Born back in 1982 when it was mainly challenging the Japanese rivals at home, the Micra made a splash in Europe thanks to interesting options – highly unusual for the supermini segment at the time. Now the brand is looking to again stand out in the extremely competitive B-segment, but in a different way.
Five generations have passed over the Micra, which in its first inception was quite the achiever – it came with a 630-kg weight in its incipient European trim and had a refined for the time and highly advanced all-aluminum engine, as well as five-speed manual and automatic gearboxes. Of course, today aluminum engines are the norm – and this is valid for the IG-T engine – but low weight is not entirely possible due to the abundance of safety, assist and comfort systems. It’s also not desirable anymore – from a crashworthiness standpoint at least. But in case we forgot, innovation is the name of the game for Nissan – remember the Quashqai, the first compact crossover or the Juke, the first subcompact crossover? Nissan’s Micra is of course a tried and tested nameplate, so it can’t be the first in anything, you would say. But how about design – the Japanese make has always showcased an affinity for breaking new ground in this department. The Micra is thus bringing the first taste of the company’s latest styling evolution – and we’re pretty sure the cues are a big hint as towards what we should be expecting from the second-generation Leaf all-electric hatchback. And let’s not forget the facelifted Qashqai and X-Trail, all sharing traits with the Micra, particularly at the front – where Nissan is pushing the V-Motion grille as the centerpiece.
With an abundance of B-segment rivals, such as the new Ford Fiesta and VW Polo, the Nissan Micra might not have the force to compete with the top dogs, which are actually much more traditional from the design standpoint, but it’s certainly going to have a go at the funky offers – such as the Citroen C3, Mazda 2, Kia Rio, the Mini 5 door, or the Suzuki Swift. Their choice of fight is quite obvious – while an established name in the segment, the Micra is not trying to win a hard fight against the Fiesta, Polo, Corsa or Yaris – and is instead establishing itself as a trendy, stylish alternative, though that also brings a rather hefty price that actually makes it almost ready to match with the upscale Mini 5door. And the strategy is clear – modern and stylish exterior, design, an upscale interior and lots of personalization option to attract a younger audience. Not to mention the past two generations of the Micra have always catered for part of the audience – but that’s not the case anymore, the Japanese supermini can easily relate to the masculine audience as well, without actually losing touch with feminine side. You’ll see what I mean.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Styling wise, the new Micra has two major reference points – the IDx concepts in general and the Sway prototype in particular. Showcased back at the Geneva Motor Show last year, the latter quickly morphed into the production fifth generation Micra at the Paris Motor Show later that fall, and that happened without actually loosing too many features. Nissan’s familiar V-motion grille is of course the center piece of the front-end design – and it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Every time a model or facelift comes in, the design experts tweak it a little bit more – and for the Micra they opted for a muscular and expressive appearance to signal the revolutionary design chance. Gone are the round touches of the previous generation, and hello angular, contrasting surfaces – there are numerous character lines (the most obvious the waving one on the entire side) and also aerodynamic enhancements, with the Micra delivering a top class drag coefficient of 0.29. It’s also now exclusively available with the five-door body style, as the smaller, less practical 3-doors are falling out of favor everywhere today. Full LED lights are available – which is logical, considering the facelifted Renault Clio also has the technology. Of course, at the back the attention is grabbed by Nissan’s new signature boomerang shape – which is expected to trickle up the range, starting with the incoming Leaf.
The exterior dimensions – particularly the overall length of 3,999 mm show the Micra is still looking to play in the confines of the B segment’s traditional measurements, while other rivals have crossed the path into the four-meter territory. For example – taking a traditional entry, the Corsa, we see the Micra’s 3999 / 1743 / 1455 mm length, width, height compare to 4021 / 1746 / 1481. There are others who play the same game, still looking to deliver the agreeable urban experience such as the Mini 5door (3982 mm long), the Suzuki Swift (3840) or the Citroen C3 – while others are trespassing into compact car territory – among our selected contenders for the Micra we can see the Kia Rio (4065) or the Mazda2 (4060). More importantly is how the Micra makes use of its dimensional assets, which are all better than its previous generation, with the wheelbase now at 2525 mm, compared to Corsa (2510), Mini (2567), Swift (2450), C3 (2540), Rio (2580) and the Mazda2 (2570). The Micra is actually quite close to the median of the segment, which stands at about 2538 mm right now. And while the angular – sporty design might make you think otherwise, the interior of the Micra does make use of the traits. Which is why inside there’s enough room for four adults – seriously no one considers using the middle back seat in this segment. There’s also enough room for luggage – 300 to 1004 liters, compared to 285/1120 for Corsa, 278/941 for the Mini, 265/947 for the Swift, 300/922 for the C3, 325/980 for the Rio and 280 to 950 liters for the Mazda2. As we can clearly see, the Micra is doing great from this standpoint – not losing both values even to the larger competitors. This goes to show the engineers and designers were smart enough to send the Micra towards a new direction – styling wise – but without sacrificing its older positive elements, such as habitability and practicality.
The cockpit itself is showing why Nissan has decided to jump the gun in terms of pricing, especially when dealing with the top of the line trim – you’ll of course immediately notice the matching exterior color of the T-shaped ‘gliding wing’ dashboard. Just like with the exterior, the interior of the Micra is a huge departure from the previous generation – quite refreshing at a time when automakers are treating new generations like evolutionary facelifts. The new dashboard is simple and ergonomic – controls are grouped in the middle or around the steering wheel, and there’s actually quite the German thoroughness vibe, but fortunately treated in a more playful cue. Two-tone and soft-touch materials are making quite the appearance here, with less hard plastics to remind us we’re dealing with a subcompact model. The keyless entry system has an oddly placed start/stop button, at the base of the gearshift lever – it takes use finding it, though fortunately it’s quite visible from the driver’s position. Speaking off, the Micra boasts a comfortable experience – the driver’s seat is comfortable and with enough lateral support, while the new, sporty flat-bottom steering wheel boasts the immediate pre-requisite controls. The Micra is starting to look like a technology tour de force for Nissan – the dashboard’s center piece is the NissanConnect infotainment system with its 7-inch multi-touch display, offering all the latest – DAB digital radio, satellite navigation, applications, standard Apple CarPlay. And the experience is complimented via the unique for the Micra BOSE Personal premium audio system – it has six speakers, four of them in the front doors and the A-pillars, while the remaining two are located in the driver’s seat head rest. Quite innovative and a premium audio experience for the driver – but not quite the case for the rest of the passengers, those in the back not even getting their own speakers.
Since we’re talking gadgets, we also need to point out the abundance of safety and assistance systems, which in turn warrant the price of the flagship Tekna trim – we have standard LED headlights, the Intelligent Around View Monitor system (360-degree bird’s eye view of the car), Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Emergency Braking, High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition as well as new chassis control tech – Active Ride Control and Active Trace Control systems. Getting a 7-inch screen with connected car features is getting quite traditional these days, even in B-segment cars, but the Micra also boasts an interesting feature that trickled down from the Qashqai and X-Trail – a five-inch color display in between the instrument dials with lots of information – including from the chassis control – to be viewed by the driver. The Micra also has a Nissan first for an Euro-spec car, the lane departure system not only makes the steering wheel vibrate, but also uses individual braking to get the car back into its lane. All of the safety systems are bundled into the Safety+ pack, standard on the range-topping trim but also available as an optional feature on every other version, including the base one.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
Currently, the Micra has just two or three power options in Europe, depending on the market – with the ones available everywhere being the well-known 1.5-liter alliance dCi diesel with 90 horsepower and the newer, downsized 0.9-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. We took the latter for a spin, and frankly came out unimpressed. This is all due to the downsizing movement, which has apparently hit rock bottom – Renault Nissan is preparing a new small turbo powerplant, this time around soaring to the one-liter capacity. While diesel’s days are certainly numbered in Europe – where it has been the most popular choice for decades – its advantages over the gasoline counterpart are simply overwhelming. You might pay more in terms of taxation levels and when hitting the dealership, but it could yield more benefits later on. First of all, the elephant in the room is the available torque – 140 to 220 Nm might not seem much but in actual driving feeling it’s a difference spanning an entire light year. This is of course owed to the Micra’s lightweight structure – the gasoline tips the scales at close to 1,1 ton and the diesel doesn’t add 100 kilos. And while on paper the difference is also extremely light – 11.9 seconds to 100 km/h to 12.1 for the IG-T, the driver gets an almost completely different story. Of course, we need to chiefly compare the Micra to gasoline rivals. And it’s an interesting take – because at the power level, there are different ways to fulfill the same task. The Opel Corsa for example hasn’t heard of downsizing – you can have 90 horsepower from a 1.4 naturally aspirated engine for a 13.2 sprint or go for the same 1.4 liter with turbo and jump down to 11 seconds, both of the four-cylinder variety. The Mini One is closer to the Micra with a 1.2-liter turbo three cylinder, but handily beats