New Nissan Micra confounds the expectations of history
Sharply-styled Micra is, wait for it, fantastic to drive and will surely attract new followers
One does not expect to find sex appeal in a Micra, but here Nissan’s team have actually created some. Heavily influenced by last year’s Sway concept, the front is chiselled and athletic and there are deep character lines waving and wafting their way towards the back
The fundamentals of the Micra’s cabin are little short of excellent
While it’s hard to fault the new Micra, its legroom in the back could have been better
Date Reviewed: January 10, 2017
With the best will in the world, one does not expect to find desirability in a Nissan Micra. Ever since the boxy original was introduced in the 1980s, the Micra’s primary task has been to provide uncomplicated, inexpensive motoring to the less-demanding customer.
We tend to think of them as blue-rinse specials, ideal for a trip to bingo or the nearest novena (although it’s worth pointing out that’s a particularly Anglo-Irish way of looking at the Micra).
For three generations and more than three million sales in Europe, successive versions of Micras did just that – successfully.
That all came to a crashing halt with the introduction of the fourth-generation Micra. Designed to be a “global car” and built down to an emerging market standard, its sales in Europe collapsed to half those of its predecessor.
Nissan took note, and actually came pretty close to killing the Micra name off altogether. Instead, it regrouped, transferred design, engineering and production of the fifth-generation model back to Europe and set about creating a car that the team which made it calls an “audacious revolutionary”.
Such phrases are the regular arrows in the quiver of the overheated motoring marketeer, but for once they actually ring true – not in memory is there a car which has altered so dramatically from one generation to the next.
Let’s start with the styling. One does not expect to find sex appeal in a Micra, but here Nissan’s team have actually created some. Heavily influenced by last year’s Sway concept, the front is chiselled and athletic and there are deep character lines waving and wafting their way towards the back.
It’s almost over-styled but it’s certainly dramatic, and very appealing aside from the odd shark’s fin kick-up behind the rear door. You can even have it with sporty-looking blacked-out stickers and decals. Yes, on a Micra.
Inside, the influence of the enormously successful Qashqai is clear to see. There are big, clear main dials and a sensible layout to the main controls. Our test cars were massively specced-up SVE models with a big touchscreen and leather trim in places. Leather trim and an optional Bose stereo. In a Micra.
While few Irish buyers will tick the boxes for those expensive items, the fundamentals of the Micra’s cabin are little short of excellent. The seats are comfortable and supportive, the driving position good, the quality of the major components and the firm, clicky-clacky feel of the buttons and dials are excellent.
Given the fact that overall refinement is also good, here is a small car that you would certainly not mind at all taking for a long cross-country journey. Yes, it’s a Micra.
The only serious demerit here is the rear cabin, which really is lacking in legroom and, just a touch, in headroom. There’s a big 300-litre boot out the back and I for one would have happily sacrificed a little of that for some more space in the back for knees, and little feet protruding from bulky child car seats.
Nissan makes the point that it’s not really a family car, but the Micra will have to do double duty as not only does it replace the outgoing fourth-generation model, it’s also a replacement for the Note, which will cease production later this year with no replacement on the horizon.
At least safety was high on the agenda. You can have the Micra with autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian impact detection, surround-view cameras and more. It’s a long list of some seriously high-end options, especially for a Micra. Nothing, though, will prepare you for the sheer shock of how it drives.
You sit nice and low, with a quite gorgeous three-spoke, flat bottom wheel in front of you. The manual gearshifter seems a little big and tall in a relatively compact car (although perhaps I just have tiny Donald Trump-like hands . . . ) but the impression, honestly, is one of mild sportiness.
Our test car was an SVE with the 900cc turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, with 90hp and a decent 140Nm of torque. It’s a very smooth engine, free-spinning as it typical of the low-inertia three-cylinder breed, and makes a nice, growly noise as you rev it. Yes. Growls, in a Micra.
The steering is a little light at low speeds, but weights up nicely as the speed rises and the sheer joy is that, while it’s not perhaps as sharp as a Fiesta, it’s a very stable, very sure-footed and generally quite engaging companion even on the tight, twisty mountain roads that loop up and over the mountains which surround the Croatian city of Dubrovnik.
It’s fun, to be honest. The (optional) 17” alloys allow a little too much low speed fidget and, when you’re pressing on, you can sometimes induce a little bit of corkscrew motion in the soft rear suspension, but still. Pressing on. In a Micra.
It won’t be cheap though. Nissan Ireland (which will announce prices next week) says that it will shadow the Fiesta and the Polo at about €16,200 to €16,500 for the cheapest model which will use a 73hp 1.0-litre engine which doesn’t go into production till March.
Only 20 per cent of Irish buyers will go for the more expensive turbo triple we’ve tested, and a mere five per cent for the 1.5 diesel. Nissan doesn’t plan to chase Ford with a rival to the more affordable Ka+, at least for now, but it is possible that while there won’t be an electric model to avoid stepping on the toes of sister company Renault’s Zoe, there might just be a hybrid rival to the Toyota Yaris at some point.
One common thought of the day was that the car is so radically changed, so dramatically improved from its direct antecedent that perhaps Nissan should have changed its name.
That the decision came down in favour of retention was mostly due to the work of building up a new badge being harder than changing perceptions of an existing one, but that is the world most certainly ahead of Nissan.
It has created a car so handsome, so high in quality, so good to drive that it deserves a far broader audience than was previously the case.
Here is a car in which you can admire the quality of its assembly, while respecting the comfort of its cabin while actively enjoying the way it goes around corners. All that, in a Micra . . .
The lowdown: Nissan Micra 0.9 Turbo Petrol SVE.
Price: as tested, €TBA. Range starts at circa €16,200.
Top speed: 175km/h.
Claimed economy: 64.2mpg (4.4-l/100km).
CO2 emissions: 99g/km.
Motor tax: €180 per annum.
Verdict: Just keep telling yourself, yes, it’s a Micra. But like no other before it. Our rating: 5/5 (... Yes we can’t believe it ourselves).