Another Ford Fiesta chasing small car. What’s Nissan done to stand out? Well, just look at it. After a couple of cutesey bubble-car Micras, it’s all very angular and sporty looking now. And underneath, Nissan’s worked on making it handle with a similarly sporty verve. And you know what? It’s actually worked. This possesses one of the more chuckable supermini chassis out there.
The previous-gen Micra was a ‘world car’ built to satisfy the needs and demands of not just Europe, but Asia, South America and so on, making it was massively compromised. This one’s specifically designed for Europe, so it’s 174mm longer, 78mm wider and 55mm lower, more stylish and better equipped, with tech borrowed from the hugely successful Qashqai.
This approach was a gamble for Nissan, but it’s paid off. In 2017, Micra sales leapt by 44 per cent versus the previous year. A whopping 65 per cent of people who buy a new Micra aren’t replacing a Nissan, but another brand’s car. That’s called ‘conquesting’, and it’s the sort of stat that makes car company bean-counters go weak at the knees and grin a lot.
For 2019, Nissan’s aiming to keep the momentum in the Micra by upgrading one of its biggest weak spots: the engine range. There’s a new 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder engine with 99bhp on offer, or another 1.0-litre unit with 114bhp, developed apart from the lesser powered version (for reasons that don’t seem clear or logical) and instead sharing nous with the 1.3-litre engine Renault-Nissan has recently cooked up with Daimler.
Plus, there’s finally a six-speed manual gearbox instead of a motorway-unfriendly five-speeder. You can also have a CVT auto for the lower powered version if you really, really must.
Oh, and if you’d like something slower than walking, please be aware that the 69bhp non-turbo Micra and 90bhp 1.5-litre diesel live on, for no reason we can think of. Seriously, the 1.0-litre is where it’s at. Preferably with the higher output.
To that end, there’s a new Micra N-Sport. It’s been pitched as a lukewarm hatch, not a proper hot performance version, but bizarrely it’s a trim-line available with all the new engines, not limited to the quickest one. Look out for big wheels, faux carbon door mirrors and Alcantara trim covering the dashboard, like you get in a Ferrari 488 Pista.
All Micras are front-wheel drive, five-door, five-seaters – there’s no jacked-up crossover version (that’s what the Juke is for) nor a proper Nismo performance version. It’s very much a traditional supermini. The question, then, is whether or not it does anything remarkably enough to stand out in such a crowded market…
Lots of small cars claim to be fun to drive, but not many of them are, really. The Micra, perhaps against the odds, is one of the good guys. The light, fast steering is obeyed by a keen front end that’s happy to be chucked into corners without catching the back end half asleep. It feels agile, light on its feet, and accurate. The ride is a well-judged compromise of halting roll and compliance, though on seriously rough back roads you’ll notice a clanging resonance as the suspension starts to reach the limits of its travel.
Or… you might not. Because to get up to the speeds where the suspension gets out of sorts, you’re going to need serious commitment in a Micra. The old engines suffered lethargic power delivery and poor driveability, and the new 114bhp triple is only just on the right side of adequate.
... the Micra’s near the top of its class for handing, bettered only by the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2.
A warm hatchback in raw performance, it’s really not. Though the new engine has inherited anti-friction internals from the Nissan GT-R and electric turbo actuators that supposedly cut turbo lag, this isn’t as keen as the rival engines you’ll find in Ford, Seat or Kia competitors.
On the motorway, with the car settled into a cruise, there’s a fairly high amount of road noise compared to say, a Polo, but it’s not terrible for the class, and wind noise is handsomely suppressed. The gearchange feels a little cumbersome at first, as if the lever’s too long (or borrowed from a bus or lorry), but get used to that and you notice it places your hand closer to the steering wheel. So rattling off quick changes to keep the engine on the boil is easily at hand. The seats are comfy too, if a little small for the more wide of hip.
Overall, the Micra’s near the top of its class for handing, bettered only by the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2. However, its engines aren’t as flexible as the rivals, and in a class this competitive, that knocks its otherwise zesty on-road appeal.
On the inside
Up front, there’s little to complain about in the Micra. The seats and driving position are fine, and the steering wheel is a comfortable one to hold with a logical collection of buttons on the two horizontal spokes. The dials are clearly scripted and the central screen is sharp and informative.
A big central screen takes care of phone mirroring (mid-spec) or built-in nav (top-spec). Nissan’s infotainment system is quick to respond and easy to navigate, but looks and feels outdated alongside competitors’ efforts. There’s also a fine-value Bose stereo option that puts little speakers in the driver’s head rest. Nissan’s proud of this tech (which it has exclusive use of for a time) and justifiably so. Youthful Micra buyers will love it and it sounds really rather good.
In the back, it’s on the cramped side for the class, compared to the likes of a Citroen C3 or Ford Fiesta, let alone the vast Seat Ibiza. Boot space is adequate, and rear visibility is a tad more pinched than we’d like. Nissan will argue that the fleet of surround-view cameras and sensors available are happy to combat that problem in car parks. Fine, but they don’t make those nippy lane-change merges on a dark rainy motorway any easier…
Spec the N-Sport and the main swathe of dash is covered in Alcantara, which goes a long way to lifting the perceived quality inside. As standard, the plastics are fine but nothing exemplary. We like the textured cubbyhole underneath the USB socket that’s ideal for storing all but the largest smartphones. There’s also small stowage to be discovered under the armrest and in the door bins.
All told, it’s not a remarkable cabin, but it’s well executed enough not to be actively frustrating.
Fair play to Nissan for sticking by the Micra through tough times. It’s got a job on its hands undoing decades of bad PR, but it has a product good enough to get the ball rolling.
The new Micra is not the best car in its class – the new Fiesta, Polo and Ibiza are all very good indeed – but it drives well, comes with clever driver assistance tech and has a distinctive look. We reckon it’ll find enough buyers to make the repositioning worth Nissan’s while.