The lit­tle car that does what it says

Nis­san’s Mi­cra makes a virtue out of be­ing ex­actly what it says on the packet, writes DAVE MOORE.

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

Just about ev­ery driv­ing school in Bri­tain uses the Nis­san Mi­cra as its sta­ple learn­ing tool. That’s not only be­cause it’s the most pop­u­lar Bri­tish-made small car, but be­cause it’s cheap and does what all cars should do, with pos­i­tive han­dling habits, a de­cent ride, good vis­i­bil­ity, fair ac­cess – even for larger driv­ers – and the re­li­a­bil­ity of a clock.

The Mi­cra dom­i­nance of driv­ing schools has been the case in Bri­tain for at least three gen­er­a­tions of the model, and through all that time Nis­san has even given the car a cute, rounded, or­ganic look to match its mar­ket friend­li­ness while ev­ery­thing else in its seg­ment had be­come wedge-like and per­haps a lit­tle cold.

The lat­est Mi­cra, which ar­rived in New Zealand late last year, sourced from Ja­pan, has grown by 85 mil­lime­tres in length and 5mm in width and has lost a lit­tle of its bul­bous charm to pro­vide im­prove­ments in in­te­rior space, par­tic­u­larly at the rear and in the load area which now of­fers 251 litres of vol­ume, seats up.

It looks more grown-up, too, with a more em­phatic, sin­glein­take nose treat­ment, re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous wide split grille look, and a ris­ing front to rear side­crease that gives the car more vis­ual ten­sion in pro­file than its mildly toy­ish pre­de­ces­sor.

Un­like the driv­ing school cars, which are gen­er­ally man­u­als, all New Zealand Mi­cras will be four­speed au­to­mat­ics, as there sim­ply were not suf­fi­cient man­ual as­pi­rants here to make their avail­abil­ity worth­while.

All Mi­cras here have a twin­cam 16-valve 1.5-litre en­gine, with a use­ful 75 kilo­watt and 136 newton me­tres on tap, the only real choice in the range be­ing that of ST or Ti spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

Both specs get front, side and cur­tain airbags; ABS; ve­hi­cle dy­namic con­trol – Nis­san-speak for sta­bil­ity con­trol; brake as­sist and elec­tronic brake­force dis­tri­bu­tion; air con­di­tion­ing; a mul­ti­func­tion drive com­puter; a sin­gleCD AM/FM sound sys­tem with four speak­ers; and MP3 and aux­il­iary in­put.

Not too bad in any price seg­ment.

The top Ti model adds a bit of chrome around the air in­take, with body-coloured door han­dles and mir­rors to note the cos­metic items.

More use­ful el­e­ments in the Ti in­clude a driver’s left-side arm­rest, al­loy wheels, cli­mate con­trol, and a stowage el­e­ment in the pas­sen­ger seat called in­te­grated bag as­sist.

I found it great for keep­ing a small lap­top from fly­ing around when I was driv­ing the car, and away from pry­ing eyes when it was parked.

The whole driv­ing en­vi­ron­ment shows con­sid­er­able thought.

On the left there are three lev­els of stor­age, with se­cure up­per and lower lid­ded glove­boxes sep­a­rated by a shelf for items re­quir­ing quicker ac­cess.

The cen­tre con­sole area has a dough­nut-shaped clus­ter of heater and air­con­di­tion­ing con­trols – a pleas­ing, com­pact de­sign with big prod-friendly but­tons im­pos­si­ble to fum­ble.

In the mid­dle of the dough­nut is a cir­cu­lar tem­per­a­ture, fan-speed and mode read­out, very neat in­deed.

The dough­nut de­sign is twice re­peated in much smaller scale above the heater for the sound sys­tem con­trols, and you would have to be wear­ing boxing gloves to fum­ble these too.

If you pre­fer to keep your hands on the wheel, both spec­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els of the Mi­cra also get sound, chan­nel and wave­length con­trols on the left spoke of the steer­ing wheel.

Con­sid­er­ing the Mi­cra’s in­nate ‘‘chuck­a­bil­ity’’ it’s a pity the front seats don’t of­fer a bit more sidesup­port.

There’s a good range of rake, reach and seat-slide ad­just­ments but if you’re corner­ing hard, you will be glad to have a steer­ing wheel to hang onto, un­like your pas­sen­ger.

It’s a shame be­cause up front there is plenty of space and lots of thought­ful op­er­a­tional touches.

In the back, the new Mi­cra is a huge im­prove­ment on the old model, with more leg and shoul­der room than be­fore.

The rear bench is shaped for two and belted for three and the back can be 60:40 split-folded for those who need to com­ple­ment the stan­dard load space, which as I found could take a large hard­shell suit­case even with­out do­ing any fold­ing, some­thing I did not have a prayer of achiev­ing with the old car.

In terms of driv­ing, the Mi­cra does ex­actly what you ex­pect of it.

Be­ing an au­to­matic, com­mut­ing is as dra­matic and en­gag­ing as us­ing a wash­ing ma­chine, only sim­pler.

You just point the car and like white goods, off it goes, press the pedal on the left and it stops.

‘‘No muss, no fuss’’, as the old ad used to say.

Be­ing a four-speed au­to­matic in a seg­ment which now makes five, six and even seven ra­tios some­thing of a norm, the Mi­cra tends to ‘‘hunt’’ be­tween ra­tios a bit more than I would like, as it looks for the best gear.

Con­sid­er­ing Nis­san’s ex­pe­ri­ence in pro­duc­ing ex­cel­lent con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sions – it uses CVTs for its Juke, Qashqai, X-trail, Max­ima and Mu­rano mod­els, not to men­tion the Ja­panese Govern­ment’s lux­ury V8 Cima sedans – I’m sur­prised the Mi­cra doesn’t have it here.

As it is, the four-speed au­to­matic does not do the will­ing 1.5-litre power unit jus­tice.

The car will main­tain a quiet open-road speed limit cruise all day long, but a CVT unit would add re­fine­ment to the car at all other times too.

I am told a 1.2-litre Mi­cra CVT ex­ists, and maybe that model would do the trick.

The Mi­cra’s rack and pin­ion steer­ing is lin­ear and pre­dictable and though the sus­pen­sion is some­what generic, with MacPher­son struts at the front and a coil-sprung tor­sion beam at the rear, it was un­fazed by the rip­pled and rut­ted roads and alarm­ingly pro­trud­ing man­holes of earth­quake-rav­aged Christchurch. Maybe all cars should be tested on a Christchurch road.

Fa­mil­iar lines: The new Mi­cra has grown up into a smarter, more ca­pa­cious small car.

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