And you really don't get a whole lot for $14,780. There's 109 hp, 107 lb-ft of torque, four wheels, an AM/FM tuner and some seats. It's enough to get from one destination to another in reasonable comfort -- just as long as you don't expect automatic climate control. Or infinite bucket seat adjustability. Or steering that actually feels connected to the wheels, let alone the road. Or a suspension that doesn't roll precariously into corners.
The five-speed manual added a touch of fun to what was an otherwise unremarkable driver. Only a touch, though, because while the motor was easy enough to rev, the utter lack of clutch feel and loose-as-all-hell shifter meant that this was no … Mazda 2.
The Versa Note S lacked a hill start assist mechanism. The Mitsubishi Mirage didn't have one, either (I'm not sure about other contenders in this segment except for the Fiat 500, which has the system). This is a cost-saving measure, I'm sure, but also one that undermines the car's usefulness in a tight, traffic-filled urban setting.
Overall, this car is about as straightforward as driving gets these days. There's something to be said about that. But what does this particular Versa Note S offer beyond that hard-to-quantify bare-bones cache and pretty good estimated fuel economy? 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space, I guess. Puzzlingly, the smaller-looking Honda Fit has 20.6 cubic feet. The Chevrolet Sonic edges the Note out with 19.0 cubic feet.
I hate to knock a car that doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't, and the Versa Note S certainly isn't trying to pull anyone's leg. Fortunately for consumers looking for a car in this price range, there are numerous options -- and many come better-equipped for the price. I'd be surprised if you could find a car this basic on a dealer lot, though, so maybe it's a moot point.
SENIOR ONLINE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: So, obviously, this isn't a Rolls-Royce. But it's not necessarily a bad car, either. It's reasonably spacious, comfortable and efficient. In my experience with it, everything worked. It's not even bad looking. There definitely isn't anything special about it, which is why I'd have a hard time recommending it.
I'd like to imagine that a simple, honest car like the 2014 Nissan Versa Note S has a place in the car market. However, as Graham points out, there are a lot of other new cars in the under-$15K club -- to say nothing of the huge variety of used cars available for that money -- that offer more, at a similar price.
2014 Nissan Versa Note S
Base Price: $14,780
As-Tested Price: $14,780
Drivetrain: 1.6-liter I4; FWD, five-speed manual
Output: 109 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 107 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,412 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 27/36/30 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 28.3 mpg