package option available and it’s on the SR trim. The Convenience Package ($300) adds heated front seats and adaptive cruise control. The only other option of note is premium paint (Aspen White, Monarch Orange, Scarlet Ember), which costs $395.

The best designed trim is clearly the SR, but the SV interior and exterior is also nice. The base S looks like an economy-class vehicle with black exterior door handles and weird silver wheel covers on 15-inch wheels.

I totally understand the value proposition of a sub-$15K vehicle, but I’d scratch together the extra money to upgrade to the SV for the design and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto availability alone.

For comparison’s sake, Nissan said the biggest cross-shopped vehicles are the Hyundai Accent ($14,995 - $19,080) and Toyota Yaris ($15,600 - $18,700).

The Accent is more expensive than the Versa, and the Yaris starts off less expensive but ends up more expensive. Neither come standard with automatic reverse braking, lane departure warning or automatic high-beams. Only Yaris has an emergency braking system, but it’s only operable at low speeds.

It’s also worth noting Yaris doesn’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto at all, and Accent adds it as standard to the mid-level SEL trim, which is similar to how Versa is equipped.

Sales for the 2020 Versa start in August.

The Bottom Line:

Overall, Nissan achieved its goal of being value-laden. There’s a lot of great standard technology for those who are budget-conscious. But if you can spend a bit more, you can get most of the important technology and up-level features you could possibly want.

I mean, who needs a navigation system when you have Waze integration?

Plus, the fact you can top out for less than $20K with all the cool safety features is a huge win.

If you are looking for a safe but affordable vehicle, you could do a lot worse than the 2020 Nissan Versa.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Nissan covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.