Nissan Micra: Waving goodbye to mediocrity
The last Nissan Micra was well below average, but the new version is a return to form
AN unshakeable rule of the car industry is that each new model is supposed to be better than the one it replaces.
It is why the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Fiesta - to take two long-running nameplates - that you can buy today is safer, faster, more economical, bigger, quieter, nicer to drive and more high-tech than the one that sat in the showroom five or 10 years ago.
This inexorable progress, does however, hit a snag every so often.
The last Nissan Micra was one example of a manufacturer who should know better taking turning into an evolutionary cul-de-sac.
Actually, it was worse than that, because it was a retrograde product. It wasn't as good as the much-loved bubble- and cloud-shaped Micras that preceded it.
It felt cheap and nasty and - of particular relevance to a small car - it also lacked the charm and sense of fun that had made earlier Micra models such objects of affection and loyalty. Nissan flogged it for six years, but can you picture what it looks like? 'Forgettable' doesn't begin to describe it...
Realising it needed to buck up its ideas, Nissan has aimed to replace the forgettable old Micra with something that returns it to the top of the small car evolutionary tree.
To this end, the now-much-more-like-it Micra benefits from a thoroughly overhauled platform taken from the old car, this time engineered to take account of the expectations and preferences of European car buyers. That means new suspension, for example, which now works properly on roads like ours.
It also gets a range of Renault-sourced engines - the two manufacturers have an 'alliance' - which is a very good thing.
So too is the news that the Micra is now built at a Renault factory in France instead of being sent to these shores from plants in Thailand and India, as was the old one.
And while the Micra is longer, wider and lower than any previous version, the styling is now supermini-generic and doesn't recapture the distinctive soft-edged friendliness of older Micras. It is, though, easier on the eye than the old car.
Playing it safe in the design department hasn't blunted the appeal of class-leaders such as the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza, so Nissan has probably judged the Micra's looks correctly.
Both in quality of materials and execution, the interior is massively better than the old car. Clear instruments and a centrally-mounted dashtop touchscreen - at least on higher models - set the tone, with comfortable front seats and a sensible driving position
All Micras are five-door hatchbacks now - three-door hatches are rapidly becoming an endangered species - and the new car's cabin is a vast leap forward on what went before.
Both in quality of materials and execution, the interior is massively better than the old car.
Clear instruments and a centrally-mounted dashtop touchscreen - at least on higher models - set the tone, with comfortable front seats and a sensible driving position.
There is space even for lankier frames and plenty of storage space for phones and water bottles.
Though children won't have much to complain about, the rear seats aren't quite as commodious as those in the front. This is not necessarily a major drawback for a car in the Micra's size class, however.
The boot is bigger than that of the last car, with a competitive volume of 300 litres - on a par with the Citroen C3 and Ford Fiesta, for example, though down on the Seat Ibiza's 355 litres.
Five trim levels are offered in a range with starting prices between £12,295 and £17,735.
Visia is the entry model, and pretty spartan it is too; another £1,000 gets you into a Visia+ which gains manual air conditioning and engine stop-start; Acenta prices start at £14,445, with 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, body colour mirrors and door handles, smartphone mirroring and a seven-inch touchscreen among the refinments.
It is then a near-£2,000 jump to N-Connecta trim, with heated and electrically-folding door mirrors, automatic air conditioning, satnav, DAB radio and leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Top of the range, as tested, is the Tekna, which starts at £17,735. Small cars, in my view, start to make less sense at this price point, though the Tekna is fully loaded with 17-inch alloys, keyless entry, a Bose stereo and a rear-view camera and parking sensors.
To these trim levels, various personalisation packs can be added, allowing you to add colour to the dashboard and seat trim, or the alloy wheels and side skirts, for example.
Safety is a strong point, with the Micra earning a five-star Euro Ncap rating. That is backed up by an impressive array of standard equipment, from the Visia up: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, high-beam assist, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition among its armoury.
Engines include two petrol units - a 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo with 89bhp and a 1.0-litre petrol with 70bhp - and a 1.5-litre diesel with 89bhp. All come with a five-speed manual gearbox.
Decent to drive, good looking, packed with safety features and comfortable, it is light years better than the car it replaces - and a return to form for the Micra
I tested the 900cc engine. Driving instructors may not fall in love with this particular version of the Micra; from a standstill, the clutch is surprisingly sensitive and difficult to operate smoothly - certainly more so than in Renaults with the same engine - but on the move it is a punchy, convincing little unit.
Other engines and gearboxes are expected to join the line-up in due course.
The Micra driving experience is mature and refined, as is becoming the minimum expected in this competitive class. It never feels like there is a hot hatch straining to get out from the Nissan's chassis, but as a comfortable, easy-going companion, the Micra is well-judged.
'Well-judged' ably sums up the new Micra, in fact. It doesn't particularly set new standards in the supermini class, but it sees Nissan back in a front-running position.
Decent to drive, good looking, packed with safety features and comfortable, it is light years better than the car it replaces - and a return to form for the Micra.
AT A GLANCE
Nissan Micra IG-T 90 Tekna
Price: £17,735. As tested £18,310, with metallic paint £575
Engine and transmission: 0.9-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 89bhp, 103lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 109mph, 0-62mph in 12.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 61.4mpg (EU combined), 40.3mpg (real world), 104g/km
Car tax: £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 19 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Dual-rated: Five stars with safety pack (91/79/79/72), four stars as standard (91/79/68/49), 2017