Cheap doesn’t mean like it used to be. But with the average new car now costing over $45,000, the 2023 Nissan Versa definitely still qualifies. 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 a lot flashier and costs a bit more. But it still starts at less than $21,000 and packs a surprising amount of equipment for the price. (Keep in mind, even the base Honda Civic is over $26,000 these days.) The refresh for 2023 upgrades the look of the Versa significantly thanks to a cool new grille, reshaped headlights and taillights, and trim-only 17-inch wheels. The new Gray Sky Pearl exterior color of our test car didn’t hurt either.
Inside, the Versa isn’t as cheap as you’d expect. The dashboard features several soft-touch surfaces with orange contrast stitching, the upholstery fabric has red accents, and the gauge cluster and infotainment screen are large and feature fairly modern graphics. We were pleasantly surprised to find automatic climate control, heated front seats and a start button. A full cadre of driver assistance features including adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors. Many of these features are not available in the Versa’s only true subcompact competitor, the Kia Rio, which is the same size and occupies the same price range.
Apart from a spruced up interior and exterior, the foundations of the front-wheel drive Versa sedan haven’t changed much since this generation was introduced for 2020. But the chassis remains very satisfactory for a small car like this, with good body control and a moderately smooth ride on bumpy roads. . The steering is too light and doesn’t offer much feedback, but the 2690-pound Versa felt nimble, handling an impressive 0.89 g on our skidpad. 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 bay, where the 122-hp 1.6-liter inline-four buzzes loudly to speed up the Versa. While many of today’s continuously variable automatic transmissions reduce the rubber band sensation of delayed acceleration, the Versa’s 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. Rio beat it by almost a second, and Kia’s CVT feels more responsive. We’d love to know if the Versa’s base manual transmission would improve things, but it’s a shame the stick shift doesn’t mix with the fancier SV and SR trim levels.
The engine works so hard we can’t match the EPA Versa’s 40 mpg highway fuel economy estimate. We only managed 36 mpg on our real-world 75 mph loop. That’s 3 mpg below the Rio, and even many mid-size sedans beat the Versa, like Nissan’s Altima, which managed a 41 mpg result in our test despite its extra size, bigger engine and all-wheel drive.
There are a lot of newer cars that are more exciting than the Nissan Versa—they cost a lot more. There’s always the argument that you get more bang for your buck out of a used car than a new one, but in today’s volatile car market, those warranties are less than ever. Granted, Nissan was cheap, small, and slow, but it gave buyers the modern features and contemporary styling that made the new car 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 sedan, 4 doors
Basic/As Tested: $20,815 / $21,470
Options: Gray Sky Pearl Paint, $395; carpeted floor mats and trunk mats, $260
16-valve in-line DOHC 4, aluminum block and head, fuel injection port
Displacement: 98 inches31598 cm3
Power: 122 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
automatic continuous variable
Suspension, F/R: struts/torsion 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 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Passenger Volume, F/R: 54/35 ft3
Trunk Volume: 15 ft3
Restraint Weight: 2690 lbs
CD TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.5 seconds
1/4-Mile: 17.3 seconds @ 81 mph
100 mph: 32.8 seconds
The above result removes 1 foot launch from 0.3 seconds.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 10.4 seconds
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 5.1 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 7.1 sec
Top Speed (CD approx.): 115 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 173 ft
Road hold, 300 ft Skidpad: 0.89 g
CD FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 28 mpg
Driving on the Highway 75 mph: 36 mpg
75 mph Highway Range: 380 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 35/32/40 mpg
CD TESTING EXPLAINED