The truth about working in the arts in America,New Car Edition aka “The Nissan Versa Review from a Broke Artist”
So, I was driving a 15 year old car that I owed about $6,500 bucks on still and was making another finance payment for $1,000 for another round of repairs, because unless you make $100k+ a year in the US, that is about what you can afford unless all the bits fall right into a row financially. But, I had it. One morning I had to call in sick. I went out to my car to go to Target to get ibuprofen and found hydraulic fluid EVERYWHERE. Seems that the power steering gave up overnight. This is a week after I had to *finance* 4 new brakes and a snapped sway bar. After spending $400 before that for a leaking oil pan gasket. This was after spending $2,500 on new catalytic converters. and of course that happened after my car was broken into, causing $1,500 in damage.
I had it! I couldn’t afford it anymore. I went inside, combined my research and went to several dealerships. Long story short: I owed too much on my truck, and so many of the dealers had scams that said they were selling a $12k car, but forced you into ONLY being able to choose a $20k car because the “rebates” somehow allowed them to tack your old loan onto a BIGGER loan for MORE interest.
Finally, after being priced out of my own life, I had two options: A Nissan Versa or a Mitsubishi Mirage. The Mirage is widely panned as the WORST car in America and could probably kill you if a strong gust of wind came by and doesn’t even have the power to get out of it’s own way. The Versa? The worst crime of all in America: It is widely known as the cheapest new car in America. And, everyone knows that knowingly buying something that is made to be affordable is a felony unless it is featured on the Kardashians! And, I am a financial triple threat: I work in the arts at a state university in Arizona. All sure fire ways to be broke for the rest of your life, but with a good health plan and a moral sense that you like your job.
After seeing a Mirage up close, I knew it would be a bad idea (avoid! Such pieces of shit)… So, I went to try out a Versa.
Granted the salespeople were slightly nicer here, buying a car in America is pretty much “We are here to take advantage of you and you don’t have much legal recourse” and you get to dance the game of how little you are going to get fleeced. Admittedly I didn’t do too bad. I actually got approved for Nissan Direct financing (better because there are no 3rd party banks to haggle over surcharges and fees) and half the interest rate that we had on my wife’s car since my credit was getting better. What I got? Well I got RID of the POS ford Escape and landed this:
A black 2017 Nissan Versa S!
Yeah. Hard to make this exciting, but there are some interesting bits that DO make this exciting. This was $10,500 MSRP. That makes it the cheapest new car you can get. New. No one’s grubby hands all over it! With a WARRANTY even (Not the best, but not the worst).
But, the dealership (ABC Nissan) did pull some fuckery by making up a $1,800 “appearance” package that you have NO say if you want or not. They force it on you and say take the WHOLE car or leave it. Some of it is stuff I wanted: The fancy uber-wax (yes, it is actually a real thing. We had it done to my wife’s Fiat and it did keep it pretty clean without a car wash for 6 months. And Arizona sun is brutal on paint) and tinted windows. A MUST in a state where 120 degree summers mean 140 degree+ interiors! But, they “added” such bullshit like “desert undercoating” (WHAT THE FUCK!? We have 5% humidity here. NOTHING RUSTS!) and “door protectors” (tiny fucking pieces of scotch tape on the door edges) and…
Well, I couldn’t tell you the rest. They claimed it was “negotiable”, which is dealership speak for “We will figure out some other way to fuck you over”. And they were good at that. Most of that stuck on the rest of the deal because they claimed that it was such a burden to take my trade in, and practically gave me nothing for it. I owed $6,500 and even after all of the repairs and everything working, they claimed it was worth less than $1,000. But, I was over a barrel and needed a car. So, here it was. Even with the BS added, $12k for a new car is almost unheard of here in these days where the average new car is around $30k. So, what does $12k get you from a REAL world owner?
Well, this is the “S” model. That means that it’s not just a base model, it’s an UBER base model. When they say “cheap”, they aren’t kidding!
