2008 Nissan Versa S Review – Filling the big shoes of Sentra

Expert Reviews Nissan

By Kurt Gensheimer


  • Sub $13K base price
  • Most interior passenger and cargo space in its class
  • Crisp, responsive steering
  • Attractive interior (automatic shifter excluded)


  • Resurrected 1st gen. Prius exterior design cues
  • Slothful 4-speed automatic
  • Tires howl louder than a pack of malnutritioned coyotes

Ruling: It’s lacks the Sentra’s sporting soul, but Nissan’s new entry-level whip makes up for it in quality and value.

From a car enthusiast’s perspective, ‘basic transportation’ is a concept that isn’t easily understood. Why drive a boring, hum-drum machine like a Corolla to work every day when for about the same amount of money you can drive a Civic Si? Sure, the Corolla is practical and durable, but so is the Civic. And it makes your daily commute quite a bit more fun and enjoyable. Still, most buyers are not enthusiasts, and only have the desire to go from point A to point B with the least amount of fanfare possible, which is why ‘basic transportation’ is such a popular segment for cars.

Perhaps Nissan understands this concept better than any other car maker, and is a primary reason why they promoted the venerable, sporty Sentra one notch up from entry-level and replaced it with the Versa. Yes, the Versa is a far less sporting machine, but when it comes to delivering the essentials of ‘basic transportation’, all requirements are met – and then some.

2008 Nissan Versa

Driving Impressions

For an entry-level machine, the Versa has all the right numbers. The 1.8 liter DOHC 4-cylinder puts out a spirited 122 HP and 127 lb. ft., which for a car that has a base price below $13K, ain’t shabby in the least. Neither is its 0-60 time of 9 seconds. Another set of impressive numbers is in the fuel economy arena. Depending on which transmission you opt for: the Xtronic CVT (constantly variable transmission), the 6-speed manual or the 4-speed automatic, the Versa can achieve as much as 27 MPG city and 33 highway (CVT model).

A word on transmissions. Our test model was equipped with the 4-speed automatic, which also happened to be one of the low points of the Versa. Shifting was more lethargic than waking up from a tryptophan nap after a Thanksgiving feast. And when in cruise control on the highway, even if you only hit the accelerate button to go one mile-an-hour faster, the anemic tranny would downshift to third, disrupting the serene, quiet highway ride with a sudden full throttle engine jolt, making the driver think a cinder block somehow found its way onto the accelerator. Although we’re not big CVT fans, if you don’t want the manual, in this case you might be better off with the CVT. We can’t imagine it could be any worse than the temperamental 4-speed.

2008 Nissan Versa - center console 2008 Nissan Versa - 4-speed automatic

As previously mentioned, the Versa will not set your sporting soul alive. The suspension is rather flaccid and the Continental tires scream bloody murder any time you even think about hitting that cloverleaf ten miles-an-hour over the posted limit. This definitely is no Sentra. But one thing we noticed about the Versa was it’s steering input was rather crisp and responsive. Not that anyone who buys the Versa for basic transportation would ever in a million years do this, but tighten up the suspension and get some sportier tires, and the Versa just might approach the soul of a Sentra.

On the freeway, the Versa’s stout 2,700 curb weight is greatly appreciated. Not only does it add a level of security amidst an army of hulking SUV’s, but the ride is surprisingly quiet and solid for such an inexpensive car. Based on it’s highway presence, you’d never think you were driving a $13,000 automobile.

Build and Safety

Same goes for the build quality of the Versa. Tight panel gaps, quality interior plastics and a very impressive safety record prove the Versa is well put together, especially for its price range. Although ABS isn’t standard, tire pressure monitoring is, as well as six airbags. This gives the Versa the right to boast best safety performance against it’s market competitors. It received the highest safety rating from the IIHS for front, side and rear impact.


Another highlight of the Versa is what drivers are greeted to when they enter the cabin. Tall, wide, expansive, enough legroom for Stilts McGee – the Versa is a geometric study in achieving maximum interior space from a sub-compact car. In fact, the Versa offers most overall interior space in its class. Tall ceilings offer plenty of headroom, even for people in the low to mid six-foot range. Rear seat space and legroom is enormous – on par with luxury sedans like the BMW 5-series and Acura TL. And the trunk; if Barnum and Bailey Circus ever needed a new car to cram a bunch of clowns in, the Versa is a front-runner for sure.

Nissan Versa interior Nissan Versa HVAC + stereo Nissan Versa - back seat area

Standard interior equipment includes a CD AM/FM stereo and A/C, and a fully-equipped Versa offers techy options like Bluetooth® integration, XM® Satellite Radio and Nissan’s notorious Intelligent Key system – which can sometimes be too intelligent for it’s owner after it somehow finds its way into the pocket of a departing passenger, rendering your car useless once it’s turned off. We continually find the intelligent key option undesirable. Has there ever been anything wrong with just using a regular old key?

The basic stereo is nothing special, and compared to entry-level competitors like Scion, it falls quite short. Unlike the Scion, which even in base models offer a Pioneer stereo and full iPod integration, the base Versa offers no audiophile gizmos of any sort beyond a single disc CD player. But hey man, this is basic transportation, right?

2008 Nissan Versa


Although we find the interior of the Versa accommodating and rather stylish for basic transportation, the exterior is less aesthetically pleasing – that is unless you found the first generation Prius a stroke of pure automotive design genius. It’s okay to admit it. Really.

Although our test vehicle was the four door sedan, we find the look of the five-door hatchback much more satisfying. In our opinion, we’d opt for the hatch not only for being easier on the eyes, but also for the additional cargo space.


As tested, $13,500 gets you a 122 HP engine, 33 MPG highway, power everything, A/C, cruise control, a best in class safety rating and enough room for the entire starting lineup of your local college basketball team – we can end the value conversation at this juncture.

2008 Nissan Versa

Who Should Buy It?

There are a few potential buyer markets for the Versa. One is no doubt Dick or Jane Commuter, who is purely looking for a roomy, cheap, economical car that can safely and reliably get them from point A to point B. Another target would be younger, first-time car buyers. However, if the younger person is footing the majority of the bill, they may opt for the sportier Honda Fit or the more image-conscious Scion. But if mom and dad have a say in matters and finances, the first-time buyer might find themselves in a Versa – which is nothing to be embarrassed about at all.


Nissan has created a compelling entry-level car. Most importantly, they understand the target market for a vehicle like the Versa. It lacks the sportiness of its Sentra predecessor and main competitor – the Honda Fit – and doesn’t stack up in the quirky, cool department like a Scion does, but Nissan realizes that many entry-level buyers aren’t interested in those elements. They’re simply looking for a safe, reliable, economic, roomy and fuel efficient car with still enough power to get out of its own way; and the Versa fits all of these criteria perfectly.

RATING 4.0 4.0 3.5 3.0 3.0 5.0 3.75/B-

2008 Nissan Versa Photo Gallery

2008 Nissan Versa sedan

2008 Nissan Versa Sedan Specs

NissanThe official site for Nissan cars, trucks, SUVs, crossovers and hybrids – www.nissanusa.com

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