Nissan Micra packs attitude

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Previous generations of Nissan’s Micra evoked different feelings. Some found them cute in a rounded kind of way, decently competent and offering solid value, but unimpressed reviewers called them “bland.”

Then came the 2016 Paris Motor Show and the fifth-generation, K14 version. The world sat up and took notice. That included the Irish, whose journalists voted New Micra their 2018 Car of the Year.

Strong and sharp character lines, a poised and athletic silhouette, and the Alliance’s 900cc turbo-triple engine had changed its character completely.

The world sat up and took notice.

Micra was no longer the sweet-natured, geeky car people used to know; it became the hot new number with which, or whom, one adjourns on lost weekends to places without cellphone coverage.

Hooligan genes

The primary reasons are its chassis, shared with Renault Clio lV, its looks and that little turbo motor. It can be driven lazily because it pulls quite strongly from 1500rpm in top gear, but keeping engine revs simmering above 2500 and letting it roar frees its soul. It’s a “nice” car – with hooligan genes.

Specifically, the steering is nicely weighted; it points, it turns, it brakes, it handles and the engine responds willingly – all without being overtly antisocial. It’s far too much fun for boring people.

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We get three versions here: Visia, Acenta and Acenta Plus. This adds 17” wheels, leather covers for steering wheel, brake and gear knob, and energy-orange flashes on seats and dash.

Entry-level Visia provides most of what you need, with 15” steel rims, electric front windows, powered mirrors with indicator repeaters and LED running lights. Comfort items include a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with remote controls, manual aircon and a two-speaker sound system with the usual connectors. Safety kit takes the form of six airbags, remote central locking plus autolock, cruise control with limiter, automatic headlamps, ABS brakes with brake assist and force distribution, ESP and hill start.

The Blue Train challenge

Acenta adds 16” alloy wheels, front fog lights, extra trim and a four-speaker, seven-inch touchscreen infotainment centre with Apple CarPlay and a USB input that can handle WM4 files. All models use the same engine and five-speed manual gearbox. Suspension consists of McPherson struts in front and torsion beams at the back, while brakes are disc and drum.

Practicalities

● Will your luggage fit? For day-to-day use the boot swallows 300 litres below the cargo cover or 360 up to the roof. Tipping the split seatbacks down (catches can be reached from behind and they fold with a step) increases those numbers to around 837 and 1004 litres. The hatch opens down to 74cm to reveal a 20cm-deep well that measures 60cm long by 99 wide. The space is lit and there’s a spacesaver spare under the floorboard.
● Will your passengers fit? Provided everyone is no taller nor bulkier than average, they should. Our 6’1” tester, on the other hand, complained that when seated “behind himself” his head, knees and feet cried out for relief. The space is equipped with three belts, two head restraints, one seatback pocket and manual window winders. There are no door bins, so passengers have access to just one cup- or bottle-holder in the central console.
● Will you fit? Tall drivers have it easier with a height-adjustable seat, lots more storage space, two cupholders, plenty of headroom and sufficient rearward adjustment to accommodate users up to 2.03 metres in height.

Instruments and controls are well marked and easy to use, while items in the touchscreen menus are happily uncomplicated.

Park and manoeuvre

The gearshift works smoothly and positively, with easy reach to the odd-numbered ratios, the clutch is easy to use and there’s (just) sufficient space for big left feet to find the floor afterward. The parking brake is offset slightly to the left, but it’s easily reachable and works nicely. A 10.3m turning circle means the car is easy to park and manoeuvre.

Nissan Micra has never been about shuttling five big rugby players. It’s for personal transportation, for young families and their possessions, for reliability, ease of use and economy. It still does all that. The only difference is that it now has those hooligan genes.

*Test unit from Nissan SA press fleet.

The numbers

Prices: Visia – R233 500; Acenta – R257 400; Acenta Plus – R272 400
Engine: 898cc, DOHC, three-cylinder, 12-valve turbopetrol
Power: 66kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 140Nm at 2250rpm
Zero to 100km/h: 12.1 seconds
Maximum speed: 170km/h
Real-life fuel consumption: About 6.8l/100km
Tank: 41 litres
Warranty: 6 years/150 000km
Service plan: 3 years/90 000km at 15 000km intervals
Roadside assistance: All Nissans, all day, every day