EXCITEMENT, a bit like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, means different things to different people. Clearly a win on the lottery, especially if it’s the jackpot, is bound to increase the heart rate but that’s not the same as the eager anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve awaiting the arrival of a big, fat, white-bearded guy in a red suit lugging a big bag of goodies.
Some people do actually get excited at the prospect of a new model from Nissan. Its four-wheel drive machines, such as the Patrol and new X-Trail, are impressive; the smaller crossovers such as the Qashqai and Juke are hugely successful; the performance range of the 370Z and GT-R will take your breath away, and several other manufacturers have taken some leaves out of their all-electric Leaf.
But when it comes to its small range, excitement isn’t the word that springs to mind, even if it tries to promote it through its marketing slogan of Innovation that Excites.
The latest versions of the Micra and bigger brother Note are not there to get the pulse racing. Their role is to do a straightforward job of simple, economical and practical family transport, and they do it very well.
The larger of the two has just been given a new, more powerful petrol engine and although small at only 1.2 litres in just three cylinders, the DIG-S (which stands for Direct Injection Gasoline – Supercharged) is remarkably capable, even if you have to work it hard to get the most out of it.
What you get in return is good economy and low emissions, and although it adds an extra £1,000 to the price over the non-supercharged version, it’s expected to be popular, representing about 25 per cent of all Note sales in the UK.
The automatic CVT gearbox makes life a bit easier and is actually a pleasant alternative to the competition offered by Ford’s Fiesta, VW’s Polo, Citroen’s C3 Picasso and the stylish Renault Captur.
The Note is designed for short journeys and nipping around town, for which the light steering is ideal, but the harder suspension, aimed at improving ride and handling, takes a little getting used to. With new springs, dampers, roll bars and body stiffening, it deals well with a range of poor road surfaces but again could hardly be described as an exciting experience.
Nissan is trying to do something about that by beefing up the Note’s kerb appeal through introducing a style pack in the upper grades. For another £800 you can have the (Sunderland) factory-fitted option of two-tone 16-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, carbon-look rear bumper, roof spoiler, side sills and a glossy black grille at the front.
Even without these frilly bits, the car looks considerably better than the previous boxy model and while it’s certainly not going to have the neighbours twitching their net curtains as you pull up outside, it does have a certain charm.
It is also extremely practical, with wide opening doors and the sliding rear benchseats give you the option of more legroom in the back for passengers or increased bootspace for luggage. It compares well with the competition, and even in the basic setting, the boot is bigger than the benchmark Ford Fiesta’s. From the driver’s seat it feels less utilitarian than before but there’s still quite a lot of hard plastic on view, which helps with long-term durability but loses out on the comfort stakes.
For a small car it feels quite roomy, helped by good all-round visibility through the large windows, but if that’s not enough, there’s the option of the clever Around View Monitor which gives a 360-degree “helicopter” view around the car when manoeuvring round tight spots.
The previous model won several awards for reliability so there’s every reason to believe its replacement will be equally dependable. It comes with a standard three-year warranty, and for £199 there’s also the option of a pre-paid servicing pack for up to 36,000 miles.
While the low cost of ownership is very attractive, there is one downside on the Note’s residual value. The people who know about these things say the car is likely to be worth only 40 per cent of its purchase price after three years, which is a big hit for a small car. That might raise the blood pressure for someone trading in, but it’s not the sort of excitement Nissan has in mind in its marketing.
ENGINE 1.2l super-charged petrol, 3 cyl, 96bhp, 105 lb ft
PERFORMANCE Max speed 106mph; 0-62mph 12.6s
ECONOMY 55mpg (combined)