2023 Nissan Versa Review: The Last Small, Cheap Car Standing

It obviously matters whether the Versa is any good, but it's remarkable it still even exists at all

(Images: TFL Studios | Zach Butler)
Starting price well under $20,000 Lethargic acceleration
Competent ride SR model is just over $20K
Great fuel economy for a non-hybrid Probably on its way out soon…much like its rivals
Well-equipped for the money
Surprisingly practical with a large trunk, foldable rear seats

2023 Nissan Versa Overview: If you want a cheap car, this is one of your last options.

A few years ago, I thought highly of Nissan’s subcompact sedan to the point where I said it’s proof that “economy cars don’t have to suck anymore”. I stand by that statement, and the cheapest new car you can buy just got a decent update for 2023. Even without the refresh, the Nissan Versa stands out as the last sub-$20K car on the market (including destination), as the Mitsubishi Mirage is rumored to be on the way out and Kia confirmed the Rio’s demise after this year.

All the other cheap cars — Chevy Spark, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris…the list goes on — have long since been discontinued. Rumors are swirling that even Nissan is about to pull the plug on its most affordable car that it’s built since 2006, but word has the automaker won’t actually kill it off until 2025.

The 2023 Nissan Versa is not a complete overhaul, though: The tiny Versa gets a fresh face thanks to an updated grille, while the SR model gets new 17-inch alloy wheels, a standard 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control and even a Wi-Fi hotspot, which is usually the purview of more expensive models. Sticking with the quality-of-life improvements, the mid-range SV also gets wireless charging and a center console armrest. The base Versa S and SV get a slightly smaller 7-inch unit, but all models offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

No matter which version you buy, the Versa still packs the same engine as before.

You get a 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine putting out 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. You certainly won’t win any races with this car, though amazingly you can still buy it with a 5-speed manual transmission, as long as you get the base model. Nevertheless, the vast majority of buyers will spring for the “Xtronic” CVT, which is is your only option on the SV and SR. Honestly, even if you want to row your own gears, it’s probably worth getting the CVT anyway due to fuel economy. Manual-equipped models only manage 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. Unimpressive figures, given the CVT bumps that up by a whopping 5 mpg (15 to 20 percent!).

The 2023 Nissan Versa also gets a five-star NHTSA safety rating and comes standard with front and rear automatic emergency braking. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control are all available as you move up the trim stack, making it a remarkably well-equipped car for the money.

Getting to know the 2023 Nissan Versa

Here’s the thing: If you want a remotely affordable car at all, the Nissan Versa is one of the few remaining options this year. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend a lot more cash to get into a crossover or try to snag a deal on the turbulent used market. Against a $17,075 starting MSRP for the base Versa S, even the brand’s own Kicks starts off a whopping $4,850 higher (with the exact same running gear).

For the money, the 2023 Nissan Versa is a solid first car or an honest-to-goodness commuter. Like the 2020 model I previously reviewed, you won’t feel like you’re being penalized for buying a “cheap” car. It wasn’t that long ago, only a little over a decade, where Nissan happily sold you a Versa with no air conditioning and no radio just for the sake of making a lower price point.

Performance is leisurely, there’s no doubt about that. While manufacturers tout CVTs for their smoothness and fuel economy, its presence in the Versa makes for a 0-60 time well over 10 seconds at a mile above sea level. It’s not dangerously slow, but you do really need to think twice about trying a passing maneuver on a two-lane highway or jumping in front of a small gap in oncoming traffic. Take a thriftier driving approach, though — you want that 40 mpg, right? — and the Versa is a surprisingly good road tripper. Not only is the ride composed and comfortable, but it actually handles decently well with the standard Continental ContiProContact tires.

In mixed city and highway driving, I averaged 35-36 mpg, making the Versa good for about 375 miles between fill-ups.

There’s nothing fancy in the Versa’s game, but it’s all here

Driving around in the 2023 Nissan Versa SR for a week, I never really found myself wanting for equipment. That’s not because I tempered my expectations for driving an economy car, either: The SR model is just well-equipped. Each car comes with three USB ports, including one for the rear passenger. Granted, that USB port is all the rear occupants get, but at least it’s something. Nissan’s infotainment system doesn’t pack any special tricks or fancy graphics, but it does give you as much connectivity as you reasonably need in your everyday drive. The half-digital gauge cluster available on the SV and SR let you change up what information you’d like front and center as well, while the base S does stick with the old-fashioned analog gauges with a small information display in the center.

As you’d expect, moving up to the top-end trim gets you most of the features you’ll want, including automatic climate control and heated front seats (keep that in mind if you live in colder climates).

Moving rearward, you can technically get adults in the back of a 2023 Nissan Versa.

Rear legroom is a bit tight at 31 inches, though, so you’ll probably want to avoid bringing more than one person along for longer trips. That said, the front seatbacks are soft, so there’s a little wiggle room for folks riding in the back to get a bit more comfortable.

The Versa’s trunk, on the other hand, is absolutely huge by tiny car standards. It offers up to 15 cubic feet of space, while you can also fold the 60/40 rear seats down to get even more storage space. There’s also a useful amount of room underneath the rear carpet around the donut spare tire, which Nissan also thoughtfully provides rather than chucking in a can of sealant and calling it a day.

Verdict: If you’re on a tight budget, this is a solid choice

If you’ve made it this far, then odds are you see where I’m coming from on Nissan’s revamped Versa. No, of course it’s not racy, for what work Nissan put into jazzing up the front end. It’s absolutely a car you buy with your head more than your heart, if for no other reason than you want a new car and whatever the circumstances may be, a low-budget car like this suits your needs at this point and time.

And that’s okay. I still feel the same as I did four years ago: The Nissan Versa is a good, honest little car that’s cheap to buy (at least by today’s eye-watering standards) and efficient to run. Now, it’s worth noting you do just get an industry-standard warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 5-year/60,000-mile coverage on the powertrain. You do at least get a warranty, nevertheless, and handling this car’s general maintenance won’t break the bank.

Even more significant than whether the Versa is any good, however, is that this car is the last of a dying breed. Soon enough, you won’t even be able to buy this car anymore, as all its rivals are already gone or their makers are putting them out to pasture in the coming months. So, if you’re one of those folks who don’t have a big budget and want the look and feel of a new car, the Versa offers value that you won’t get elsewhere.

I’m going to cheat a bit…if you buy a Versa, get the SR

With all my other points out in the open, I do still want to address the elephant in the room here. While the 2023 Nissan Versa is technically the last car standing you can get under $20,000 all-in, the one I suggest you buy…isn’t.

The base price for the Versa SR comes in at $19,820. But once you factor in Nissan’s $1,095 destination fee and a few choice options, you’re just cresting the magic threshold. Thanks to the Grey Sky Pearl paint ($395), the Electronics Package that adds in a map pocket light, illuminated kick plates and a frameless auto-dimming mirror ($880) and floor and trunk mats ($270), our as-tested price comes out to $22,460.

That’s “expensive” as far as the Versa’s concerned, but considering that’s more or less where Sentra prices start (not to mention all its compact rivals)? It’s still the one to buy, as the features will keep it feeling fresh and less like a bargain-basement buy for awhile longer.