The S model comes with a 1.5 Liter 16v DOHC engine that puts out 109 HP. For those who aren’t technically minded, that is one of the least powerful engines for a subcompact (but not the slowest. That would go to the Mitsubishi Mirage). But, the base comes with a 5 speed manual. Yep. You shift it yourself, with a clutch and everything. For me that was just fine because I actually like manual transmissions. They also have a traditional 4 speed hydraulic automatic transmission (the auto you feel shifting gears as it does it’s thing). The higher up models get a type of transmission called a CVT. This is essentially the same type of transmissions you see on modern Honda motorscooters. What is it? It is a transmission made of three main parts: A main drive pulley, a large kevlar belt, and a “variable” pulley that is actually designed to expand and contract in diameter depending on how fast the engine spins. The faster the engine spins, the larger the primary pulley gets and thus the belt follows along, changing your gear ratio all the time. The crafty idea is that your car is always in the “optimum” gear ratio, and you never have to shift anything.
The reality? Your car is being powered by a fucking rubber band, and no matter how hard you mash on the throttle, it will take FOREVER to gain any power. And forget a “passing gear” or puching the gas to drop the transmission to a lower gear for a bit of boost when you need to get out of the way, because the CVT doesn’t allow you to. And the failure rate? The ONLY Negative reviews I saw were from people who had the drive belt fail (because belts do wear out). And the cost? Around $3-4000 bucks! And it isn’t covered under warranty. Yes, the CVT gives a few MPG more, but not enough to offset over a third of the value of the car going out in 60k to 80k miles. A manual is all solid gear with a clutch that may cost $600-$1000 to replace. BUT, if you are kind to your car a clutch can last to 160k miles and above! I have seen it.
No thank you! If I am considered ghetto for having a manual, so be it! And I encourage all of you wanting a cheap and chipper car to learn how to drive stick. It will save you thousands!
Mileage? With one week and 300 miles under my belt of city and freeway driving, I am getting 35mpg. Not bad!!! Seriously. And, the little engine isn’t as bad as those baby boomer-owned car magazine sites say. It’s not the fastest, but I have driven much slower. The manual makes it pretty snappy for such a light and low powered car.
How light? 2433lbs. That is 33lbs heavier than my wife’s Fiat 500. A car HALF the length! Granted it won’t handle like a sports car, but it takes corners pretty decent. It’s flickable to a point and it doesn’t squeak or rattle. With the manual, you can flog it a bit and it can get up to speed. Only had it to 75 max because I am trying to break in the engine proper. But, it got up to speed OK. Wasn’t Earth shattering at all, but this isn’t some hellcat. It’s a commuter! And, dare I say, it did so predictably. No excitement, but no surprises.
So of course, something doing what it was designed to do cheaply must be shit to the baby boomers who run auto “journalism” sites. And I think that is why this car is so hated among “professional” reviewers, who mostly all tend to be middle aged white males. It threatens their fragile masculinity. It isn’t “macho” or “feminine”… however the hell a car can have gender. It just, well, “is”. And that is OK! As an aging Gen X’er, I have my vintage Vespa and can have fun on that. This is what gets me to work to pay for the damn things. So, a small car is OK. I don’t feel threatened, and my cock is the same size as we started. So, we’re all good!
But, how small is the Versa? Well, let’s talk interior.
This is is. The “cockpit” (Such a dirty word…).
Yep. That’s plastic. ALL plastic. Plastic is EVERYWHERE. No satilite navigation (not even an option on this). No padded dash. Not even an armrest. But, strangely enough it comes with onboard bluetooth for phone (no streaming. There is an aux cord for that at least). But, the bluetooth? Pretty fucking good! Understood my accented Ulster Irish voice no prob. And, it was pretty painless to setup.
