Time was when the Micra was a big-selling, award-winning car – it was the first Japanese car to become European Car of the Year. But that was a long time ago. Since then the Micra has fallen out of the top ten rankings in Europe, which is why this fifth-generation model really matters to Nissan. Should it matter to us?
The new car certainly signals a new departure with the way it looks. It’s bigger, up by 75mm in the wheelbase, as well as being longer, wider and lower. It contains a great deal of engineering that is designed to titivate European tastebuds.
A revised platform underneath features heavily revised suspension, which is backed up by Chassis Control, a system designed to improve ride and handling by tweaking the braking in corners.
You can have petrol or diesel engines but both petrols are three-cylinder units, compared to the 1.5-litre 89bhp four-pot diesel. The petrol unit we tested, a 900cc turbocharged engine, also produced 89bhp.
It produces it in a thoroughly unassuming way, albeit with that pleasant three-pot thrum. A small engine like this ought to have some advantages in terms of emissions and weight, but actually it gives a pretty fair account of itself for such a small engine. There’s a decent spread of power and torque, yet there’s also a nice little zip to the top end.
There’s not exactly a great shove anywhere, but what you get you get with some polish and really not a lot of noise. There’s not enough there to seriously worry the two benchmark cars, the VW Polo and Ford’s Fiesta, but the handling has made greater strides.
It’s not easy to make a small car handle in a mature way, but Nissan has given it a mighty shot with the new Micra – it’s lightyears ahead of earlier models. Around town it’s manoeuvrable and light. Out of town you appreciate good levels of grip helped by sound body control. Even the ride is quite supple and grown-up.
On motorways it gives a good account of itself, although perhaps it’s not quite at VW Polo levels of sophistication. Still, it’s mighty impressive. It’s not quite as much fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta either, but it remains a safe and stable car to drive.
While the handling is a big step forward, the cabin is simply a new departure entirely, and that’s a very good thing given how poor the previous version was. One of the new departures is the ability to personalise the cabin with some dramatic colourways. For £350 that seems a fun and tempting attraction.
But this isn’t some gimmicky interior, it has a feeling of quality about which has been sadly lacking in recent Micra models. Up front there is space to go with the quality too, with the driver sitting noticeably lower than before. In the back it’s more restricted, partly down to the roofline, but a lot of B-segment cars don’t carry passengers that often anyway.
The NissanConnect infotainment system, working through a 7in touchscreen, is a further step forward if not quite as cutting edge as some. It works quite simply and is therefore easy to use, although if you want a DAB tuner to go with that you’ll need to buy the near top end N-Connecta trim.
There are five trim levels From Visia to Tekna, but most buyers will probably go for the third trim – Acenta – and up since below that you don’t get air con or alloys. With prices starting at £14,000 or so, most will find the budget for a better set of standard equipment.
In the real world, we managed a respectable 45.3mpg against the claimed 61.4mpg, but that real world figure puts it in the mix with the competition. And emissions of 104g/km will be welcome as well.
The new Micra is such a step forward that it really ought to help restore the car’s reputation with a discerning European audience. But, while it’s much better, it’s not been operating in isolation. The competition in superminis is extremely competitive, and we’re not sure the new Micra can actually beat cars like the VW Polo or Ford Fiesta, or even the Mini Cooper or Mazda 2.
But it’s close, closer than it’s ever been, and the stylish looks, impressive cabin and mature handling and ride should help it claw back some sales the last model deservedly lost.
Graham Scott is a writer AutoCar.Reuse content