Finally there's a Nissan Micra you might actually want
Exclusive First Drive: Revamped car boasts eye-catching exterior, Qashqai-like interior and impressive engine
Date Reviewed: October 9, 2016
First Leicester won the English Premiership. Then Donald Trump became a potential US president. Tipperary even put out a decent football team. Now Nissan has an eye-catching Micra. It’s time to start googling Nostradamus predictions and deciphering chicken entrails.
This car is so good, in fact, it shouldn’t be cursed with the Micra moniker. The last four generation of Micras have been mind-numblingly bland bubble cars. Popular with the sort of buyers who couldn’t pick their cars out in a line-up if it wasn’t for the number plate, they were typical commuter runabouts. a few battered used models making their way into the hands of eager young motorists but that’s down to a desire for anything with four wheels and an engine.
No one ever aspired to owning a Micra. You just ended up with one if life didn’t go your way. Until now, perhaps.
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This is not just a radical redesign, it’s a motoring revolution. In hindsight we should have been prepared for this, as Nissan gave us a taster with the stylish Sway Concept at the Geneva motor show last year.
The new look bears more than a few similarities to the Sway concept car. The front nose in particular is taken from the funky concept, along with swish rear-light clusters. Fitting the rear-door handles into the c-pillar is pretty standard these days, but it adds to the sleeker styling of the small hatch. And it looks like a bigger car than any Micra to date.
Surprise star of the show
Unveiled at the Paris motor show last month, more than a few French noses were put out of joint by the general consensus that Micra was the surprise star of the show.
That said, it has French roots. Though Nissan don’t mention it, this new Micra shares quite a bit of its DNA with the Renault Clio. Nissan’s sister brand is providing the engines, for example, and the car is being built at Renault’s Flin plant in France.
The engine choice is the impressive 898cc three cylinder turbocharged petrol engine or Renault’s 1.5 dCi turbodiesel. Both have an output of 90bhp but for most Irish buyers the petrol is the answer. A non-turbocharged 73bhp version of the 900cc engine is on the way.
Fitted to our test car the turbo version proved to be peppy, enthusiastic and yet refined. It’s well soundproofed in the Micra and you only start to hear a little whistle and whine above 5,000rpm. Mated to a slightly rubbery five-speed transmission it’s a winner here. Nissan hasn’t issued an official fuel economy figure for the car yet, but over three hours of driving I achieved an average of 7.2 l/100km (39.3mpg), according to the onboard computer. That’s admirable, particularly as we were driving the little 1-litre quite hard.
The ride quality could be better and the car’s suspension can become overwhelmed on badly rutted rural roads, but in general around normal urban and suburban roads it’s fine.
It’s not the best in class, but, that said, our test car was shod on 17-inch alloys, which certainly didn’t help. Irish Micra buyers are unlikely to go for wheels that big. Smaller wheels should improve the ride.
The exterior design is radical and impressive, but it doesn’t end there. Inside, the car has an interior that is more akin to the Qashqai than any previous Nissan supermini. The infotainment system is controlled by a central screen, while there is a glut of driver assistance gadgets, including Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian recognition, Lane Departure Prevention, Around View Monitor and High Beam Assist, among others.
The Lane Departure Prevention system is particularly noteworthy as it gently nudges the steering to bring you back into the middle of your lane. Unlike some rival systems that jerk the wheel and are constantly interfering with the drive, this Nissan system is much better balanced.
The mix of touchscreen and buttons for the controls is intuitive, while Nissan has teamed up with stereo firm Bose to create a new sound system for the car that includes speakers built into the driver’s headrest.
Boot space is standard for the supermini class, although there are rivals with better rear-seat legroom. The seats are comfortable and having spent about four hours in the driving seat I can attest that you could complete cross-country trips in this car without a problem, but from the outside you might think the rear seats are more spacious than they actually are.
Overall, the Micra is a little marvel but it’s just reflective of a major revolution in the supermini segment. There are some really surprising arrivals in this segment, not least the new Citroen C3 and the Ford Ka+, even if the latter is another car that deserves to be renamed.
So the new Nissan won’t have the market to itself. Yet it is now a serious player in a category that’s the big volume seller in most European markets, if still relatively small in Ireland. We like bigger hatchbacks such as the VW Golf, or crossovers like the Hyundai Tucson.
That could change, however, as commuters see the upside of moving to smaller – and lower cost – motoring, particularly as insurance prices skyrocket.
Much will depend on pricing, but first impressions are that Nissan has followed up the Paris surprise with a car that delivers as many pleasant impressions on the road as it did on the stage in France.