Downside: Nitpicks that will be changed with the introduction of the Versa, such as the automatic rear hatch operation on the Tiida. Americans want to push one key-fob button and have the thing pop up. The Japanese want you to push two buttons -- one on the key fob and another electronic button on the hatch, and then lift to open.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Unbelievably zippy and stable for a small car. The suspension includes independent front struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front; and a torsion beam and stabilizer bar in the rear.

Head-turning quotient: Cute enough to attract the attention of an LAPD officer and make him laugh.

Body style/layout: Front-engine and front-wheel-drive with an all-wheel-drive option in Japan. Initially will be sold in America as a front-wheel-drive Versa hatchback. Sedan will come later, as will an all-wheel-drive model, if Nissan perceives a demand.

Engines/transmissions: The tested Tiida Latio came with Nissan's new 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which develops an estimated 120 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 125 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. The base Tiida has a 1.5-liter, 109-horsepower engine. A continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission is available. A six-speed manual is standard.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The tested Tiida hatchback has ample seating for five adults. Maximum hatchback cargo capacity is 16.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up. Estimated fuel capacity is 13.6 gallons. Premium unleaded is recommended for best emissions performance. Regular unleaded is okay.

Mileage: Combined city-highway mileage was 36 miles per gallon in the tested Tiida Latio equipped with the fuel-saving CVT gearbox.

Safety: Rigid body construction, side air bags, tire-pressure monitor. Curtain head bags available.

Price: As the Versa, on sale in the United States in early 2006, this car starts at $12,000.

Purse-strings note: The U.S. small-car wars have started again. The Tiida/Versa is an able competitor.