New Nissan with a Funny New Name

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2014 Nissan Versa Note.

2014 Nissan Versa Note.

Auto companies put a lot of stock in brand names. From Mustang to Camry, those franchises are great tools for buyer loyalty, marketing, and overall awareness.

Nissan has lots of long-term model names of its own. Altima, Maxima, Sentra, and in recent years, Versa. But for the 2014 remake of the Versa hatchback, they decided to add the somewhat silly sounding name “Note.” It’s the Versa Note, whereas the four door sedan is simply Versa.

Well, it seems that the 5-door hatchback is sold all over the world as the Note, so Nissan North America decided to let us in on this nomenclature, while keeping the established Versa name on the car as well. Uh, okay.

Beyond the cluttered name, Nissan’s new subcompact hatch is a real treat, even when cross-shopped against solid segment rivals like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and others. The Note is strategically priced, well designed, and has options that give it the flavor of a higher-dollar car.

The layout is the typical upright 2+3 with folding rear seats and a large cargo hold out back. Decent room for driver and front passenger, and rear seat legroom that’s beyond what you might expect. I was able to put the driver’s seat back to its full rearward travel, and there was still plenty of leg and knee room for an actual full-size adult behind me.

Once the interior is destined for maximum space efficiency on a car in this class, there isn’t a whole lot of sleekness to be had on the outside. Nevertheless, Nissan’s designers did an admirable job making a small, upright car look inoffensive to say the least. Like other cars in this class, the Note bucks the current automotive trend of gigantic wheels. There’s no room for those, as they’d encroach on the interior.

Since this is an economy car, it gets an economy car engine. Four cylinders displacing 1.6 liters and putting out 109 horsepower. That doesn’t sound like much, but when mated to Nissan’s excellent CVT automatic transmission, the little engine moves the Note down the road quite smartly. And, the payoff is in the EPA mileage numbers of 31 city and 40 highway.

Okay, so we have a fuel efficient 5-door hatchback that doesn’t cost a whole lot ($13,990 base price) and gets good gas mileage. Nothing new there, really. Ah, but the Note can be equipped like a much more expensive car if you want some frills for the ride you’re going to be spending a lot of time in.

I remember being rather impressed when the previous generation Versa hatchback debuted some years ago. At the time, it led the class with options like keyless entry and Bluetooth phone connection, which in the day were things only found in more expensive models.

Well, Nissan has raised the bar once again. Choose the SL trim level and the SL Tech Package, and you’ve got things like heated seats and a Google-equipped navigation system. Plus, Nissan’s Around View Monitor, which has been slowly making its way down from the company’s high-end Infiniti models.

There are cameras in the rear, front, and sides, the latter two tucked into the mirror housings. Shift into reverse, and the dashboard screen shows you the rear view camera on the left, and an image of all four cameras on the right. Essentially, you’re being shown a real-time picture of your car from “above” as you maneuver into or out of a parking spot. The driver can manually select the cameras at low speeds when going forward via a button.

Even with all this content, my test Versa Note came in at just over $19,000. Considering the array of features, and the fact that you’re still sipping fuel in an economy car, that’s a heck of a package. It’ll just take me a while to get used to that funny name.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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