Edgy re­cruit in su­per­mini seg­ment

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

There is a big psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier at 6am. The 6.05 flight to Cape Town is early but it feels like it is within the nor­mal day. But 5.55am? That just seems wrong.

Per­haps Nis­san chose this flight be­cause the plane was orange, much like the flag­ship colour of the fifth gen­er­a­tion Mi­cra, which is Nis­san Z orange. Whether it was clever mar­ket­ing or just a co­in­ci­dence, the new Mi­cra was worth get­ting up so early for.

The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, K13, was a disas­ter for the com­pany. Nis­san’s head of de­sign, Shiru Naka­mura, even de­scribed it as “skid­ding off the road”, ad­mit­ting that a ma­jor mis­take had been made. Com­pared to early gen­er­a­tions which sold in the mil­lions, the bub­ble shape lacked ap­peal world­wide. It still car­ries on in SA as the bud­get Mi­cra Ac­tive, but it has noth­ing on the new K14 gen­er­a­tion.

Nis­san went back to the draw­ing board for the new ver­sion, a fact im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent in the styling. It’s edgy and dra­matic, reflecting the fact that de­sign plays a much big­ger role in the su­per­mini seg­ment than it did in the Mi­cra’s early days.

It has the Nis­san V-Mo­tion grille, a men­ac­ing, al­most ro­botic face and slim head­lights with LED day­time run­ning lights. The side pro­file fea­tures creases in all the right places and the win­dows sit high up to give it more of a sporty look but with­out com­pro­mis­ing vis­i­bil­ity for the oc­cu­pants. There are also blacked-out el­e­ments on the Cpil­lars, some­thing that is a trend at the mo­ment.

The rear has a bit of a Ja­panese look to it, sim­i­lar to mod­els from Honda and Toy­ota, but still with a slightly unique flavour and, again, at­ten­tion has been paid to the de­sign of those an­gu­lar tail lights.

The de­sign is also about func­tion­al­ity. A good ex­am­ple is the wing mir­rors on the doors which re­duce the typ­i­cal blind spot cre­ated by the A-pil­lar and mir­ror pro­vid­ing bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity. The sharply raked nose also makes it eas­ier to park, es­sen­tial for a car which will spend most of its time in the cities.

How­ever, it is not as small as it might look. The new Mi­cra scrapes into the su­per­mini cat­e­gory by just 1mm, mea­sur­ing 3,999mm in length. En­gi­neers have pushed the wheels right to the cor­ners, mak­ing the most of the length but also en­sur­ing the best level of in­te­rior space.

And it is in­side where the new Mi­cra ex­cels even more. The lat­est gen­er­a­tion sits on the same plat­form as the cur­rent Re­nault Clio (the next Clio will get a new plat­form), but the in­te­rior eclipses the Clio by some mar­gin. There are de­sign touches and ma­te­ri­als that seem much more classy with a higher level of qual­ity.

In many ways it is on a par with the bench­mark Volk­swa­gen Polo. The Mi­cra equals the Polo when it comes to all the es­sen­tial touch­points, but the Volk­swa­gen has qual­ity be­yond just the parts you can see and touch in the ev­ery­day com­mute.

You can have colour coded trim in­serts, in­clud­ing the op­tion of En­ergy Orange on the top of the line Acenta Plus. The model

THE DRIV­ING PO­SI­TION HAS BEEN THOUGHT OUT TO PRO­VIDE A BLEND OF CITY AND LONGER DIS­TANCE COM­FORT

we drove had a pre­mium wo­ven cloth over the dash­board pan­els and leather-like ma­te­rial on the cen­tre con­sole. It all makes the lat­est Toy­ota Yaris look like a cheap Chi­nese knock-off, some­thing that is made even worse by the fact the Yaris is any­thing but cheap.

Stick­ing with pric­ing, the Mi­cra has the Polo and the new Ford Fi­esta firmly in its sights. The range starts at R233,500 for the Visia but you need to step up to the Acenta (R257,400) or Acenta Plus (R272,400) to get the de­cent spec lev­els. It’s more ex­pen­sive than the Clio, in some cases quite a bit more ex­pen­sive, but you do get a lot more.

The Mi­cra does fea­ture the same en­gine as the Clio in the form of the Al­liance’s 0.9l 66kW, 140Nm tur­bocharged petrol mo­tor. It’s a great lit­tle unit, revving nicely and pulling away well, al­beit at the Cape where it gets its power with­out the alti­tude stran­gu­la­tion of Gaut­eng.

An 88kW ver­sion should be com­ing in 2019, again us­ing the same en­gine as in the Clio but Nis­san SA says it has no plans to bring the tur­bod­iesel vari­ant to our shores, at least not for now.

The five-speed box is good if not ex­em­plary and the driv­ing po­si­tion has been thought out to pro­vide a su­perb blend of city and longer dis­tance com­fort.

What the Mi­cra also has that its ri­vals do not is the avail­abil­ity on cer­tain mod­els of an Ac­tive Chas­sis. This is not some­thing we nor­mally talk about in this seg­ment, but the en­gi­neers have not only in­cluded trac­tion con­trol but some­thing called Ac­tive Trace Con­trol. You have to scroll through a num­ber of menus in the in­stru­ment clus­ter to find it.

Es­sen­tially it is a sort of torque vec­tor­ing by brak­ing, with the sys­tem brak­ing which­ever of the front wheels re­quires it to pro­vide tighter turn­ing. It works too. Switch it off and drive into the cor­ner and the Mi­cra be­haves well. Switch it on mid-cor­ner and you im­me­di­ately feel the sys­tem do its thing and the car tight­ens in. It’s al­most like the trick XDS dif­fer­en­tial on the new Polo GTi, ex­cept this is a 66kW Mi­cra.

To give the Mi­cra more street cred, there are loads of per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions. In Europe you have more than 140 choices but Nis­san SA has gone for op­tion packs in­stead, in­clud­ing styling packs and even de­cal kits.

It all feels as though ev­ery­one in­volved took care to make sure ev­ery­thing was done prop­erly. From the ex­te­rior de­sign to the in­te­rior ma­te­ri­als and the en­gine to the clever chas­sis con­trols, this Mi­cra was thought through in a way that no other gen­er­a­tion was. Nis­san wanted to get this one right and it has.

Nis­san has given the new Mi­cra such a rad­i­cal new de­sign that it could have given it a dif­fer­ent name.

The rear has a Ja­panese look to it but still in a slightly dif­fer­ent way.

The in­te­rior fea­tures great qual­ity ma­te­ri­als as well as lots of per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions.

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