Good morning! Today we’re looking at two cute little stickshift hatchback runabouts down in Florida. But first, let’s see which little pickup you all chose yesterday:
Interesting. I figured for sure the extra room and the royal hue of the Nissan would give it the win. But it seems the MitsuDodge’s four-wheel-drive put it over the top. Me, I’d keep shopping, and try to find a 4WD King Cab Nissan. Preferably in purple, naturally.
Now then, today is March 1st, which means springtime is right around the corner. (Right? I mean, it has to be… right?) This means that soon, the farm-and-feed store down the road from my house will start selling baby chicks, and troll the “gentlemen’s club” next door by putting up a sign that says “Cutest Chicks In Town.” (I’m not making this up.) I thought of that as I drove by it this afternoon, and I thought: hatchling, hatchback – yeah, that’ll work for a theme. It’s no more lame or contrived than some of the others I’ve come up with. So let’s run with it, shall we?
2010 Nissan Versa – $4,000
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Ocala, FL
Odometer reading: 143,000 miles
Nissan’s Versa was once, as our Editor-In-Chief likes to point out, the cheapest car sold in the US. It was brought in to fill the bottom end of Nissan’s lineup after the Sentra moved upmarket (as weird as it is to use “Sentra” and “upmarket” in the same sentence). You could get one of these for under ten grand brand-new in 2008.
Because Americans hate hatchbacks for some reason, Nissan offered the Versa with a grafted-on traditional trunk to make it a sedan. Fortunately whoever bought this one new was smart enough to understand the utility of having the whole back end of the car open up. They also eschewed the automatic transmission option. I confess I’ve never driven a Versa with a manual, but I’ve been stuck with two automatics as rental cars. I imagine (and hope) that a manual makes it slightly less punishingly dull to drive.
This Versa is in decent shape, and wears its 143,000 miles pretty well. Say what you will about cheap interior materials; they don’t look much different after 13 years than they did when they were new. I guess I’d rather have hard plastic bits in a cheap used car than “soft-touch” stuff that starts flaking off on your hands.
The seller says it runs well and everything works, including the air conditioning, and all the maintenance is up-to-date. Really, you can’t ask for more in a little used car like this than to be able to simply turn the key and drive off, and do the same thing the next morning to get to work. Simplicity, reliability, and practicality are all virtues in my book.
2008 Toyota Yaris – $3,800
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Orlando, FL
Odometer reading: 180,000 miles
Runs/drives? You bet
In the beginning, there was the Tercel. And it was good. Not exciting, but really, really good. It lasted several generations, and provided millions of college students a reliable way to get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But then came the Echo, and it was somehow not as good. Even Consumer Reports, the fun-police of the automotive world, called it “dull.” The Echo begat the Yaris, and it was good again? Kinda? At least it was availabe in the US with a hatchback, which the Echo never offered.
The Yaris in the US was powered by a 1.5 liter four with variable valve timing. This one sports a manual gearbox, as small Toyotas should; a Tercel/Echo/Yaris with an automatic is not fun, to put it mildly. The Yaris carried over the Echo’s centralized instrument cluster, which I imagine makes changing between right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive versions easier, but requires drivers everywhere to take their eyes off the road to find and read the speedometer. I imagine you’d get used to it, but it’s one of the things that put me off byung a new Echo many years ago.
This Yaris is in good shape, with 180,000 miles on the clock. We don’t get a lot of details on its condition, but it’s a Toyota; as long as the maintenance has been kept up, it’s fine. I do note with some amusement that it, like so many others, sports cheap Pep Boys wheel covers; Yarises seem to shed their hubcaps with such regularity that I couldn’t even tell you what the stock ones look like.
It has air conditioning, and it works, which I imagine is vital for Florida. The paint and upholstery look good, though it is missing the side-marker light on the passenger’s side. It might be worth asking why.
