‘Are you sure that’s a Micra?’
So asked my mother-in-law who was expecting something altogether smaller, blobbier and less interesting when I told her what our current test car was.
The current generation is certainly a departure from Micras of old, which earned an unenviable reputation as the wheels of choice for driving instructors and people over the age of 80.
Of course, in car makers’ eyes if you’re going for the youth market you need something sporty, which is how we end up with the tested Micra N-Sport. It puts its intentions front and centre with lowered suspension, black 17-inch alloy wheels, Alcantara trim, faux-carbon fibre finish on the wing mirrors and interior and an engine a step above the run-of-the-mill Micra.
We’re not in hot hatch territory here but the 115bhp 1.0-litre is the top of the Micra powertrain tree, sitting above 70, 89 and 99bhp petrols and a 90bhp diesel. And it’s surprisingly lively. The turbocharged three-cylinder spins up quickly and has a real urgency at low to mid-speeds. It’s almost a little too boost-y and takes a bit of getting used to. If you’re too heavy footed around town you’ll find yourself lunging and lurching around on the sensitive throttle. It feels engaging and quick yet returned nearly 50mpg over the course of a week.
The steering is surprisingly sharp as well, with a really speedy response to inputs that matches the engine’s nippiness. There’s virtually no feedback but it does what you tell it quickly.
It won’t worry the peerless Fiesta for real driver engagement but it’s a damn sight better than you might expect from the Micra name. A generation ago no-one, not even Nissan, would have invoked the F word in the same sentence as the Micra but the new model merits at least a mention.
As a small car, refinement in the cabin isn’t brilliant. There’s quite a bit of wind and tyre noise but the ride is fairly forgiving and the interior is decent as far as Nissans go. Different models get different finishes but being the N-Sport this one’s got Alcantara that covers part of the seats as well as providing a nice interesting finish to the main dash panel.
The dials are simple and easy to read and most controls fall easily to hand but sadly the media/nav system remains Nissan’s Achilles’ heel. Physically, the seven-inch screen has a neater finish and better integration than most Nissans but the software is hateful. It’s ugly, slow and limited. Even smartphone integration, which you’d expect to be pretty standard, is unreliable, with the screen refusing to switch to full-screen Android Auto on more than one occasion.
That ongoing problem aside, the N-Sport is well equipped for a small car, with features such as forward collision warning, cruise control, auto dipping lights, lane departure warning, keyless entry and start, and a reversing camera.
Overall, there are far worse ways to spend your £19,000. It might not be the best in class but it’s fun to drive, interesting to look at, economical and packed with technology. So, yes, it’s a Micra, just not as we’ve known it until now.
Nissan Micra N-Sport
Price: £19,320 (£19,570 as tested); Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 115bhp; Torque: 148lb/ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 121mph; 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds; Economy: 47.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 133g/km