Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. disappointed admirers of its boy-racer Sport concept last fall when it announced it instead would bring its Tiida small car from Japan to the U.S. as the Versa.

Nissan teased fans with the cutting-edge 3-door Sport at the 2005 New York auto show but decided it needed a small car immediately. Enter the less rakish Versa.

Unfortunately, the '07 Versa is at odds with Nissan's uber-cool U.S. lineup. There is nothing stylisth about this 5-door hatchback with tall-wagon proportions.

The grille is a carryover, as Versa has the same emblem-on-black-center-plastic as the outgoing '06 Quest minivan. And the wheels are a standard 15 ins. compared with the Sport's 20-in. rollers.

The rear is the only place where the Versa shows character, with trapezoidal taillights for a vaguely extraterrestrial look.

Nissan explains Versa blandness by saying it needs a car that appeals to a wide array of buyers. Yet, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion brand has been able to sell small-but-stylish cars to buyers of all ages.

The standard powertrain is an aluminum 1.8L 4-cyl. that makes a class-leading 122 hp and 127 lb.-ft. (172 Nm) of torque. It can be mated to three transmissions: a Renault SA-designed 6-speed manual; a 4-speed automatic; and Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Nissan expects the CVT to be the volume gearbox. It plans to suspend 4-speed production (initially the volume transmission) as CVT supplier JATCO Ltd. ramps up capacity at its new plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, over the next two years.

During a test drive of the CVT-equipped Versa in Nashville, the transmission at times was whiny and distracting, occasionally emitting an annoying electronic hum.

However, acceleration from a standstill is notable, as the transmission and engine work in tandem to smartly propel the vehicle up small-to-moderate hills.

The Versa's 4-cyl. produces more unwanted noise than that of the Honda Fit subcompact. Mated to the 6-speed manual, the Versa's engine is peppy, with plenty of low-end torque.

But the gearbox is noticeably inferior to the Fit's buttery smooth 5-speed. Shifting is difficult to coordinate with engine revs. This transmission appears in need of more work to be competitive.

The Versa's ride is fairly forgiving. Independent front strut and rear torsion beam suspensions work well to quell road bumps. This is one area where Nissan engineers changed the Tiida's driving dynamics for North America, the auto maker says, specifically by adding ‘ripple-control’ shock absorbers.

Inside, the Versa's soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels raise the bar in the segment, as its closest competitor, the Toyota Yaris, is awash in hard plastic.

But the Versa's overall design and layout is stodgy, compared with the Fit's more youthful, modern instrument panel.

The Versa's estimated fuel economy for the CVT model is 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) city and 36 mpg (6.5L/100 km) highway.

Again, the Versa trails. The Honda Fit Sport with 5-speed automatic achieves 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) city and 37 mpg (6.4 L/100 km) highway. The Toyota Yaris 4-speed automatic bests them all.

The Versa is an above-average subcompact, but it still falls short of Honda's Fit, in both appointments and driving dynamics. However, it surpasses the dowdy Yaris when it comes to interior materials.

The Versa hatchback goes on sale next month; a sedan variant is due in January. Pricing is expected to be in the $12,000-$17,000 range, Nissan says.

’ 07 Nissan Versa S
Vehicle type Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger 4-door sedan
Engine 1.8L (1,796 cc) DOHC I-4, aluminum block/aluminum head
Power (SAE net) 122 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque 127 lb.-ft. (172 Nm) @ 4,800 rpm
Compression ratio 10:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 84 x 81
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase 102.4 ins. (260 cm)
Overall length 169.1 ins. (430 cm)
Overall width 66.7 (169 cm)
Overall height 60.4 ins. (153 cm)
Curb weight 2,720 lbs. (1m234 kg)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 30/34
Market competition Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris