Cheap doesn’t mean what it used to. But with the average new car now costing more than $45,000, the 2023 Nissan Versa is definitely worth it. It starts at $16,825 for the base S trim with a five-speed manual transmission, making it the cheapest new car you can buy in the US for 2023.
The Versa you see here is not that Versa. This is the loaded SR model, which looks flashier and costs more. Yet it still starts at less than $21,000 and carries a surprising amount of equipment for the price. (Remember, even a base Honda Civic costs more than $26,000 today.) The refresh for 2023 significantly improves the Versa’s appearance thanks to a cool new grille, reshaped headlights and taillights, and trim-specific 17-inch tires. Our test car’s new $395 Gray Sky Pearl exterior color didn’t hurt either.
Inside, the Versa isn’t as low-rent as you might expect. The dashboard features several soft-touch surfaces with orange contrast stitching, the seat fabric has red accents, and the gauge and infotainment cluster screens are large and feature fairly modern graphics. We were surprised to find automatic climate control, heated front seats and push-button start. A full cadre of driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors. Most of these features aren’t available in the Versa’s only true subcompact competitor, the Kia Rio, which is similarly sized and occupies a similar price range.
Despite the sleek interior and exterior, the front-wheel-drive Versa sedan’s foundation hasn’t changed much since this generation was introduced for 2020. But the chassis remains satisfying for a small car like this, with good body control and a relatively smooth ride on bumpy roads. The steering is too light and doesn’t offer much feedback, but the 2690-pound Versa feels nimble, managing an impressive 0.89 g on our skid pad. It also stops from 70 mph in 173 feet, which beats the 2021 Rio hatchback we tested by 17 feet.
The only real compromise is in the engine room, where the 122-hp 1.6-liter inline-four hums hard to get the Versa up to speed. While most continuously variable automatic transmissions today reduce the rubber band sensation of delayed acceleration, the Versa transmission still suffers from this effect. The 9.5-second sprint to 60 mph makes it one of the slowest cars we’ve tested in recent memory. The Rio beats it by almost a second, and the Kia’s CVT feels more responsive. We’re curious if the Versa’s base manual transmission would improve things, but unfortunately the stick shift can’t be combined with the nicer SV and SR trim levels.
The engine works so hard that we couldn’t match the Versa’s EPA-estimated 40 mpg highway-fuel-economy. We managed just 36 mpg on our real-world 75-mph loop. That’s 3 mpg below the Rio, and even many midsize sedans beat the Versa, like Nissan’s own Altima, which managed 41 mpg in our tests despite its larger size, bigger engine and all-wheel drive.
There are many new cars that are more attractive than the Nissan Versa—they cost more. There’s always the argument that you get more bang for your buck from a used car than a new one, but in today’s volatile car market, that’s less of a guarantee than it used to be. Sure, Nissan is cheap, small and slow, but it provides buyers with the modern features and contemporary styling that make new cars attractive in the first place. The Versa just begs the question: What does cheap mean to you?
2023 Nissan Versa SR
Vehicle Type: front engine, front wheel drive, 5 passenger, 4 door sedan
Base/As Tested: $20,815 /$21,470
Options: Gray Sky Pearl paint, $395; carpeted floor mats and trunk mats, $260
DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 98 in31598 cm3
Power: 122 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
automatically changes continuously
Suspension, F/R: torsion strut/beam
Brakes, F/R: 10.0-in vented disc/8.0-in drum
Tires: Continental ContiProContact
205/50R-17 89V M+S
Wheelbase: 103.1 in
Length: 177.0 in
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 57.7 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 54/35 feet3
Trunk Volume: 15 feet3
Curb Weight: 2690 lb
C/D TEST RESULT
60 mph: 9.5 seconds
1/4-Mile: 17.3 seconds @ 81 mph
100 mph: 32.8 seconds
The above results leave a 1 foot launch for 0.3 seconds.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 10.4 seconds
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 5.1 seconds
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 7.1 seconds
Top speed (C/D estimate): 115 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 173 feet
Road grip, 300-foot Skid Pad: 0.89 g
C/D OIL ECONOMY
Observed: 28 mpg
75-mph Highway Driving: 36 mpg
75-mph Highway Range: 380 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 35/32/40 mpg
C/D TESTS EXPLAINED