With its big-for-a-sub­compact size, modern drivetrain and keen price Nissan’s Versa hatchback has the added advantage of also being a sharp little looker.

Although the 1.8 S base model’s $14,598 starting price qualifies it as an “entry-level” rival for the likes of the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, Nissan says it’s no such thing in terms of its size, content, performance or quality.

It’s hard to argue with such logic. For instance, the Versa is appreciably bigger than its main market rivals. At 2,600 mm, it claims the longest wheelbase in its class and tops the others, too, in overall body length and height.

Those generous external dimensions translate into very accommodating interior volume, cargo space (with the rear seats folded), headroom and rear legroom.

The Versa’s 1.8-litre engine pumps out 122 horsepower compared with the 103 to 110 hp output from its smaller-displacement subcompact competitors, and the unit is a little gem in everyday operation. Smooth and free-revving, it propels the easy-riding Versa along with real brio via a standard six-speed manual transmission — the only one in its class, as is the optionally available Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

The dash, instrumentation and trim treatment look, work and feel better than you’d expect in such an inexpensive car. There are lots of spots for bottles, cups and other family flotsam, while the seats are well finished and comfortably supportive. The amount of rear seat legroom is unusually generous in a car this size.

Highway cruising is pleasantly quiet as the engine revs are kept suitably low at typical highway speeds.

Both the 1.8 S and 1.8 SL models offer a full complement of front, side and side-curtain airbags as standard, along with front-seat active head restraints.

There’s also a reasonably priced Value Package for the base 1.8 S, which adds air conditioning, power locks and windows, keyless entry, rear door pockets and door armrest pads.

The 1.8 SL starts at $17,398 and opting for the CVT adds an additional $1,300.

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