[Editor’s Note: Okay, two things: That’s not a side marker lamp, it’s an indicator repeater, a very different sort of thing. If you were to make this mistake at The Citrus Wink, the fifth-best turn signal fetishist club in the Dakotas, they’d work you over. And over. Also, that vertical stack of HVAC controls is novel! – JT]
Little hatchback runabouts like these are all the rage in Europe and much of the rest of the world, but they never have really caught on here in the US. I’ve never understood why a small car with a regular trunk, which arguably makes it less useful, is preferable to a big hatchback opening. Regardless, these two have the correct cargo configuration, and the correct transmission type. Which one suits you?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
I owned a couple Nissans in the 90s and early 2000s, a first generation Sentra SE-R, followed by a 99 Maxima SE with a five speed. Their time to shine, I would put them on par with, or even slightly above, Honda and Toyota for engineering and quality back then.
Nowadays though, not so much. I will take the Yaris.
I would buy that nissan on principal. It’s like they deliberately made it ugly!
Mom bought a new Versa L in 2010 and still has it. It has been absolutely flawless. Its only time in a shop was the body shop, after she hit the biggest goddamn bobcat (RIP) both I and the state trooper had ever seen. It delivers great mpg. But what I take note of, is it is pretty roomy for a sub-compact. The leg room in back shames my Mazda 3, it might as well be an old-school Cadillac back there. This choice likely would come down to personal preference, but if you ever have to haul more than one passenger (or a child seat) you really want the Versa, and thus it is my choice. Either way, I don’t think you could go wrong here.
Having driven both a Versa and a Yaris, give me the Yaris all day, every day. Tiny car, unreasonably fun to drive for what it is. I don’t know why, but both times I’ve had to drive a Yaris for some reason I had a total blast–even though it’s not exactly fast. It’s just really responsive and handles well. I’ve driven a crazy amount of rental cars thanks to years of business and personal travel. The Yaris is one of the few that I’ve actually remembered for positive reasons long after the week I spent with them.
One of the best license plates of all time (ALL TIME!) is “MYARSE” on a rally Yaris. Yaris all day, every day, Yarse it up.
I rate that Versa – we got it as the Tiida – as THE worst car of the 2000’s. Its horrid
I did a LOT of traveling when these were new… neither was good, but the Versa was a much better car than the Yaris. Much better. Even in rental spec CVT!
Having driven both as rentals (admittedly in autotragic guise only) they are both horrible. So, I’ll go with Toyota reliability for my unfortunate choice. In that class for basic transportation it’s the Honda Fit for me, thanks.
We’re friends with a couple who BOTH own a versa hatchback. Like their choice in cars we find them a bit bland but overall they’re good people…
Toyota makes the best cars 😀
So of course I voted for the Yaris. It’s a CAR!!!!!!!!
Too bad they waited until 2009 to sell the 4-door hatch in the US. Canada got it since 2006, and they got the Echo hatch before that, too.
Yaris for me. I know from first hand experience that these are basic rock solid reliable and durable cars that are cheap to own.
If most people bought vehicles based on actual needs, then a lot more people would own/drive a Toyota Yaris.
Never Nissan, this one was easy.
I’m firmly in this camp but the extra 2 doors swayed me.
Same. For many reasons
The Versa is so crushingly dull that the Yaris can’t possibly be worse, plus it looks better. So that’s my choice.
Neither of these are going to bring me any pleasure to drive, so I’m going with the one that’s not likely to explode in 10k miles. So that’ll be the Toyota.
In any of these Showdowns I’ll take the Toyota over a Nissan 99 times out of 100. That said the Versa with the Manual is a pretty good car. The CVT version on the other hand…..
Before I read any further, if there’s any way you can post a pic of the ‘Cutest Chicks…’ sign without doxing, please do!
I drove a versa as a rental, once. I couldn’t get over not having a center console. That was beyond annoying. The door cards were extremely flimsy, as well. I guess that cost needed to come out somewhere. I can’t fault it, though. It did it’s job well enough, and got a lot of people into a relatively safe car with a warranty.
