New Nissan Micra driven
* Good space and refinement * Disappointing handling and interior * On sale November, from £9500 (est)...
The new Nissan Micra is going back to the future, with the emphasis is on simplicity, functionality and low production and running costs, just like the first version of 1983.
Changes to meet global demand
To understand why, you need only look at where the growth potential in small-car sales lies. In the traditional Micra strongholds of Europe and Japan, the market is all but saturated. The Far East, India, Latin America and Africa now offer the opportunities for expansion, and Nissan wants a share of the spoils.
It's not only the car that has had to change to make this possible. The production centres have also been shifted, from the UK and Japan to China, India, Mexico and Thailand, to overcome local import restrictions. UK versions will come from Chennai in India.
Totally new car
All of this has meant a start-from-scratch approach. Nothing has been carried over from the current car. There's a new platform that makes it easier to keep down weight the new Micra is up to 80 kilos lighter than the present model which in turn allows the use of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines.
There'll be just two engines on offer, both of them new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol units. The standard version develops 79bhp, is capable of nearly 59mpg and emits 115g/km of CO2. It will be joined next year by a 98bhp direct-injection supercharged version with an engine stop-start system. It will be capable of nearly 71mpg with CO2 emissions of 95g/km a new low for a petrol car. Both are available with five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmissions.
The weight loss hasn't been achieved by cutting back on the amount of car you get for your money. The new model is bigger than its predecessor, seats four adults with ridiculous ease and still has room for some luggage. It has an impressive turning circle, too you can swing it through 180 degrees in just nine metres of road space. This makes it one of the most manoeuvrable cars currently on sale in Europe.
Interior and equipment
The cabin plastics are of the hardy variety, seemingly designed to survive fire, pestilence and flood, but we're told the feel will improve on European models. Hopefully, we will also get more supportive seats. The indicator stalk mounted on the right of the steering column stays, though, unfortunately.
Climate control, a smart key with push-button starting and a touch-screen navigation and entertainment system will be available, as will the current Micra's trip computer that can remind you of your wedding anniversary or your mother's birthday. There'll also be the option of a radar that measures parking spaces and tells you if the car will fit in them.
On the road
The Thai-spec car we drove will be much changed in other ways by the time it gets to Europe. Currently, it's refined and it rides well, but the steering wheel has only the vaguest influence on the car's course and the manual gearshift is a bit sloppy. However, Nissan says it will fit more grippy tyres, lower the ride height, change the shock absorbers, add front and rear anti-roll bars, and upgrade the brakes in an effort to make the car handle and stop as Europeans expect. The electronic power steering will also be recalibrated to provide quicker response and greater feedback, although the rather cumbersome 3.5 turns between the extremes of lock won't be changed.
The standard engine will be the only one available when the Micra is launched in November, and it exhibits the usual characteristics of a small-capacity three-cylinder unit a shortage of low-speed torque that's especially noticeable with the CVT gearbox, and a thrummy breathlessness when revved hard. Inbetween, though, it's pleasingly flexible, which allows it to cope with comparatively long gearing without forcing the driver to be forever stirring the gearlever, and it's unusually smooth and quiet for a three-cylinder engine. The gearing will be different on European-spec cars to make them punchier.
Honest and down-to-earth car
We'll have to see how all these changes affect its character, but as it stands it's an honest, down-to-earth car that goes about its business in such a calm way that you can't help but relax along with it. If it's priced right and Nissan says it will be targeted at cheaper superminis such as the Suzuki Swift we can see a lot of people being attracted by that.
What Car? says
Roomy, easy to live with but currently not very European
Nissan Micra Engine 1.2 -litre petrol Price from (est) £9500
Power (bhp) 79
Top speed tbc
Average mpg 58.8
CO2g/km/tax band 115/10%
Insurance group tbc
Likely discount It won't be much because it's a cheap car to begin with
Or try a Hyundai i20 or Suzuki Swift