Last fall, Nissan introduced the second-generation Versa sedan. While the B-segment sedan had a five-door variant, the Versa Hatch, there was no model year 2013 version of that car. Nissan waited. And now it has delivered what it has renamed the Versa Note. This is a car that competes with the likes of the Chevy Sonic, the Ford Fiesta, and the Honda Fit. That is a category where there is demanding competition, despite the fact that these are often entry-level cars—at least as regards the price point. Consider: the 2014 Versa Note has a starting MSRP of $13,990, which is the kind of price that even used car buyers might be inclined to take into consideration. But Julie Lynch, senior manager, Marketing for the Note, points out that there is bimodal distribution so far as demand goes, as there are younger buyers who are getting into their first new car as well as older buyers who are interested in downsizing their vehicles.
Nissan has cracked the code in determining what customers are looking for in the B-segment: Lynch says that Versa has been the segment sales leader since 2008. She says that they’re anticipating segment growth during the next four years on the order of 28%, so they’ve developed the Note with features and functions that they anticipate will help retain the sales crown.
The Versa (both variants) is a world car, based on the Nissan V-platform. According to John Curl, senior manager, product planning, the Note has been specifically tuned to address the requirements of the U.S. market. Presumably, the fact that Nissan is selling the car on a global basis allows it to spread its engineering and purchasing costs across a greater number of vehicles allowing it to make a whole lot of content available than might otherwise be possible. (Of course, it should be pointed out that the Sonic, Fiesta, Fit, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Rio are also global cars, so that makes the category all the more competitive.)
“We wanted to make design a reason for purchase,” Curl says, adding, “That’s not usual for this segment.”
A term the designers used in developing the hatch is “Energetic Design,” which is not unusual for any cars in any segment, as vehicle designs are often described as having a certain amount of athleticism about them (which is a little odd, as car designers tend to be more about cars than sports, and their energy seems to come more from Red Bull than Gatorade). In the case of the Note, this is actually paid off in the sheet metal: the body side has a character line that is called the “squash line,” which is said to resemble the angle a squash ball takes as it ricochets on the court. And if athletes tend to be sleek and fit, then that’s also part of the Note design: the car has a highly respectable coefficient of drag of 0.298. (The previous generation hatch came in at 0.31 Cd.)
While the aerodynamic slipperiness is predicated on the fundamental form of the car, there was a considerable amount of design engineering involved. The shape of the underbody was modeled so that the fuel tank and the rear suspension beam are flush with the floor. Front and rear tire deflectors are used. There is a large front spoiler. The taillights—which have a familiar shape with the 370Z and the Juke (which are almost the ying and yang of the Nissan model lineup)—have a vented design that directs wind straight behind the vehicle; air doesn’t tumble and swirl in the wake of the car.
Another feature, one that is typically associated with special “eco” models of cars, is the use of active grille shutters. The shutters generally close when the car exceeds 20 mph. This limits the amount of air that enters the engine compartment, thereby allowing the air to be directed around, over and under the front of the car.
Then there is the matter of mass. Curl says that they carefully went after weight reduction. Compared with a comparable 2012 model, the 2014 weighs 302 lb. less.
The Note is powered by an all-aluminum, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 109 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 107 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. One interesting aspect of the engine is that it has sequential multi-port fuel injection, with dual injectors per cylinder. By using two smaller injectors rather than a single larger one, the droplet size is smaller—they’ve calculated that the spray is 57% smaller than in the previous engine using the single injector—which contributes to better combustion. There is also twin continuously variable timing control, which means that both the intake and exhaust ports have control, rather than more conventional systems, which is on the intake side. Again, this helps increase overall fuel efficiency.
There are two transmissions available: a five-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The CVT has a subplanetary gear—and is said to be the first CVT to have one—which helps provide a wide gear ratio: 7.3:1, compared with the previous generation’s 6.0:1. Also compared with the previous Versa CVT, the new one is 13% lighter, 10% smaller, and thanks to a new oil pump that results in less oil stirring, has 30% less friction.
All of this contributes to EPA estimated fuel economy (for the CVT) of 31 city/40 highway/35 combined mpg. Best in class.
Although it is a compact, there was attention paid to providing roominess. One of the things that the designers and engineers did was to reduce the front and rear overhangs by 6.1 in., and then transferred that to the interior of the car. A result of efforts like that, as well as carving out areas of the trim, results in passenger volume of 94.1-ft3 and cargo volume (with the rear seat up) of 21.4-ft3, both best-in-class measures.
The 2014 Versa Note for the U.S. market is assembled by Nissan Mexicana SA de CV in Aguascalientes, Mexico. It is a global car, with global manufacturing and variants available in Europe and Asia. This helps amortize the engineering costs for the vehicle, and by doing so, allows greater capabilities and content than would be the case if it was a single-market development. Meaning that this is a project that gained lots of attention by the corporate development team.