Went with the cash for clunkers special. I am pretty sure that program was responsible for most Versa sales in ‘09. With the rebate, you could get into a brand new car for $4500-5000. Crazy. No fan of Versas, but they are fine. Between the two penalty boxes, I’ll take the bigger, more useful one.
For me, it mostly comes down to one thing, other things being maybe equal-ish – the Yaris is a coupe!
I think the Yaris was even the last small hatch available in coupe form here in the States?
You may be right. I never thought about it. The only other I can think of is the GTI..I went the other way for the opposite reason.
the veloster is technically a coup with a 3rd door.
Spent a week in France and had requested a twingo as a rental (wanted something I couldn’t drive in the states) was given a manual Yaris instead. It was pretty fun blasting around the narrow mountain roads and surprisingly practical given its small footprint (this coming from someone who thinks the manual Fit is the king of “I just need a car”). Was it fast? No, but it handled well and shifted smoothly; very much a slow car fast situation. I’ve had a soft spot for the Yaris ever since.
Voting for the Versa, which is not what I expected to do upon reading the headline. The manual removes much of the penalty box feeling of the Versa (my daughter has an automatic Versa, it’s absolutely a penalty box even with upgraded bells and whistles) and the four doors make it much easier to manage as a run-about. The basic durability of both is probably the same, so the slightly better condition of the Versa from what I can see makes up for the extra $200. But seriously, if you wanted a cheap manual runabout, either would probably be fine.
I had a 2012 Versa 1.8 SL. It was very nicely arranged on the inside and had a fair amount of utility. Comfortable to drive on long trips. Good gas mileage. The big flaw was the CVT. Driving through the hills on Interstate 64 in West Virginia was a nightmare because the engine would rev so high that I thought the car was preparing to launch itself over the guard rail. Traded it before owning it a year for a 2008 SAAB 9.3 Aero Convertible. Took a bath on the trade since we were upside down on the Versa but that CVT had to go. The SAAB’s engine self-destructed in 2016.
So, where is the feed store/gentleman’s club combo located? Just asking so I don’t accidently go there…
I mean, it’s Portland, so you’ve got a lot of options. May be wrong, but I think that’s Foster Feed, which is near some sketchy places. At least the Acropolis has steaks with meat from the owner’s personal ranch (read an article about it a while ago and used to drive past during my commute, can’t personally confirm).
My buying guide for Nissan is paradoxical at first, but with context it makes some sense. The Newer and more expensive a Nissan product is, the more likely I am to avoid it. Pre 2010 and it’s good, sub 20k and it’s good. Put those together and you have a shitbox capable of 100xxx+ from wherever you’re at now
Pet peeve: Center mounted instrument panels – they remind you every day that your car is so cheap that the manufacturer couldn’t justify making a different dashboard for left or right hand drive. And yes, I’d skip the Model 3 and Model Y for the same reason; making the center mounted IP a tablet doesn’t make it any better.
For this reason alone, I’ll take the Nissan. Bonus points for a Nissan that actually looks better than a Toyota. That’s pretty rare!
I remember when they first became a thing, there was an attempt to justify central instruments as being about safety, that moving the dash (supposedly) more into one’s sight line meant more time looking at the road.
I was always dubious…seemed to me that looking slightly down was pretty much the same as looking slightly to the side. But I guess maybe a case can be made that while looking to the side, you’re at least moving your eyes in a way that keeps peripheral vision in play.
Mostly though, I dislike the big empty space in front of me as somehow moving the cockpit’s nature another step further away from racecar. 😉
Certainly in our our minivan, a JDM Toyota Noah, it is not about L/R steering swappability. With my aging eyes, I prefer having the instruments further away and closer to the view outside.
As for the empty space in front of the steering wheel, t’aint. It’s a reasonably capacious lidded storage box, easily accessible from the driver’s seat.
Thanks for pointing that out; I just changed my vote.