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2015 Nissan Versa Note SR

Price: $17,530

The Note SR version of the strong-selling Nissan Versa is for those who want a stylish, roomy, economical, sporty small car with average highway performance. In short, it's not for fast L.A. to Vegas weekend runs.

The standard Versa is a sedan, but the Note is a hatchback, which makes it more versatile when it comes to lugging stuff. I'd bypass the sedan for it.

The "SR" means the Versa is the sportiest Versa--or at least the sportiest looking Versa.

For instance, the Note SR has items including a unique fascia with a mesh grille, dark headlight surrounds and fog lights with black and chrome accents. It's also got special body color side sills, revised sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals and a rear spoiler.

In all, these items add to the look of the sleekly styled Versa. Big doors with large outside handles and stylish chromed inner handles make it easy to slide in and out of the quiet interior.

There's plenty of room up front in supportive seats, and backseat room is impressive for a car only 163.7 inches long. Two 6-footers easily fit. A rather short 103.4-inch wheelbase with short front/rear body overhangs helps provide added passenger space.

The cabin feels airy. Large windows and upright seating allow good visibility, although driver vision to the rear is partly obstructed by rear roof pillars. Power outside mirrors help here. 

The moderately sized cargo area has a  low, wide floor, and flipping the rear seatbacks forward provides an impressive cargo area.  

The Note SR's colorful  interior has a "Euro-inspired" motif with a leather-wrapped wheel, seats covered in faux suede with attractive orange accents, a new tri-dial" Fine Vision" instrument cluster with electroluminescent gauges for easy viewing in all lighting conditions and a Piano Black center dash with bright trim.

Still, although not cheap-looking, interior materials have average quality, and there's a good amount of hard plastic.  The console shift lever partly blocks the front dual cupholders when in the "park" position, but gets out of the way when the car is moving. 

The optional convenience package contains an easily read 5-inch color display, Sirius XM satellite radio, removable cover for a shallow auxiliary cargo area and, importantly, a  rearview monitor.

The problem with the Note SR is that, although it's lively in town, its highway performance above 60 m.p.h. is just adequate. It has the same 1.6-liter, 109 horsepower four-cylinder as other Versas. Figure on 0-60 m.p.h. in about 10 seconds.

The engine can only be hooked to a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission, which operates smoothly under most conditions but causes coarse engine noise during hard acceleration.

A manual transmission might help, but it's only offered for the entry $14,180 Versa Note model.

The Versa Note SR stickers at $17,530 and is fairly well-equipped. Standard items include manually adjustable front seats, rear armrest with cupholders, AM/FM/CD/Aux-in audio system with four speakers, hands-free phone system, steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, cruise control, power windows and door locks with automatic locking feature and remote keyless entry.

My test car's price sticker and other Nissan-supplied information didn't say the Versa Note SR had  standard or optional "air conditioning" or "automatic climate control." I asked a Nissan spokesman about that, and he said "all Versas have air conditioning." 

The engine is sophisticated, with 16 valves, dual overhead camshafts, dual fuel injection and continuously variable valve timing. But only so much can be done with a non-turbocharged 1.6 liter engine in an economy car that weighs approximately 2,400 pounds. The Note SR delivers an  estimated 32 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways.  

To keep the Versa Note SR safely tucked to roads and assisting handling  are front/rear stabilizer bars and traction and vehicle dynamic control systems. The anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution initially felt a bit touchy, but I soon got used to them.

The Versa can be fun to drive if you don't push it too hard. The rather heavy electric steering is quick and precise, and there's little body roll when sweeping through curves at above-average speeds. The 16-inch alloy wheels help out here. Open the short hood and you'll see that the engine is set fairly far back for better handling.

While generally supple, the suspension provides a bumpy ride on rough roads.    

Driver and front passenger, side impact and curtain air bags help provide crash protection.

To many, the Versa Note SR will do just fine. However, this model should have an engine with more highway punch to match its sporty looks.