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2020 Nissan Versa vs 2019 Toyota Yaris: Solid Subcompact Sedans Face Off

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 4 days ago Drew Dorian

a car parked on a city street: The Yaris sedan is a long-time favorite around C/D HQ and we've included it in our annual Editor's Choice list, thanks to its spunky driving demeanor and overall value.
Buying a new car for less than $20,000 these days can be a daunting task and one rife with compromise, but it can be done—so long as you're willing to consider a subcompact sedan such as Nissan's new 2020 Versa or the Toyota Yaris, which Toyota actually sources from Mazda. Both of these tiny sedans bring considerable amounts of convenience features for their sub-$20K price tags and are far from being automotive consolation prizes.

Research the Nissan Versa Sedan on MSN Autos | Find a Nissan Versa near you
Research the Toyota Yaris on MSN Autos | Find a Toyota Yaris near you

a close up of a newspaper: Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle

The Yaris sedan is a long-time favorite around C/D HQ and we've included it in our annual Editor's Choice list, thanks to its spunky driving demeanor and overall value. Historically speaking, the Nissan Versa has been somewhat of an also-ran in the small-car segment, choosing to go after the title of cheapest new car in America rather than excelling at, you know, actually being a solid car. But, the Versa is all-new for 2020 and it is significantly improved.

a blue car parked in a parking lot: Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle

On the Road

a blue car parked on a city street: Balancing practicality and a smidge of fun between Nissan's new Versa and Toyota's Mazda-sourced Yaris.© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Balancing practicality and a smidge of fun between Nissan's new Versa and Toyota's Mazda-sourced Yaris.

Despite the Versa's freshness, the Yaris offers the best experience for drivers who care about driving. Its steering is well-weighted and direct, which helps give the Yaris an agile, tossable feel that encourages back-road fun. The Versa, while much more competent than its predecessor, simply is less rewarding to pilot than the Yaris, coming off as a more relaxed conveyance with a cushy ride, which likely will suit a broader spectrum of buyers.

Neither of these cars lit up the test track with performance. Each car comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission in base form—which amounts to a budget-friendly $15,625 for the Versa and a still-thrifty $16,605 for the Yaris—but we much prefer the refined action of the Mazda's optional six-speed automatic over the Nissan's optional continuously variable automatic. Regardless of the gearbox, acceleration is tepid here, what with both powered by naturally aspirated, small-displacement inline-fours. The Toyota's 1.5-liter makes just 106 horsepower versus the Nissan's 122-hp 1.6-liter four, yet it managed to out-accelerate the Versa in all of our straight-line performance metrics: Zero to 60 mph took a lazy 9.6 seconds in a recent test of the 2019 Yaris, whereas the Versa needed a glacial 10.4 seconds to hit the same mark. Both returned languid quarter-mile times in excess of 17.0 seconds.

a blue car parked in a parking lot: Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle

Fuel economy arguably is more important to many buyers of sedans in this class, and both the Versa and the Yaris carry the same EPA fuel-economy estimates of 32 mpg city, 40 highway, and 35 combined. In our testing, however, only the Versa was able to deliver on its 40-mpg highway number; the Yaris managed just 35 mpg over the same 75-mph highway fuel-economy test route.

The Inside View

Both of these small cars offer roughly the same passenger space inside their cabins, as well as similar amounts of feature content. The Toyota's interior styling from Mazda is more pleasing to the eye and material quality seems slightly better, too. The Versa's interior design is handsome if mundane, and it channels the cabin of the Nissan Kicks subcompact SUV with its upholstered dash and center console.

a car parked in a parking lot: Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle

Both the Versa and the Yaris come standard with 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment systems but only the Nissan offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity—albeit only on mid-range SV and top-spec SR trim levels. The Toyota's infotainment system, like much else, is borrowed from the Mazda 2, and although it looks prettier, the Nissan's is more responsive and feature-laden. When it comes to driver-assistance features, the Versa has the Yaris beat as well. Toyota offers automated emergency braking, but so does the Versa, and its standard equipment list also includes automatic high-beam headlamps, lane-departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control is offered as an option on the Versa SR and blind-spot monitoring comes standard on both SV and the SR models; such features are unavailable on the Toyota altogether.

a car parked in a parking lot: Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Versa vs. Yaris: Subcompact Sedan Battle

Practicality is another column where the Versa wins a mark. Even though trunk volume between the two are similar (16 cubic feet for the Yaris versus 15 for the Versa), we managed to squeeze six carry-on-size boxes in the Nissan yet only five in the Toyota. Likewise, with their rear seats folded the Versa swallowed 17 boxes to the Yaris's 12.

The Bottom Line

Judged solely by data, the Nissan Versa is undeniably a better buy than the Toyota Yaris: For a quite similar price, it's more fuel efficient, better equipped, and more spacious for cargo. The Versa's problem is that it's difficult to judge a car solely by its practical merits, and the Yaris's more playful nature, sweeter powertrain, and snazzier interior are directed at those looking for a little more than just a driving appliance. For shoppers less-concerned with the driving experience, the latest Versa is a solid recommendation.

Research the Toyota Yaris on MSN Autos | Find a Toyota Yaris near you
Research the Nissan Versa Sedan on MSN Autos | Find a Nissan Versa near you

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