A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a Nissan Versa Note. With our van still locked in a container somewhere on the high seas and my old Nissan Hardbody unable to transport our family of five, we were in a bit of a bind. We tried renting a van for a while but with the charges stacking up and with no end in sight, we figured we could just take the thousands of dollars we were likely to pay out anyhow and use them to buy something. How we ended up buying a car that a great many people think is an also-ran in the small car segment is the subject of this story. Perhaps there is a lesson in it somewhere.
Having made an international move a number of times now, I know that it takes my wife a while to get comfortable in her new surroundings. It doesn’t matter where we go, whether it’s back to the States or “home” to Japan, settling in is a difficult process. This time around, thanks to an unpleasant encounter with an officer from our nation’s Citizenship and Immigration Services at the airport, she was especially apprehensive. She wasn’t in our new home an hour before she was already expressing her desire to abandon our current adventure and go back to Japan. If I wanted to nip that in the bud, I needed to act fast.
Getting my wife a car is always a big step towards getting her back on to the road to a normal life. Despite the fact that it was pretty much identical to our Town & Country, she hated driving our rental Grand Caravan – it was just too big – and, as a result, she decided not to use it. After a week of watching the charges pile up while the van just sat there unused in the driveway, I decided to return it. But, my wife’s dislike of the Grand Caravan set off alarm bells. If she couldn’t/wouldn’t drive the Grand Caravan, what was going to happen when our T&C finally arrived? Clearly we needed a small car.
I started out by searching for something used. We looked at what, in the online ads at least, appeared to be a nice Ford Focus, but a series of dents on the passenger side and my fear of a transmission issue that seemed to be the subject of a great many on-line complaints caused us to put that aside. We did drive it, however, and while I liked it my wife felt that it was too big and too difficult to see out of. There were a few other used cars in the area, but my wife’s unhappiness with the Ford’s size told me that we were going to need to step down out a compact into a subcompact and that left us with only a few choices.
The good news is that our step down meant the budget I had allotted for a used car could be stretched to cover a new car and, because we have tentatively decided to put down roots and stay in one place for a few years, that meant we could actually hang on to whatever we chose to buy long enough to get some real value out of it. Also, although it still seems a bit of a stretch, I have a son who will be turning 12 soon and I, realizing that in just four or five short years we will have another licensed driver at home, thought that we could eventually pass down whatever we buy to him.
Once we decided to go small, there were only two cars that sprung to mind. The Chevy Sonic and the Nissan Note. There are, of course, other fine small cars but they were eliminated for various reasons, some of which are probably silly but valid to me just the same. I hate the look of the Yaris, chose not to shop the Koreans and the idea of buying a small European car was so far off my radar that I didn’t even think of the possibility until I sat down to write this.
I have a bit of a history with the Nissan Note – I rented one for several weeks when my VW Golf self-destructed in Okinawa and, the truth is, I liked it a lot. That association alone was enough to cause us to hit our local Nissan shop first and what we found there was an updated version of the small car that remains packed with the same qualities I had admired before. The Note is a lot of car in a small package. There is room for five and I find that my 260 pound 6’1” all-American ass felt comfortable behind the wheel AND in the back seat. My much smaller wife appreciated its small size and ease of use. Overall, it has a Japanese aesthetic that works well for her and she felt at home behind the wheel almost immediately. Even better, the dealer was willing to deal and offered me a killer price – a Versa Note SV with the 15” black alloy wheels, including tax, licensing, destination and the whole shebang, for just $17K!
We sat on that offer and went up the road to our local Chevrolet dealer and were soundly unimpressed with the Sonic but did stop to look at a couple of leftover 2016 Cruzes. I was happy enough with the Cruze and my wife gave it serious consideration, but the dealership just wasn’t willing to work with us – even though 2019s are starting to hit the lot! What’s more, they were aghast when I told them about the deal we were offered on the little Nissan and begged off by telling us that these two cars shouldn’t be comparison shopped. Perhaps they are right and the Cruze is a lot more car, but to be honest I felt like they didn’t even try to sway us. They just stood there and let us go as we walked out and headed back over to the Nissan shop.
In the few weeks we’ve had the Note it has done well. My wife loves it and so do I. While it’s not a barn burner, it’s a zippy little car that does well in traffic. The much complained about CVT is not an issue for my mash-the-gas-and-go wife and, after consciously modifying my driving style to stop trying to initiate shifts, have found it OK to live with. Inside, it’s a nice enough place to be and visibility is certainly fine. The car sports a back-up camera, satellite radio, an accessory plug for streaming audio from your phone and Bluetooth integration for hands free calling too. I guess that’s all normal these days, but it’s a huge step up from the last small car I bought new – a 1994 Geo Metro.
On the downside, the seats are a scratchy kind of synthetic fiber with blue threads woven into the charcoal cloth and, while I can live with the scratchiness, I think red threads would look better. Also, the digital display screen in the center of the speedometer offers several functions including a trip meter, an ambient air temp gauge, miles per gallon and distance to your next fill-up but these are all bits of information that I, as a driver, do not need real-time updates on – a digital speedometer option would be better. Also, the mid and bottom and middle of the market versions of the Versa don’t offer Navigation even as an extra cost option. This is something that should, at the very least, be a dealer installed option as extra gravy for the dealerships. These are small things, perhaps, but still negatives, in my opinion, that Nissan should think about rectifying.
Since we brought the little Note home, a few things have happened. To begin with I added a $130 rear cargo cover to make sure people couldn’t see what we have in the back and have done a couple of other little things I will detail in an upcoming article. But generally the car is being run just the way we got it and I’m quite happy with it. In fact, when we do grocery runs or do other things that involve taking the kids along, I am more likely to drive the Versa than I am the Town & Country which arrived just about a month after we bought the car.
And why am I not using the van you ask? Well, because – believe it or not – my wife has decided she loves the big T&C and pretty much uses it as her full time daily driver now. If I get in it and mess up her seat and mirror settings, she gets unhappy. And, that’s where I think the lesson lies. It’s in there somewhere, I’m sure but damned if I can find it, though. If you find it, let me know…