Due in South Africa in early 2018 and with its sights zeroed in on Ford’s new Fiesta and Honda’s roomy Jazz, the new fifth-generation Nissan Micra was launched to the UK media in Brighton, England last week. Our British correspondent, Wayne Gorrett, was on location for this first-drive report.
What is it?
The latest Micra aims to break new ground by offering attractive styling and a wide range of tech that will appeal to the younger buyer.
In a trend-bucking move away from mass-production of affordable ‘world’ cars (a practice that may now be left to its Datsun sub-brand), Nissan primarily designed and developed its new Micra specifically for the EU, the world’s largest small hatchback market.
Worldwide sales of the Micra supermini have dwindled in recent years while its competitors have long since moved on in terms of design and technology. Nissan is hoping for a revitalisation of sales for a car whose ageing, blobby design appears only to attract an ever-diminishing number of bridge club members and retired librarians.
A bit harsh? Perhaps, but not entirely untrue. Something radical was needed if the Micra name was to continue.
The new Micra is uninhibitedly styled to turn heads and targets an altogether younger demographic. It is lower, wider and longer than its predecessor and its chiselled exterior offers considerably more space inside. Now riding on an agile, re-engineered chassis, the new Micra comes with a full complement of safety kit and connective tech.
Lower, wider and longer, the new Micra is more spacious than it's predecessor.
Its design incorporates many of the current Nissan design cues including the distinctive V-grille, from where sharp crease lines run through to the rear ends boomerang-shaped lights. The floating roof effect of the C-pillar creates an airy feeling. The rear door handles are hidden in the trailing edge of the C-pillars and an extended roofline culminates in a spoiler.
Inside, the new Micra is a huge step forward. The drab interior has been replaced by something more stylish and modern. But most crucial is the quality. This is a far better-finished car than before with more soft-touch plastics and modern fittings. The driving position is lower and the extended width and wheelbase translates into more cabin space and the new ‘gliding wing’ shaped dashboard imparts the feeling of greater cabin width.
The interior represents a major improvement over its predecessor, featuring a new cabin design and enhanced perceived interior quality.
Room for those in the back is about standard for a hatchback in this class and the generous 300-litre boot is deep, which does mean you have to lift heavy things out over a substantial lip. The Micra does however, come with a proper spare wheel as standard. Oddly, the rear windows across the range only have manual winders (UK specification).
In many ‘firsts’ in its segment, the new Micra sees the trickling down of on-board technology from larger more luxurious cars in the upper echelons of Nissan’s current international line-up.
New tech includes lane departure warning, emergency city braking with pedestrian recognition as well as Nissan’s around-view monitor, traffic sign recognition, high beam assist and blind spot warning. There’s a seven-inch full-colour central display providing access to the audio system, navigation, mobile phone, downloadable apps and Siri voice control via Apple CarPlay.
The new Micra is packed with useful features, but Nissan SA is yet to confirm local specification for the local market. Let's hope it's generous!
With due deference again shown to its younger target market, there’s an all-new six-speaker ‘Bose Personal’ sound system, developed through close collaboration with Nissan. Before you get excited about a high-spec, good value for money Micra, if the past is anything to go by, Nissan tends to keep all the fancy stuff out of its budget-friendly cars in South Africa and only offer the basics. Hopefully, the latest Micra will set a new trend for Nissan locally.
Engines and transmissions
Perhaps understandably, it's too early for Nissan SA to offer any details on engines and transmissions planned for the new Micra when it launches here next year. However, at its UK launch, a new range of responsive and downsized engines were available comprising two petrol and one diesel unit and all were linked to a 5-speed manual gearbox. An automatic gearbox is planned for the future but no details were made available.
Each engine has been engineered and tuned to provide the best possible blend of performance and fuel efficiency.
The first petrol engine is the cracking 0.9-litre, 3-cylinder turbo unit which develops 66 kW and a whopping 140 Nm. Driven with sense, the engine consumes only 4.4L/100 km and emits just 99g/km of CO2. But fortunately, it has the longest legs of any three-pot I’ve driven in quite some time and is enormous fun to drive with dollops of enthusiasm.
The new Micra is a frugal daily runner, and depending on the engine, performance is decent too.
The second petrol engine is the naturally aspirated 1.0-litre which is also a three-cylinder unit. It develops just 52 kW of power and delivers a paltry 95 Nm of torque. No fuel economy or emissions figures were available for this engine but to be honest, I would be surprised if anyone cared. It constantly needs to be worked hard to make reasonable progress, running out of puff way too early and struggles to keep up with traffic flow. Its lacklustre character makes overtaking a time-consuming activity requiring both patience and courage.
The only diesel in the UK line-up is a 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine which has a power output of just 66 kW but offers a useful 220 Nm of torque. It’s a sippy little thing too with just 3.3L/100 km fuel consumption and a mere 85g/km of CO2.
Knowing South African roads and conditions as I do, I really hope that Nissan SA gives you a chance to enjoy the little 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol and the strong and efficient diesel engine.
Ride and handling
The car now sits lower and wider than the outgoing model and thanks to some clever tech borrowed from the more expensive crossover range, the Micra is really good to drive.
Around town, the car feels nice and small enough to navigate easily through traffic. After a short drive, you’ll be impressed by the combination of abilities that the Micra exhibits. On a twisty road, the direct steering lets you place the car with confidence and the car offers plenty of grip.
Ride quality is good and the new Micra could quite possibly lead the segment locally provided that specification and engine choice is favourable.
Out on the motorway, the aerodynamic body of the Micra makes road and wind noise a faint hum which is really impressive in this class. The chassis and suspension setup works best here – it eliminates the high-frequency bumps from expansion joints in the road and you end up wondering why the car in front is fidgeting around while you barely feel a thing.
The only niggle is that with such an obviously capable chassis you find yourself wishing for more power most of the time and with the UK engine range at launch, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon – at least not until the mutterings surrounding a hot Nismo version becomes a reality.
Obviously, at this early stage no prices are available on the South African Micra models yet, but in the UK the range starts from an appealing £11,995, which translates to around R200 000, which would be a decent starting point.
Out with the boring, fuddy-duddy image and in with a dramatically more appealing design. Micra is so different it needs a new name?
The Micra is a huge leap forward over the previous models and that is partly thanks to how successful Nissan crossovers have been lately. That success has let some of their tech filter down to the Micra, making it a really accomplished rival to the established competition. It faces a greater challenge than some of its small car rivals, from the premium go-kart experience of the Mini, to the very capable Ford Fiesta and the panache of the Fiat 500, as it has to overcome the stigma of being a historically boring car. Nissan has redefined the character of the Micra in the 2017 model to make it a sportier and more exciting car than it's ever been in the past, which is all evident when you get behind the wheel.
Overall, the new Micra is a great little car and if Nissan SA is careful with the engine and trim choices, they may well be onto a class leader. It is now more worthy of that lofty mantle than it has ever been.