2020 Nissan Versa first drive: Value proposition

The Execution
Powering the new Versa is the same 1.6-liter naturally aspirated inline-four (HR16DE for Nissan fans) as before. Despite the engine architecture carrying over for 2020, the engineers at Nissan squeezed out more juice. The four is now rated at 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. Those aren’t crazy figures, but that’s up from 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. You can thank the new, higher compression ratio for some of that extra power. Mated to that mill is a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The five-speed is only available on base models, and there wasn’t one on hand to try out, but almost all Versas will roll out of the factory with a CVT anyway.
Like the engine, the CVT was revised for 2020 and offers slightly different characteristics than the outgoing model’s transmission. That translates to the new Versa giving smooth, fake shifts and keeping the 1.6-liter engine making as much power as possible. Together, the CVT and small-displacement I4 work well together. On steep grades, you can feel the engine and transmission working hard, but that just means you need to put your foot down farther. On flat city streets, the Versa happily zips around with traffic. Throttle response is good, predictable and linear, and the throttle tip-in feels natural. There’s no jerky or aggressive tuning to make it seem like a rocket ship off the line (or a slug, for that matter) — it’s just good.
Helping the Versa keep its wheels in constant contact with the pavement, Nissan opted to use an independent strut front suspension and a torsion beam out back. The suspension might be the sedan’s weakest link, and with the 17-inch wheels, SR models can feel unrefined under compression. Dynamically, the car handles well considering the limitations. This won’t be your go-to for auto crossing, but the body roll and dive make for a fun trip on twisty roads.