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Nissan's Versa Note: Versatile and thrifty

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

Nissan's small Versa hatchback, renamed the Versa Note for 2014, is a low-priced, high-utility car with an attractive, fresh exterior, notable fuel economy and a surprisingly roomy back seat that accommodates even 6-foot adults.

The five-seat Versa Note offers high-tech features not found in other hatchbacks, such as an all-around-view camera system that lets the driver see what is nearby the car on all four sides.

Drivers will appreciate that the Note with its 109-horsepower, four-cylinder engine is rated by the federal government at 31 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. This top rating is for Notes equipped with a fuel-thrifty continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Unfortunately, though, the Versa Note's engine power is lower than many competitors'.

And while the Note is a new version of Nissan's Versa line, its safety rating in frontal crash testing isn't any better than the three out of five stars that the longer-running Versa sedan received.

Standard safety features on all Notes include frontal, side and curtain air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control.

People must experience the Note's back seat to believe it.

Less than 14 feet long and about the size of a rival Honda Fit hatchback, the Note has 38.3 inches of legroom back there. It's enough to allow 6-footers to extend their legs.

Front-seat passengers in the Versa Note aren't squeezed, either, as legroom up there totals 41.3 inches, on par with some sport utility vehicles.

Just keep in mind that while two adults in back do well, fitting three in the back is tight. Still, back windows are sizable and go down virtually the whole way.

The ride in the test model was noisy. Road and engine sounds were heard all the time, and the CVT kept the driver guessing when engine revving would quiet down.

The commendable fuel economy ratings are not far-fetched. In mostly city driving, the tester averaged 30 mpg, just 1 mpg off from the federal government number. And this was without the driver focusing on top mileage. Fuel mileage was 32 mpg with highway travel added.

Because the Note is 5 feet tall, it affords front-seat passengers a generous 40.8 inches of headroom, which is more than the 39.1 inches in the Fiesta hatchback and a tad more than the 40.4 inches in the front seats of the Fit.

Ann M. Job is an Associated Press contributor

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