Move over for the Micra
Posted on: 7th Nov 2012
Despite consistently going down a storm with cash-strapped parents, driving instructors and motorists of a certain age, Nissan's Micra hasn't really broken through at the top end of the supermini sales charts. Not in this country anyway.
Rather than imitating the big sellers, the Micra has tended to stick to its guns, bringing something slightly different to the party and trying to coax car buyers around to its way of thinking. The latest model looks to be the most persuasive yet.
Appreciated for being simple, reliable and easy to drive, the Micra isn't your typical supermini. Nissan's sells it in 160 countries worldwide, which is by no means unusual these days but past versions have felt as though they were designed to satisfy the conflicting demands of different markets. The suspicion was that Western European tastes may not always have been the number one priority during its development.
The Micra has stood apart from the trend in the UK for superminis to grow larger and edgier in their styling. The previous generation car went cute when others were trying to emphasise their sporty side. It also prioritised nimbleness and manoeuvrability over big car sophistication and long distance comfort.
The approach has won the Micra many loyal followers but ultimately failed to elevate it to the level of popularity that Ford's Fiesta, Vauxhall's Corsa and Volkswagen's Polo enjoy on these shores. Can that change with the latest car?
There are a couple engine alternatives open to Micra customers, both 1.2-litre petrol units of a three-cylinder configuration. The first is a 79bhp option, advanced enough to include variable valve timing technology. The second is slightly more intriguing as it adds a supercharger into the mix which boosts power to a still not earth-shattering 97bhp. Torque is increased from 108Nm in the normally aspirated car to 142Nm in the blown unit.
A five-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard but to the Micra but there's also the option of a clever CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic. The suspension is designed to be particularly compact at the rear, minimising intrusion into the boot area and Nissan has endowed the Micra with an unusually tight 4.5m turning radius. Also enhancing the ease with which this Nissan can be manoeuvred are electrically-assisted power steering, a large glass area and the fact that the nose of the car is visible from the cabin. This is not as common as you might think in modern superminis and helps a lot when parking.
Design and Build
The car before us is easy to recognise as a Nissan Micra. The rounded headlights and the curved line of the side windows are the major giveaways but it also shares the short, upright shape that we've seen before in past iterations of Nissan's supermini. The dual sectioned front grille won't be familiar to previous Micra owners and the lines are sharper around at the rear where the eye-catching striped light clusters appear to protrude from the flat tailgate. Another nice touch is a chunky roof spoiler that integrates with the rear window surround and Nissan is proud of the low 0.32 aerodynamic drag coefficient achieved by the stocky bodywork.
This Mica is still a bit of a lightweight compared to other modern superminis, tipping the scales at 945kg, but it's fractionally longer than the old car and interior space is generous. The cabin is designed around the rounded theme witnessed outside, with circular motifs popping up all over the shop. Rear leg and headroom are generous and the boot is a respectable size but the seat backs aren't split and flip forward in one section. Storage space elsewhere in the cabin is generous with door pockets, glovebox and cubbies in plentiful supply.
Market and Model
Nissan designed the Micra to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP stability control fitted as standard alongside ABS brakes and six airbags. Seatbelt pretensioners also make the equipment list on all models, while Nissan's V-platform architecture offers top level impact protection. There's a wide array of technology features available on this car. As well as the Intelligent Key entry and start system, there's automatic wipers, speed-sensitive volume control on the stereo and an advanced trip computer. Reversing sensors are available and so is Nissan's PSM Parking Space Measurement system. This makes parallel parking sound like a computer game by inviting drivers to select Amateur, Normal or Expert modes then telling them if it thinks they can get the Micra into a particular roadside space. It sounds like a challenge that owners will be hard pushed to turn down.
Cost of Ownership
Supercharged superminis aren't too thick on the ground but Nissan's use of a 'blower' on the more powerful 1.2-litre Micra is aimed more at achieving high fuel economy than blasting the car up the road like an express train. The supercharged three-cylinder engine achieves the kind of performance we'd expect from a conventional 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit with economy equivalent to that of a 1.0-litre car and CO2 emissions of just 95g/km. This is done with the help of a stop/start system which isn't fitted to the entry-level 1.2-litre.
Nissan's idea of what makes a world-beating small car haven't always tallied with those of most UK supermini buyers but the Micra has still been consistently successful. It's not short of space and its safety credentials are up with the very best in the class.