• Good starter car
  • Good looks
  • Nice interior finishes


  • Underpowered engine
  • Noisy interior
  • Poor back-seat headroom

Not too many economy cars offer the styling and value that the 2020 Nissan Versa does. With handsome looks and interior finishes, the Versa is a good option for college undergraduates who are looking for wheels to take them from point to point in style. The new Versa is a good step up from the bare-bones previous generation, and as such it delivers on its basic goal.

Building an economy car that looks good, comes with modern technologies, and has a low price isn’t an easy task. But Nissan managed to improve the previous Versa in every way while still delivering terrific value. “If I were a young person starting out and had $20,000 to spend, this sure looks like a fancy car to me,” technical director Frank Markus said.

Inside, our 2020 Nissan Versa SR came equipped with orange stitching, orange details on the cloth seats, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Continuing on the technology front, the Versa comes with three USB ports, a push-button start, and Bluetooth for incoming calls and audio streaming.

With a starting price of $15,625 for the S trim, the 2020 Versa carries a ton of value. The SR model we tested had a price tag of $19,645 and was equipped with safety features such as automatic emergency braking, reverse-gear automatic braking, and lane departure warning.

But when you build to price, there are going to be shortfalls. The Versa continues to suffer from engine noise, and its 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine still feels underpowered. With 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque, the Versa doesn’t have enough punch to deliver a fun drive. “The engine sounds terrible and tinny upon acceleration,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said.

Unlike its Kicks sibling, which feels quicker, the Versa has trouble gaining speed.

The transmission is slow, and the engine is loud when asked to respond. It takes a long time to get the power to the wheels, and it’s even worse when you’re trying to pass. Yeah, we know, no one buys Versa expecting a fun driving experience, but all of the judges complained about its underpow engine and poor transmission tuning. “It behaves so as not to scare a new driver, first-time new car buyer,” Markus said.

But despite the negative comments about its drivetrain, judges appreciated the tuning of the suspension, which absorbed most of the bumps and ruts of choppy roads. “Surprisingly, this is one of the most absorbent suspensions for road rot, sudden impacts, or jolts,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. And that’s compared to other Car of the Year entrants from brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

Because efficiency is one point where economy sedans score highly, the Versa does a good job in delivering 32/40 mpg in city/highway with its CVT, an improvement over the previous generation.

Inside, occupants will like the stylish cabin, but they shouldn’t count on too much in terms of quality. “The interior is full of cheap plastic, but at the Versa’s price point, what do you expect?” news editor Alex Nishimoto asked. In the second row, taller passengers might suffer from limited headroom due to the Versa’s descending roofline. And although legroom for the rear is still decent, rear passengers somehow lost 6 inches of it compared with the previous generation. “It’s ever so slightly smaller than the outgoing Versa interior, but the quality is leaps and bounds better,” associate online editor Stefan Ogbac said.

The Versa’s styling and value may be stellar, but spending a few more bucks on a next-class-up vehicle might get you something more than a mere starter car.

2020 Nissan Versa SR
Base Price/As Tested $19,135/$19,645
Power (SAE net) 122 hp @ 6,300 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 114 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 9.7 sec
Quarter Mile 17.4 sec @ 81.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 124 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.84 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 32/40/35 mpg

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