The dash is simple: Spedometer, Tach (good if you are still new to the world of shifty cars and if you really want to game the MPG), digital fuel gauge and “trip computer” which is really just your odometer, trip meters and MPG scorekeeper. There isn’t even a temperature gauge, which scares the hell out of me as someone who has driven so many shitty cars in the desert that like to overheat. But, that is why I bought the extended warranty. 4 years/ 42k miles TOTAL COVERAGE (even on belts and hoses! The regular warranty was 3yrs/36k and didn’t cover any of that). After that it is 6 year/60k powertrain. That means everything involving the engine, transmission and bits connected to the engine. This doesn’t cover brakes, most electrical, body, interior or tires… so keep that in mind if this is your first car.
And with Nissan, I get “Gap” coverage. What’s that? Well, say some dumbass baby boomer is trying to figure out their phone while plucking away at the satnav in their big ass SUV and slams into you. After blaming everyone but themselves, you are still out a car. If it’s totaled, you may still owe more on the car than it’s worth. This is bad! Because banks are heartless bitches and will do ANYTHING to force you to pay the difference out of pocket. They don’t give a shit if you are lying in hospital with no health insurance and no car. They will raid bank accounts, garnish checks and impound other property you have financed.
But, with gap insurance, you pay a little extra each month to say “If anything happens to me, this insurance means that you cover EVERYTHING on my car and what I owe, regardless of the car’s value”. This even applies to the money I still owed on my truck when I rolled it over to the new financing! So, Even if I get creamed by an Escalade, I can at least buy a new car later and not have any damage to my credit.
And speaking of affordable, let’s get back to the interior.
And, no, I didn’t pull a pic from 2005. Those are crank windows and manual door locks. No keyless entry. And NO fabric here too. But, that’s ok. Like I said, it’s a commuter car. What you see is what you get. But my 32oz reusable water bottle fits nicely in the door cup holders, so that is nice.
I didn’t get any backseat pics, but the legroom? HOLY FUCK! It honestly has more leg room than a BMW 5 series! I am 5′10″ and 190lbs (a bit tubby I know) and with my front seat in a comfortable driving position, I got in the back seat and my knees weren’t even touching the seat in front! No wonder they use these cars as cabs in Mexico (where they are actually made). The seats in the back are… well, ok! There was actually a ton of room, although head room was slimmer. In all, this car is actually bigger than a 2010 Honda Civic inside.
Also, the trunk is bigger than a Toyota Corolla’s! I was able to fit three 5-gallon buckets, a 16 microphone case, a Pelican carry-on size case and a couple of small toolboxes easy! Sadly, the base model takes away the folding back seat (in an effort to punish buyers even more). But, between the backseat and the trunk, this “almost” has the same interior cargo room as my Ford escape!
Distance across is where you feel the shrink. The doors only have keyholes for the front two doors, so you will need to reach behind to unlock the other two. The doorlocks are strange, but not hard to reach. In fact, even with long arms, the width of the car isn’t as much as it looks. Sure, you can fit real adults in this thing, but don’t try to squeeze three in the backseat. Two will find plenty of room. But only do 3 if you have tiny friends or a poly relationship going on between your passengers, because they will be up in each other’s business if you try to cram them all in the back.
The driver and front passenger seats are firm, but not too bad. No adjustable headrests, but the bucket seats have decent lumbar support. The bottom seats are a bit thin, but fine for a full day of running errands. The steering wheel tilts, and that’s it. The seat has the most basic of functions: Distance from pedals, back tilt and height. That’s all folks. There are two front cupholders underneath the front dash AC controls that are OK, but won’t fit a tall soda (You should stop drinking that shit anyways!). Two on the center console for the back passengers. Two pockets in the doors that are cup-shaped that actually work for larger reusable water bottles. The glovebox is of a decent size, and fits the manuals, insurance packet, USB powerbank and my Springfield XD9 (if you care about such things)
All in all, it’s rather… decent! And not in a bad way. Not thrilling at all. But, again, there are no surprises and the plastic dash is such that there really isn’t anything that you expect to fall off in the future. They actually nailed simple but decent.
