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First Drive Review: 2020 Nissan Versa is a budget-friendly commuter car

The redesigned Nissan Versa has come a long way since it's last generation.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2020 Nissan Versa isn't going to knock anyone's socks off as a speedster or wow you with finery. What this new generation Versa needs to do, for its typical buyer, is deliver a lot of bang for the buck housed inside an attractive enough package. It does that and more.

The Versa is a subcompact car that fits in Nissan's lineup at the bottom, sitting below the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima on the cars side of the aisle. The last-generation Versa came in both a sedan and hatchback but the 2020 does not. Nissan is intending for the subcompact Kicks SUV to pick up that slack.

The 2020 Versa comes in S, SV, and SR trim levels. Its pricing structure is designed to keep it among the lowest cost cars out there, but Nissan didn't prioritize the Versa being the cheapest. Instead, the automaker focused on delivering a vehicle for the typical buyer who needs a solid daily driver.

2020 Nissan Versa The Versa has many Nissan design hallmarks you'll see in other models in the automaker's lineup.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

For the 2020 model year, Nissan has completely redesigned the Versa inside and out, giving it many of the characteristics you'll see on the Altima including a V-motion grille front and center, boomerang-shaped headlamps, and a floating roof. The new Versa is lower, wider, and longer than the outgoing generation.

The Versa's new body is significantly more ridged than the outgoing model's. Not only does this help with noise, vibration, and harshness reductions, it makes the vehicle more stable on the road when it encounters crosswinds. The engineering team has also improved the steering shaft's rigidity resulting in a more responsive behind the wheel experience.

Under the Versa's hood is the third generation of the company's 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. That's the same size power plant as is in the Kicks, only one generation newer. It achieves 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, a 12 and seven percent upgrade over the last generation, respectively.

2020 Nissan Versa A five-speed manual transmission is standard but all other variants come with a continuously variable transmission.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In its base model, the Versa's engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission, one of the few remaining vehicles on dealer lots with one. All other variants come with a continuously variable transmission.

While the Versa is not fast by any means, it's competent in the city and can hold its own at highway speeds. Where the small car struggles the most is when going uphill at low speed. For daily driving situations in most of America, the Versa is competent.

Climbing inside the Versa, it's immediately apparent that this model sits at the lower end of Nissan's lineup. However, especially in the top SR trim, the appointments are nicer than what you'll find in other small cars. The Versa has good fit and finish.

The list of standard features in the 2020 Versa is long and includes a 7-inch infotainment touch screen, Bluetooth, a 12-volt power outlet, three USB ports, Siri Eyes Free, an AM/FM radio, one-touch up/down driver's window, front door bottle holders, cruise control, keyless entry, push-button start, and a rearview camera.

2020 Nissan Versa The Nissan Versa delivers a lot of bang for the buck, including a standard 7-inch infotainment screen.Photo courtesy of Nisan North America

Buyers can upgrade to a six-speaker audio system, an advanced 7-inch infotainment screen, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite radio. SR models also get automatic climate control, Nissan Intelligent Key with remote start, and adaptive cruise control.

The base model Versa comes with cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, high beam assist, a rearview camera, rear automatic braking, and hill start assist. Higher grades build on that also delivering Intelligent Driver Alertness, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring.

Nissan sells the 2020 Versa in three grades: S, SV, and SR. It starts at $14,730, a nearly $2,500 jump from the outgoing model. With the SV and SR grades coming in at $17,640 and $18,240, respectively, it's easy to see the value proposition in the new Versa.

The 2020 Nissan Versa is on sale now at dealer lots nationwide.

Click here to see a slideshow featuring all the angles of the 2020 Nissan Versa.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Acura has teased the forthcoming MDX with this photo.

Photo courtesy of Acura

The redesigened versions of the 2022 Acura MDX and 2021 Nissan Armada will be revealed on December 8. The Armada will go first, bowing at 11 a.m. EST. The MDX will make its appearance at 2:30 p.m. EST.

