MAGIC MI­CRA STILL A LIT­TLE WON­DER

Nissan’s stylish re­boot of its best-loved small car com­bines bet­ter per­for­mance with sleeker looks

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - ANDY EN­RIGHT

THE lit­tle Mi­cra is a very sig­nif­i­cant car in Nissan’s history. Orig­i­nally launched in the early Eight­ies, in sec­ond gen­er­a­tion form it be­came the very first Ja­panese model to win the Euro­pean Car of the Year award, the first Far Eastern su­per­mini pur­pose-built for Western tastes.

To make ab­so­lutely sure, Nissan de­cided to build the car in Bri­tain and style the sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion mod­els with a dar­ing flair that per­fect- ly suited a small car mar­ket be­com­ing ever more im­age-con­scious.

These were cars per­fectly in tune with their times. That’s been less the case, though, with this fourth gen­er­a­tion ver­sion, which ar­rived here at the very end of 2010.

Out­sourced for build in In­dia, the orig­i­nal MK4 model was in­tended to be cheap as a re­sult. The prob­lem was that it rather felt it. And as a re­sult, sales were dis­ap­point­ing. The Mi­cra should have been one of Nissan UK’S top sellers. In­stead, it lagged be­hind the com­pany’s niche Qashqai, Juke and Note mod­els.

By 2013, it was clear that this de­sign didn’t just need a re­fresh. It needed a root and branch re­think. Here we take a look at the re­sult of just such an ex­er­cise.

Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

Of all the as­pects of the orig­i­nal ver­sion of this MK4 Mi­cra, the one that prob­a­bly needed the least work was the way it went down the road. It was al­ways good fun to drive and its light weight gave it some pretty nim­ble re­flexes. The latest model doesn’t change a whole lot here, in­stead tun­ing the de­tails.

The big draw re­mains the DIG-S en­gine and this is re­ally the model you need to be tar­get­ing. The heart of the Mi­cra DIG-S is a di­rect in­jec­tion en­gine teamed with a su­per­charger — hence the car’s name: Di­rect In­jec­tion Ga­so­line-su­per­charger.

Although it has clearly been de­signed to cap emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion, the light­weight, low-fric­tion 1,198cc three-cylin­der unit pro­duces the power ex­pected from a con­ven­tional 1.5-litre four-cylin­der en­gine. With 98PS on tap, it’ll get to 60mph in less than 11 sec­onds and feels quicker. A five-speed man­ual gear­box is fit­ted as stan­dard but there’s also the op­tion of a CVT (Con­tin­u­ously Vari­able Trans­mis­sion) au­to­matic which makes town driv­ing eas­ier.

You can also buy the Mi­cra with an 80PS 1.2-litre nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine should you wish to save around £1,500 model for model. There’s no diesel op­tion. Which­ever ver­sion you

choose, you’ll find the sus­pen­sion de­signed to be par­tic­u­larly com­pact at the rear, min­imis­ing in­tru­sion into the boot area and Nissan has en­dowed the Mi­cra with an un­usu­ally tight 4.5m turn­ing ra­dius. Also en­hanc­ing the ease with which this Nissan can be ma­noeu­vred are elec­tri­cally-as­sisted power steer­ing, a large glass area and the fact that the nose of the car is vis­i­ble from the cabin.

De­sign and Build

The Mi­cra’s most ob­vi­ous changes are to the ex­te­rior. The en­tire ‘face’ has changed with a re­designed grille re-es­tab­lish­ing a stronger link to Nissan’s cor­po­rate look with the fa­mil­iar cir­cu­lar badge ‘ held’ within a chromed ex­tended V-shaped mo­tif. The bon­net, wings, head­lamps and front bumper are also changed. And, where fit­ted, the front fog lamps have been given a bit more promi­nence with chrome edg­ing.

The rear fea­tures a res­culpted bumper, LED tail lamps and a panel at the bot­tom of the tailgate. The fresher look is com­ple­mented by dif­fer­ent 15 and 16-inch al­loy wheel de­signs. The colour pal­ette now in­cludes pearl me­tal­lic Pa­cific Blue (a pre­dom­i­nantly turquoise shade) and me­tal­lic Plat­inum Sage. These join the eight ex­ist­ing colours.

The in­te­rior has come in for a re­think too, with the in­stru­ment graph­ics ahead of the driver im­proved for greater clar­ity, while there’s a to­tally new cen­tre con­sole with restyled air vents. Gloss black fin­ish on the cen­tre con­sole and a sil­ver look to the gear se­lec­tor fin­isher com­bine with re-tex­tured door arm­rests and bet­ter qual­ity seat and door pad fab­rics.