it with a sprint time of 10.1 seconds owed to the 102 hp and 180 Nm of torque. The Suzuki Swift is quite traditional – 1.2 naturally aspirated four cylinder, with 90 hp and the exact same 11.9 seconds acceleration. The Citroen C3 shows why the French love croissants and long Champs Elysee walks – the naturally aspirated 1.2-liter three cylinder has just 82 hp to show for, and a 13 seconds time to 100 km/h. Kia is in tune with modern times, and has a one-liter three-cylinder turbo with 100 hp and 172 Nm, so a 10.7 seconds time is warranted. All in all, the great-looking Mazda2 handily beats everyone else – its 1.5 SKYACTIV-G engine with 90 hp and 148 Nm gives a great (for the segment) acceleration time of 9.4 seconds. In terms of top speed, the Micra’s 175 km/h goes against the Corsa (185/175 for the 100/90 hp versions), Mini (192), Swift (180), C3 (168), Rio (188) and Mazda2 (183). We can also take a look at the fuel economy, with the Micra at 4,4 liters on average for 100 km. The Corsa officially has 5,1; the Mini 4,8; the Swift 4,3; the C3 has 4,7; the Rio 4,3 and the Mazda is at 4,4 liters. A good show from the Micra, though these are certainly just for informative purposes – in reality the Japanese model and all of its rivals will be showing higher average consumption figures. It all depends on the driving style and mix of roads – urban and highway. In Micra’s case the best suited scenario would be a 70/30 urban to highway scenario. After all, the gasoline engine is still being treated to a five-speed manual gearbox, just like the first generation. Fortunately, gearing is not the same, and doing around 120 km/h on the highway is going to be satisfying for the driver – faster would have a major impact on the fuel economy.
As I said before, the Micra in this top trim comes equipped with some chassis enhancements – Intelligent Ride Control, for better fore/aft pitching motion at lower speeds, for example when encountering a speed bump. But more importantly it also has Intelligent Trace Control – a cornering aid, which has a smart automatic setup for the brakes, assisting with the correct trace line. The latter may very well hint at a later arrival of a sporty Nismo version – something to look forward to, because the new Micra certainly has the looks for it, it just needs the extra kick. And it desperately needs it – we didn’t even need the Intelligent Trace Control because the three-cylinder is so slow. The gearbox is also enabling a little bit of high-speed cruising, so that certainly doesn’t help the dynamic driving case. No worries about the ESP kicking in either – the Micra is both stable and nimble, and 90 horsepower are certainly way fewer than it can actually handle. There’s not to say the Micra can’t handle itself on a mountain course – but you’ll be torturing the engine by keeping it revved up near the peak power, obtained at 5500 rpm, and these downsized engines really don’t like that. So, while the Micra looks engaging to drive, it’s not going to be the choice for aspiring racers. The one thing that really feels great is the steering – it’s very precise and with the exact amount of assistance. All in all, this is another way of Nissan telling us the Micra has retained its family-friendly posture, especially since the ride is quite comfortable – save for the occasional suspension noise mostly owed to the low tire bead. You get 17-inch wheels on a subcompact car – it’s a compromise that needs to be done on the design altar. The handling and comfort traits – including the very good NVH levels for a three-cylinder (when you’re not accelerating to overtake, which is when the sound levels leave the comfort zone) are actually very close to those exhibited by the facelifted Renault Clio, and that’s not by mistake. The Nissan Micra is coming back in terms of production to Europe, being assembled at Renault’s Flins, France facility next to the Clio and Zoe.
Pro: Nissan has a winning design, one that changes the personality of the Micra for the better. The all-new interior is modern and more upscale than before, with better materials. Safety and driver assistance is top notch.
Against: The 900 cc engine is showing its limits almost every time, even with turbo. You need to go for the pricey flagship trim to get all the perks, including the connected features. Price even for the base version has gone up quite a bit.
Starting Price – Nissan Micra Visia 1.0 70 hp – 11,990 EUR
Tested Version – Nissan Micra Tekna IG-T 90 hp – 16,140 EUR
Engine: 0.9L three cylinder, turbo, indirect injection, intercooler, S/S (898 cc)
Power: 90 HP (66 kW) / 5500 rpm
Torque: 140 Nm / 2250 rpm
Transmission: 5 speed manual, FWD
Dimensions: length – 3999 mm, width – 1743 mm,
height – 1,615 1455 mm, wheelbase – 2525 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 41L
Weight: 1076 kg
Trunk Capacity: 300/ 1004 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 12.1 s
Top Speed: 175 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5,6L/100 km, highway – 3,7L/100 km, average – 4,4L/100 km
Rating: 3.8 / 5