SAN DIEGO -- Nissan has claimed another best-in-class fuel economy title with its new Versa Note.
The 2014 subcompact Versa Note, which replaces the outgoing 2012 Versa hatchback, is rated 31 mpg city/40 mpg highway and 35 combined, according to the EPA. That is a 5 mpg gain in combined economy over the old hatchback, and tops current segment leaders the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris, both at 33 mpg combined city/ highway.
Getting there took some work, says John Curl, senior manager of product planning on the project.
Reaching 35 mpg on the Note required aerodynamic redesigns, a smaller engine, 300 pounds of weight reduction and a redesigned continuously variable transmission -- all for a subcompact that did not have much fat to cut.
Body engineers introduced an active grille shutter that reduces drag force by automatically closing at around 20 mph to direct air flow. They installed aerodynamic deflectors at the front tires, under the car at the fuel tank and at the rear tires, and added an underbody front spoiler.
The fuel tank and rear suspension beam were redesigned to make the components flush with the floor for reduced drag. And the car's taillights were designed with small vents to improve air flow.
The payoff? A 1 percent improvement in the car's aerodynamics.
The new hatchback is 6 inches shorter than the outgoing one, mostly because of shorter overhangs.
A smaller 1.6-liter engine, down from a 1.8-liter unit, puts out less horsepower. But thanks to the reduced weight, the car's performance is roughly the same as before.
Of the 300-pound weight cut, Curl says: "That was a pretty good-sized football player that we took out of the car."