2015 Nissan Versa Note SR Long-Term Update 2
Planning Ahead and Other Life Lessons From the Versa Note
Few things bring you closer to a car than a road trip. Recently, I took our long-term Nissan Versa Note SR on a 740-mile round-trip journey from Long Beach, Calif., to Phoenix, Ariz., and I learned a few things along the way. For starters, that 109 hp is enough to pass on a two-lane highway so long as you plan ahead. I also learned that the 2,503-pound Versa Note does not count the strong crosswinds in the San Gorgonio Pass among its friends. But most important, I learned the value of topping off when you have the chance - especially when you're about to drive through the middle of nowhere.
Getting to Arizona was a breeze. I left Long Beach with a full tank at 10:30 a.m., and roughly six hours and one fill-up later I was in Phoenix. Crossing the California-Arizona border around dusk is absolutely breathtaking, as the scenery looks just like the backdrop for a Western. On the two-lane stretches of Interstate 10, it was sometimes necessary to pass slower traffic. With enough space and a generous application of the throttle, the Versa Note could get around busses and tractor-trailers just fine. The task is made easier, though, if you have a passenger who can watch the lane next to you and tell you when the coast is clear. I had no such companion on this leg of the journey, but I did have my library of music to keep me company, which the SR's uplevel NissanConnect system streamed beautifully via Bluetooth.
The return trip was less lonesome with the addition of my cousin, who was driving back with me to L.A. We left Arizona's capital city around 2 P.M. with nearly a full tank, and by the time we stopped in Quartzsite, Ariz. -- some 130 miles west of Phoenix -- the needle hovered just under the halfway mark. I typically get 300-320 miles per fill of the Versa Note's 10.8-gallon tank, and the town of Blythe, Calif., was a short 22 miles away. "I'll just fill up there," I thought. If you've ever traveled between L.A. and Phoenix, you know there isn't much in the way of services -- or anything at all -- between Indio and Blythe. That fact is now permanently etched in my memory.
Our conversation must've been riveting because by the time I thought to look for signs pointing to Blythe, we had passed the town by several miles. It did cross my mind to turn around, but the optimist in me shouted loudest. "We can make it!" As the miles indicated by the onboard range estimator began dropping, however, that voice grew fainter while fears of murder by roadside serial killer grew louder. Finally, a sign emerged out of the darkness. We both crossed our fingers for good news. We were coming up on a place called Desert Center. Was that a town? A rest stop? Whatever it was, it was just barely within our indicated range. After a few minutes, one of our phones found a cell signal, and a mapping service app informed us there was indeed a gas station in Desert Center. We were saved.
The miles ticked by, and the digital fuel gauge's bars dwindled until just one remained. The low-fuel light had been on for more than half an hour, and the range estimator had given up by the time we reached the off-ramp. As we approached our destination, we both scanned for signs of life but didn't see anything that immediately looked like a gas station. Eventually we spotted lights in the distance and what appeared to be fuel pumps, but our enthusiasm faded as we drew closer. The app was right. This was once a gas station. Maybe 20 years ago.
Not willing to risk the 20-plus miles to the next town, I admitted defeat and called an emergency service for help. As we waited for the roadside assistance truck, we took a look around the abandoned but strangely well-lit gas station and learned that it might not be completely abandoned after all. A makeshift bed and other signs of human occupancy sent us scrambling back to the car, our fingers frantically clicking the power lock buttons behind us. When the truck finally arrived, the driver did his best to lessen the blow to my already-bruised ego. "Everyone runs out here," he assured me. "I get doctors, professors, astronauts, you name it." I didn't feel any less stupid, but at least I'm in good company. He then told me there's a Chevron station right off the highway in the next town. After the deed is done, we left Creepsville, U.S.A., as fast as the Versa could carry us.
I should note that the Versa isn't to blame for nearly stranding me in Timbuktu. This one can be chalked up solely to driver error. I probably would have made the same mistake in any car, but I'm glad I learned this valuable lesson in a vehicle I was familiar with. Even if you've never run out of gas in a remote area, you can probably guess that lesson was an expensive one. It's also one I won't soon forget.
Because you're reading this to learn about the Nissan Versa Note, not about my failure as a long-distance driver, let's review some critiques of the car itself. Passing power is fine when there's enough space, but the car could benefit from 30 extra horsepower. Bluetooth streaming audio is a godsend on road trips, as is satellite radio -- both features offered through the SR convenience package. And lastly, the Versa Note will get blown around in high winds. Through the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the windiest regions in Southern California, keeping the car in its own lane was a challenge, requiring constant attention and steering adjustments following stronger gusts. This trip put the Versa just about at the 10,000-mile mark, which means it's time for service No. 2. Stay tuned for that and more in our next update.