2022 Acura MDX

Acura previewed the 2022 MDX earlier this year, revealing the MDX Prototype two months ago. The new model will be the company's fourth-generation of its flagship SUV. Acura has already divulged that the three-row SUV will ride on a new light-truck platform and feature a double-wishbone front suspension (a first for the model) and will have a "sumptuously appointed interior loaded with an arsenal of new features and technologies".

2022 Acura MDX Acura previewed the model with a teaser photo. Lightening the photo in Photoshop reveals most of its body structure, which looks remarkably similar to the MDX Prototype.Photo courtesy of Acura

Acura has also confirmed that the SUV will continue to be powered by the company's 3.5-liter V6 engine, which will be mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The model will be available with all-wheel drive and arrive at dealerships in early 2021. An MDX Type S, Acura's first high-performance SUV variant, will follow in the summer of 2021.

The MDX is the best-selling model in its segment where it competes directly with the Infiniti QX60, which is also set for a redesign in the coming year.

2021 Nissan Armada

Changes to the Nissan Armada have been kept under wraps more than the MDX's revisions. There's a big clue, however, and that comes from the 2020 Nissan Patrol, a very similar model that is sold in the Middle East.

The 2020 Patrol refresh featured a new grille and boomerang headlights. At the rear, the Patrol received new taillights, a large chrome nameplate, and sequential rear turn indicators. The cabin featured a dual-display design with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Diamond-stitch quilted leather seats with added padding and a hand-stitched steering wheel also made its debut. Climate control and power lumbar support are available in the model. Nissan reduced the amount of noise and vibration that is passed on to customers and improved airflow distribution in the latest version of the SUV, which also get additional safety features.

2020 Nissan Patrol The Nissan Patrol gives a good idea of what buyers can expect from the refreshed Armada.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor Corporation

It is likely that the 2021 Armada will receive the bulk of these enhancements. Additionally, there is likely to be the incorporation of Nissan Safety Shield 360 technology, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. Nissan already employs this tech in 10 of its models.

The Armada is the sister vehicle of the Infiniti QX80. Improvements to the QX80, like a set of higher-resolution infotainment screens indicate that the Armada is also likely getting screen upgrades, and perhaps wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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Chrysler introduced the Pacifica Pinnacle to its lineup for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Minivans are usually relegated to mommy duty. They get used and abused by children of all ages, and they can take the beating. In the U.S. there are no luxury minivans. The segment is dominated by comfortable but rather utilitarian vehicles that deliver exactly what the average customer is expecting - and there's nothing wrong with that.

But then someone (maybe two someones, or three) at Chrysler had an idea. What if they pushed the Pacifica further into premium territory, offering a near-luxury version of a minivan? Would people buy it? The answer, after one solid day behind the wheel is, "they should."

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle The Pacifica received a new front end for 2021.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is a facelifted version of the van that debuted for the 2017 model year. It continues to be an attractive model, as far as minivans go. This version of the Pacifica has a more muscular aesthetic, shying away from the elegance of the previous three years. The sides and back are great but I honestly can't decide if I like the front or not, but it does remind me more of the Chrysler 300 than the previous iteration did.

New for 2021, all-wheel drive (AWD) is offered, bringing the Pacifica to the table that's been occupied solely by the Toyota Sienna for a long while. It's the first AWD minivan Chrysler has sold since 2004 and something buyers have been asking for since the Pacifica debuted, according to company insiders.

The Chrysler Pacifica itself is already in a position to go luxury. It's certainly already gained premium model status based solely on the Voyager-Pacifica split which saw Pacifica's lower cost grades become Voyager models, which were then modified for fleet and commercial use. The Voyager also effectively replaced the Dodge Grand Caravan in FCA's lineup as a cost-effective minivan solution.

This left room for the Pacifica Pinnacle, a new top-tier trim level that really shows up for the premium buyer. Not only is the Pacifica Pinnacle's design just as practical as the other models in the lineup, it goes the extra mile with comfort, soft-touch materials, and classy finishes.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle Pacifica Pinnacle models are the top of the heap for minivans buyers.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Like the revised 2022 Kia Sedona, the Pacifica has a flat dashboard. In the Pacifica, it's anchored by a largest-in-class 10.1-inch touchscreen (the same size as the screens in the rear entertainment system but higher resolution). The lower half of the center stack is tilted toward the console and houses the shifter and climate controls. As tested in the Pinnacle trim, there was an abundance of Piano Black plastic trim with wood accents and real metal surrounds that easily make it the poshest new minivan on sale right now. Quilted leather seats, sueded center row pillows, and Beber floor mats complete the upscale look.

Unlike others in its class, the Pacifica doesn't appear lightweighted for efficiency to the point of cheapness. The doors have a well-weighted feel and close with a commanding thud. The thuds of road travel, surrounding vehicles' music choices, and engine noise are kept at bay thanks to new windows, seals, and insulation.

The minivans seats are comfortable and spacious. Unlike in other minivans, the center console and surrounding storage does not make the front row seats feel isolated from each other.

As tested, the Pacifica Pinnacle was powered by Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 engine, that is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and delivers 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It was equipped with AWD, which is standard for the trim level, unless you opt for the hybrid.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle The new infotainment system in the Pacifica Pinnacle runs smoothly and is a pleasure to use.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

As it does with other vehicle's the Pacifica's AWD automatically acts when a set of conditions are met. With the Pacifica this means it works when it senses a temperature slip, when the electronic stability control is activated, while driving on a rough road, when a grade is steep, if conditions are slippery, when the steering wheel movement sways back and forth, or when there's a full throttle request on the powertrain.

If the AWD system senses that you're driving on a highway, or in conditions that don't require its use, it will deactivate automatically to improve the vehicle's fuel efficiency. This activation and deactivation process is so smooth you probably won't even notice it happening. However, you can feel the wheels engage and demonstrate the system's engineering when the conditions require it.

Having the AWD system doesn't mean that you have to forego Chrysler's Stow 'n Go storage system. Power-sliding rear doors, three-zone climate control (which still blows to circulate air even in the off setting), power first- and second-row windows, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, Stow 'n Go bucket seats with in-floor storage bins, driver's side Stow 'n Assist, and a Stow 'n Go third-row bench seat are all standard equipment. The Pacifica's seats don't have the extensive forward and aft travel the Toyota Sienna does, but the Stow 'n Go seats tumble into the floor to allow for flat loading. The Pacifica Pinnacle offers best-in-class total storage of 227.6 liters.

FCA's new Uconnect 5 infotainment operating system runs in the background of the Pacifica's screens. The system is graphically appealing, is quickly responsive, and features clean design. Though the system could stand to have a head-up display paired with it (Chrysler does not offer one in the Pacifica), the navigation is easy to use and read on the fly, and reroutes rapidly, even in urban settings with tall buildings surrounding the van.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle The Pacifica Pinnacle's seats are finely upholstered and come with two pillows.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Chrysler has given its Pinnacle model FamCam, an interior monitoring camera similar to what is in the Honda Odyssey, that takes in-cabin camera tech a step further offering the segment-exclusive rear-facing child seat view split-view display, and zoom-to-seat feature, among traditional camera functionality.

The Chrysler Pacifica comes standard with 97 safety features, and in the Pinnacle trim level that number swells to 100.

At over $53,000, the Pacifica Pinnacle is well into premium territory on price tag alone. However, it tops out in similar territory to its rivals, but is far more luxurious. Plus, it has AWD.

Look, it's not an SUV, but if you get around the "I'm not a minivan mom" mindset, the reality you might find is that the Pacifica Pinnacle is just as nice as a luxury three-row SUV, but with more and better functionality for everyday family life. Plus, it drives just as well.

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