Visia and Acenta grades have a durable tri­cot mesh wo­ven fab­ric — a ma­te­rial of­ten used for sports cloth­ing — while top Tekna mod­els have a suede-like fab­ric with dou­ble stitch­ing. Rear leg and head­room re­main gen­er­ous and the boot is a re­spectable size, but the seat backs aren’t split and flip for­ward in one sec­tion. Stor­age space else­where in the cabin is gen­er­ous with no short­age of pock­ets, boxes and cub­bies.

Mar­ket and Model

Prices haven’t changed much, which means you’ll pay some­where in the £10,000 to £15,000 bracket. The Mi­cra has been de­signed to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP sta­bil­ity con­trol fit­ted as stan­dard along­side ABS brakes and six airbags. Seat­belt pre­ten­sion­ers also make the equip­ment list on all mod­els, while Nissan’s V-plat­form ar­chi­tec­ture of­fers top level im­pact pro­tec­tion.

A wide range of per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions is avail­able from Acenta grade, so own­ers can now spec­ify their pre­ferred colour of wheel cen­tre caps and door mir­rors on the ex­te­rior, while in­side they can per­son­alise their gear knob, air vent, gear stick sur­round and velour mats to make their car unique.

The in­te­rior also now ben­e­fits from dash-mounted AUX-IN and USB slots linked to all au­dio units, while a 12v socket has been added, al­low­ing mo­bile phones or MP3 play­ers to be recharged on the move with ease.

All but en­try-level Visia mod­els ben­e­fit from au­dio equip­ment that has been bet­ter in­te­grated into the cen­tre con­sole with match­ing gloss and matt black fin­ish­ers as ap­pro­pri­ate. There’s also the avail­abil­ity of Park­ing Slot Mea­sure­ment and Rear Park­ing Sen­sors.

PSM mea­sures park­ing slots and alerts the driver via a dash­board dis­play as to whether the Mi­cra can be safely parked in the space or not: the sys­tem can even be ad­justed to ac­count for the driver’s skill — am­a­teur, nor­mal or ex­pert. A panoramic glass roof is avail­able as on op­tion on Tekna grade.

Cost of Own­er­ship

Pos­si­bly the most in­trigu­ing thing about the Mi­cra DIG-S is how prag­matic it is. Nissan has demon­strated that you don’t need to go to the ex­pense of shelling out for a hy­brid or even for a mod­ern tur­bod­iesel en­gine. That a petrol en­gine with fairly sprightly per­for­mance can be this clean and eco­nom­i­cal is wor­thy of con­grat­u­la­tion.

To put a lit­tle meat on those bones, the DIG-S will man­age 95g/km, which means a free road fund li­cence. Should you spec­ify the CVT gear­box, emis­sions rise to 117g/km, so de­spite this trans­mis­sion giv­ing your left leg a rest in city traf­fic, it’s un­likely to at­tract a big take-up.

Fuel econ­omy is sim­i­larly ex­cel­lent with a man­ual Visia model re­turn­ing 68.9mpg. This is in­ter­est­ing be­cause when you wind the clock back to 2000, a 1.3-litre petrol Mi­cra could re­turn a fuel con­sump­tion fig­ure of 46mpg which means that when salary in­fla­tion is taken into ac­count, run­ning a Mi­cra DIG-S is ac­tu­ally cheaper than run­ning a Mi­cra back at the turn of the cen­tury. And in case you were won­der­ing, the DIG-S en­gine is also a good deal cleaner and more eco­nom­i­cal than the nor­mally as­pi­rated 1.2-litre unit. What more in­cen­tive do you need?

Sum­mary

The big ques­tion that hangs over this car is whether these changes are enough. Buyer be­hav­iour can be a tough thing to change and it would take a very spe­cial car to di­vert cus­tomers from their Fi­es­tas and Cor­sas. What this latest Mi­cra does rep­re­sent is a big step for­ward com­pared to its pre­de­ces­sor. That was a car which was fun to drive, eco­nom­i­cal and re­li­able but which pos­sessed next to no pol­ish, no slick­ness and no re­as­sur­ance that you’d bought a su­per­mini able to duke it out with the class best. A heav­ily re­vised in­te­rior helps in that re­gard and the ex­te­rior styling changes do much to re­in­force the per­cep­tion of qual­ity.

The Mi­cra’s chances aren’t go­ing to be trans­formed overnight but this is now a car you could re­al­is­ti­cally rec­om­mend to some­body who doesn’t want to fol­low the crowd. I think Nissan would call that a re­sult.

Nissan hope that this latest ver­sion of the fam­ily favourite can make a dent in the su­per­mini mar­ket­place

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