In March last year I had what they call “a first drive” in the all-new Nissan Micra – on Croatia’s riviera. I liked it and lambasted the previous, Indian-built Micra. The Indian production had taken over from Sunderland – busy with other Nissan stuff.
Nissan shifted the 2017 Micra to a factory near Paris, operated by its partner Renault. The Micra benefited from a new Nissan chassis, with power and gearing provided by Renault.
Its compatriot is the Renault Clio, both facing opposition from the Ford Fiesta, the Opel Corsa, Peugeot 208 and lots more.
These are the four-metre class, small enough yet big enough, if you follow. They are fine for commuting, 2+2/3 transport, holidays and so on, leaving a less harmful imprint than the lumbering SUVs made for work but driven as a lifestyle badge – usually with a large diesel engine.
Since the Micra’s UK launch last March there has been a dive in sales of diesel cars as the oily fuel has at last been outed as a health buster. The Micra is very much in the petrol power sector. Obtusely, I have just tried the diesel, a 1,461cc four cylinder turbo giving just shy of 90bhp and a 162 lb ft of torque – fat enough in a car weighing a ton. Its official CO2 figure is 97g, so it is doing its bit to minimise greenhouse gases up above the clouds. Most motorists could do their bit, whatever they drive, by reducing journeys.
Someone driving a Micra may feel reasonably green. The diesel meets the latest European legislation. Nissan quotes urban fuel consumption of 74mpg, extra urban of 83mpg and a combined figure nudging 81mpg (all with the stop/start system which cuts the engine when stopped). These are laboratory figures which will be replaced by the new “real world” estimates. My combined mix (urban, rural, motorway) was registered as 54mpg by the trip computer – deeply disappointing against the catalogue figures.
Moving on… it is an attractive car. The shape is adventurous compared with most of the rivals, with lots of swoops and prominent edges in the bodywork. The nearest mainstream rival with similar looks is the nation’s best-selling Ford Fiesta. You’ll see kinship in the Renault Clio. Suzuki moved away from the chunky look with its latest Swift – a car with lots of fans among private buyers.
Onlookers did seem to like the Micra. It is striking. Diesel model prices start at £15,090 for the entry-level Visia. That’s quite a lump on the cost of £12,750 for the 70bhp one-litre petrol engine in base Visia trim. This unit lacks the meaty pull of the diesel but for a saving of some £2,300 you may be happy to plod along at a gentler pace. There’s also an 89bhp petrol turbo with more pace, from £14,570 for the Visia+.
My demo diesel was the top-level Tekna, from £19,340 including £575 for the glossy metallic red paint. An “invigorating red” interior with heated leather seats added £1,400. The other extra was a 360-degree monitor and movement detector and blind spot intervention for a tempting £550. Total as you see it here: £21, 290 (minus any current offers when you start haggling). I can’t imagine spending that much on a Micra when the rip-roaring new Ford Focus Zetec comes in at £19,300.
However, the Tekna is loaded with stuff. It even has Bose speakers in the front head rests. There is intelligent this and that, high headlamp beam dipping, a rear view camera, navigation, a speed limiter, traffic sign reading, folding door mirrors - but only manual power for the backs windows.
On the road it handles as well as you need any car to handle. It has a system which helps adjust the car to reduce the impact of large bumps, another to balance the car round bends. The big niggle – which had not been evident on the roads of Croatia not subject to harsh winter weather – was tyre roar. This is not unusual but I’ll not make excuses for the Micra. It’s there. It’s less evident as you live with the car.
Micra per se is a global success, with more than six million sales since the first wedgy, smaller Micra of 1983. Half this number were sold in Europe and the more rounded replacement in 1992, built at Sunderland, stayed in production until 2002. It was the first Japanese car to be voted European Car of the Year. Its successor, made in Sunderland for the next ten years, is still a common sight. (Nissan’s other ECOTY winner was the electric LEAF. Sales in Europe were slow at first, with antipathy to the mileage range on a battery charge and also getting used to the idea of life without the convenience of a nearby filling station. Public charging points are becoming more common – in France there are some dedicated roadside e-stations. The latest LEAF has a much better range, and, says Nissan, is now selling at the rate of one every ten minutes in Europe.)
This latest Micra is technically the best. It builds on the appeal of the third generation model with the latest communications and engineering (while avoiding all the pitfalls of the fourth generation). I’d like lower road noise and better mileage per gallon but generally it is a serious contender.
Verdict: Hard to miss, easy to like. Classy interior.