(MCT) -- The redesigned Nissan subcompact hatchback, now called the Versa Note, arrived for 2014, two years after the corresponding Versa sedan model got its remake.
For 2014, the Note's starting price is $13,990 for the base model S with a five-speed manual transmission; Nissan recently released the 2015 prices, and this model begins at $14,180.
To get an automatic transmission means a step up to the Note S Plus model, which begins at $15,240 for the 2014 version, and $15,430 for the 2015. It comes with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
The Versa Note is the second installment of Nissan's redesign of the Versa line, after the launch of the sedan, prices for which begin at $11,990 for the manual model, and $12,990 for the CVT version.
As for the Note, its main competitors include the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta.
This time, the two Versa models are different beyond just the hatchback versus sedan styling. The Note, which is more than a foot shorter than the sedan, has its own distinct look, and actually is on a different chassis.
Among its key features are the class-exclusive Around View Monitor; a new exterior design that includes a steeply sloped windshield and sculpted body panels; best-in-class EPA ratings of 31 mpg city and 35 combined; class-leading cargo space; and the optional NissanConnect navigation/infotainment system with Bluetooth streaming audio.
The two versions do share the same engine and transmissions. Under the hood of all models is an advanced 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque.
The automatic on the S Plus and SV models is Nissan's next-generation Xtronic CVT, a smooth-shifting transmission with no discernable shift points.
For this report, we tested the Note SV model with the CVT, which had a base price of $17,690. The window sticker actually showed it as the SL model, with the SV Package added.
There was plenty of power from the 1.6-liter engine, and the CVT shifted seamlessly with little effort. Even uphill freeway ramps were no challenge, and the car zipped along at highway speeds with no problems. It's also very quiet inside for a car in this price class.
Fuel economy is impressive. With the CVT, the EPA ratings are 31 mpg city/40 highway/35 combined. They're not as high with the manual, though - 27/36/30.
One of my biggest surprises how roomy this car is. There is room for five people in the spacious interior. Even with the driver's seat way back, there was plenty of rear leg and knee room - more than I've seen in many of today's midsize sedans. Up front, there are comfortable bucket seats, with a center console that has two cupholders, USB/auxiliary inputs, and a rear tray that is accessible to rear-seat passengers.
With the SL upgrade, rear passengers have a fold-down center armrest with dual cupholders, which eliminates the middle seating position, but makes it more comfortable for the two outboard passengers.
In the cargo area, there is an optional Divide-N-Hide adjustable floor (included in the SL package); with the 60/40-split fold-down rear seat folded, there is a large, flat cargo area all the way to the front seatbacks.
Under the cargo floor is a hidden storage area, which also creates a deep well for taller cargo.
Standard are cloth seats, four-way manually adjustable front bucket seats (six-way adjust is included with the SV), Fine Vision instruments, AM/FM/CD audio system with four speakers, 12-volt power outlet, front door pockets with bottle holders, and 15-inch wheels.
Extras with the SL package included 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; the Nissan Intelligent Key with keyless entry and pushbutton start; heated front seats; front fog lights; an upgraded audio system with 4.3-inch color display; and a rearview monitor that showed on that display.
We had the optional Around View Monitor, which uses four small wide-angle cameras mounted on the front, side and rear of the car to project a virtual 360-degree view of the area around the vehicle, as though you are looking down on it from above. It's great for maneuvering in tight spots. It's part of the SL Tech Package, which also brought the heated outside mirrors, NissanConnect with navigation, NavTraffic and NavWeather.
The nav system has a 5.8-inch color touch-screen dash display, hands-free text messaging, streaming audio, Pandora radio capability (iPhone only), and points of interest (by Google).
Safety and security features include front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, electronic stability control with traction control, and tire-pressure monitoring. Nissan's Easy-Fill Tire Alert system is optional.
We had carpeted floor and cargo mats and a cargo cover, as well. Total sticker price of our SL tester was $19,565, including freight and options.
Other stand-alone options include 15- and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Besides the SL Tech Package, there are an SV Convenience Package and Sport Value Package.
2014 NISSAN VERSA NOTE HATCHBACK:
-On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
-The package: Five-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, subcompact, economy hatchback
-Advantages: Redesigned for 2014, this is the hatchback version of Nissan's entry-level car for the U.S. market. It's economical to buy and operate, and has more interior space than its competitors and as much rear passenger room as some midsize cars.
-Negatives: No engine upgrade offered for sportier performance.
-Engine: 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder
-Transmissions: Five-speed manual; continuously variable automatic (optional)
-Power/torque: 109 horsepower/107 pound-feet
-Length: 163 inches
-Curb weight: 2,412-2,482 pounds
-Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock
-Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows
-Electronic stability control: Standard
-Fuel capacity/type: 10.8 gallons/unleaded regular
-EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/36 highway/30 combined (manual); 3\0/35 (CVT)
-Base price, excluding destination charge: $13,990
-Price as tested: $19,565