Car review: Nissan Micra

Carlton Boyce / 26 April 2017

British drivers have loved the Nissan Micra since it was first launched way back in 1983.



Score 7/10

In fact, we love it so much that one in every three cars ever built has found a home here in the UK, so the importance of the all-new Micra in Britain cannot be overstated.

And hasn’t it grown? Both figuratively and literally: while the first cars weighed in at a featherweight 635kgs, the latest iteration – the fifth, if you’re keeping count – is almost twice the weight. Of course, some of that extra heft comes courtesy of a larger body that is more capacious and safer than any Micra from the eighties or nineties. 

But some of it comes from the vast amount of high-technology it now carries.


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Unusual tech

It carries it in unusual ways, too. The braking system doesn’t just stop the car quickly and under complete control on demand, it’ll also step in and automatically brake the car to a halt in an emergency if the driver isn’t paying attention. But that’s not all: the clever new Micra also uses its braking system to help corner more accurately (Intelligent Trace Control, in Nissan-speak) and even to control the quality of the ride (Intelligent Ride Control) by applying engine torque or the brakes to minimise fore-and-aft pitching.

Of course, the new Micra also comes with the usual raft of passive and active safety equipment that we’ve all come to expect. It’s all very clever, and packaged inside a car that is one of the very best looking in its class. Hidden rear door handles are a nice touch, and buyers can choose between ten vivid paint colours and four customisation options.

Nice interior too, and if the rear seats lose out a little on head and leg-room compared to some of its rivals, the design and quality of the materials used is beyond reproach and it can be had in three different trim colours: blue, red, and orange.

The Bose stereo features the ability to tune the sound-staging to suit the driver’s mood via speakers mounted in the driver’s headrest. I played with it and found that while I could accurately move the focal point from narrow (which pits the centre of the stage, and hence the music, directly in front of me) to wide (a conventional stereo sound) the quality suffered. Most buyers will find the best sound can be had by leaving it in the middle; Bose is one of the best in the business and the Micra has no need of gimmicky tricks like this as it has one of the best sound systems in its class.

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A few niggles

Pennies have been pinched in that the Micra still only has a five-speed gearbox and sprouts a (fast-disappearing) manual handbrake, but only pedants and motoring journalists paid by the word would complain about either.

But all this counts for naught if the Micra doesn’t drive well, and it does. Kind of.

The problem is the 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine just doesn’t have enough torque to get the job done as well as it needs to. I was constantly reminded that the 103 lb ft it has on tap isn’t enough to be able to drive the car in anything like a spirited fashion. Sure, it gets the job done once it’s wound up, but for the sort of nip-and-tuck city driving that should be the Micra’s forte, it isn’t enough.

Nor do you reap the rewards in decent fuel consumption. Over an admittedly short test route, we saw mid-30s. (An even less powerful 1.0-litre, naturally aspirated version is coming soon too…)

Go diesel

However, the 1.5-litre diesel engine transformed the car. Its 162 lb ft of torque enabled the chassis to flourish, and while the fuel consumption wasn’t a whole lot better than that of the petrol car, the premium to buy isn’t considerable either. If you’re looking to buy a new Micra I’d strongly urge you to buy the oil-burner even in the face of considerable, and mounting, ethical opposition.

And the fancy chassis trickery? Well, I could feel the inside wheels being braked upon hard cornering, but it did tug me in towards the apex as it was designed to do, so that’s a victory of sorts I suppose, even if it did feel unnecessarily obtrusive. 

The rest of it was all good news. As I’ve got older I’ve become secure enough that I no longer worry about ridiculously pseudo-macho stuff like manual gearboxes and non-assisted steering, so while I pride myself, for example, on my ability to parallel park a car in a space only slightly longer than itself, I’ll happily let the car park itself autonomously if it offers the choice…

There is a price to pay, of course because twenty thousand pounds is an awful lot of money to pay for a small car, even one as accomplished as this. We all have our own personal tolerance and sense of value, but I can’t help but think that the new Suzuki Swift would be far nicer to live with, even if it isn’t even a tenth as nice inside.

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Stats

Power – 89bhp

Torque – 162 lb ft

0-62mph –  11.9 seconds

Top speed – 111mph

Kerb weight – 1,113kgs

Official average fuel consumption – 88.3 mpg

CO2 emissions – 85g/km

VED class – Band A

Towing capacity (unbraked) – 1,170kgs

Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles

Price – £14,195

Price as tested - £20,245

Best-in-class

The Ford Fiesta might have an oddly designed interior but it is streets ahead of the competition overall and deserves its place as the best-selling car in its class.

The best of the rest

The VW Polo is a bit boring but it is beautifully finished and would undoubtedly be a pleasure to live with.

Left-field alternative

The interior of the new Suzuki Swift isn’t even close to being as nice as any of the cars above, but it’s two-thirds the price of the Micra and is by far the best car if sheer driving pleasure is a priority.

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