The outside may be boring, but it gets the job done (yes I removed the hideous wheel covers. Black and black and all). None of the Lights are LED, but they make kits for that shit. The blind spots are few, and it does have power mirrors! Now, in the rest of the world you will probably have to get the windows tinted, but in Arizona, it is almost an unsaid law… and that is nice. The headlights are bright but not douchebag-bright-white annoying (you know the kind). The engine noise is a bit loud, but you don’t get alot of road noise and hardly any wind noise. On the freeway at 75mph, it isn’t a Mercedes, but you can have a conversation easy.
It comes in quite a few colors, but the door handles will be of the same plastic. The only chrome is around the front grille, and.. well, that’s it. It does have a center roof mount antenna but that’s about it.
But, with all of the negative “cheap” talk, let’s talk safety vs. an affordable used car. This car has SIX airbags: Window curtain, side airbags and front airbags. This car also has ABS brakes, Tire Pressure Monitor systems (which tell you when your tires are low. A recent requirement in new cars for the past 10 years), bluetooth voice activated phone standard, electric power steering (simpler and easier to drive with less stuff breaking) and an “average” 4 star crash test rating.
Compare this to my 2002 Ford Escape XLT (a “top of the line” used car): Only two airbags, no tire monitor system, a crash test rating that was 15 years older and thus I wouldn’t trust too much, no three-point seatbelt for the center passenger like in the Versa, no factory bluetooth and no side or curtain airbags. So, right off the bat, the Versa is already a safer car than a used car.
And, things like a warranty means that stuff should be maintained better than a used car. Speaking of maintenance, did I mention that this car doesn’t need an oil change for 6 months! Older cars followed the “3 month/3k mile” mantra for so long. But new synthetic oils and engines designed for them mean that you can go longer and still keep the engine safe! Also, this has an in-cabin air filter! And, with Trump giving a big FUCK YOU to the environment, this will be a nice bonus. So an extra “passive” safety feature there!
Gas mileage? About 27/35mpg real world on my model S with the 5 speed manual. Respectable, again. Predictable as, well, predicted. And it holds about 10 gallons with a fairly accurate fuel gauge so far. So if you’re one of those types who rides the gas until you hit the “Don’t worry! When the light comes on you still have another 20 miles” stage, then you will need to adjust your thinking.
So, the real factor: How does this fit with a Musician? Well, I can haul plenty of gear, keyboards and speakers (in fact I did take full PA for a 20 piece big band jazz group in this the 2nd day I owned it!). And, if it weren’t for my negative equity, the payments are… cheap? Well, with interest and terms I am paying $360/month. But if you just bought the car with $500-1000 down, I would be shocked if you paid more than $250/month. Alot of cash, yeah. But, for a brand new car I don’t have to worry about… that is worth it! Piece of mind, warranty, AC that actually works?? Amazing. And, it won’t surprise you, because there is nothing that is a surprise. Many of the engine’s design bits aren’t new and ultra high tech. This means they are proven, and the parts are cheap.
This is the same platform as the Versa Note hatchback, the discontinued Nissan Cube and even the NV200 microvan. So, it’s a time proven design. It won’t win any beauty contests, but you will look good without all of that stress of used car ownership. Don’t fall into the bullshit of brand names to look good. Nissan is a great brand that builds good cars! I am not ashamed to be seen in one.
Yes, my first choice was a Fiat 500x. My second was a Toyota iA. This was my second to last choice. But… I’m not mad. I got EXACTLY what I needed. Granted I didn’t get anything I wanted (except for the color). But what I did get was a safe, reliable chunk of piece of mind. It won’t leave me stranded on my way to a gig, and the repairs won’t bleed me dry.
Funny how that is the new American dream: Please let me live like a regular adult without being homeless or dead. And, as good or as bad as this sounds, the Versa will do it’s best to keep you in house and health.