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Notes on the Note

2014 Nissan Versa Note

After writing this column for the past 13 years, and talking to umpteen people about cars in all of that time (and before), I’ve come to the conclusion that that are two kinds of car people out there: those who buy a car because they want to, and those who buy a car because they have to. And the folks who fall into the second category usually aren’t too concerned with horsepower ratings, impressing the parking valet, or one-upping their neighbor. And it’s to those folks that I address this week’s review of the Nissan Versa Note.

It’s a car. A good car, but by no means a fancy car. Odds are that your neighbor’s “new” three-year-old used car probably cost more than a base Versa Note S. Get this: Its basic sticker price, before options and destination charge, is a mere $13,990. When Mike Barney Nissan sales guy Mark Sadri also noted that a new Versa Note cost less than many used cars, I did a quick check of their online used inventory and found that, out of 43 cars, only six had a lower asking price—and they mostly had three or four years worth of miles on them. So…

What does one get for just under $14,000 these days? A four-door sedan with a rear hatch that has comfortable seating for four, possibly five depending on their sizes, with plenty of head and leg room for all; a roomy cargo area behind the rear seat—a rear seat that folds flat for extra cargo space, and a front passenger seat that also folds flat for even more cargo-carrying capacity (Nissan claims that with the front seat folded, a surfboard will fit inside); air-conditioning; am/fm/CD sound system with auxiliary jack; ABS; and of course, there’s other standard stuff. All Notes come equipped with a 1.6-liter DOHC four rated at 109 horsepower. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual in the S, while a CVT is standard equipment on all other trims, and the power is driven to the front wheels, which on the base S test car were 15-inchers with steel wheels and full wheel covers.

Driving the Note was no surprise. It’s a tight little car, which had good steering and brake response. It’s not the quietest car interior-wise when up to highway speed, but it’s also not objectionably noisy. The controls are very basic. The stereo face is just that: You get the station read-out and the time; there are knobs for the volume and the tuner, and pre-set buttons for your favorite stations. The HVAC controls are also simple to learn and operate without taking your eyes off the road: one knob each for temperature, air-flow direction, and fan speed. And everything’s in reach. A couple of cup-holders reside in the console ahead of the shifter; the sun-visors have extensions for those pesky dusks and dawns; and the power window controls are logically placed in the front arm rests.

Now the Note doesn’t have to be this basic. There are three more trim levels above the S: the SV, SL, and SL Tech. The SV upgrades the audio system, and adds a rearview monitor, rear arm rest, USB connection, and Divide-and-Hide adjustable floor system. The SL upgrades the wheels, adds the above upgrades, plus fog lights, push-button start, variable intermittent wipers, and heated front seats. While the Tech throws in nav, Pandora capability, Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging, Around View monitor (which is cameras front-and-rear, plus on each side-view mirror), and heated outside mirrors.

So if you’re just looking for a car to get you where you’re going, the Note S is perfect basic transportation. And if you want your neighbors to think you’re cheap, but you’re not, dress it up a bit and have the best of both worlds.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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