2012 Nissan Micra Launch

Not Quite A Knockout Blow from The Littlest Nissan
By Imthishan Giado

Where are all these subcompacts coming from? In the last year alone, Chevy has launched the impressive Sonic, Toyota countered with the all-new Yaris and now Nissan has weighed in with its little Micra, set to shake things up with a sub-AED50k price tag. But will cute looks and an impressive looking spec sheet be enough to stop Toyota’s sales titan in its tracks?

This may be the Micra’s first appearance in the Middle East, but the car has been around in other markets since 1982. With our low petrol prices, there’s never been huge demand for super-fuel-efficient cars of this ilk, but as the poet Dylan would say, the times, they are-a-changing. With more and more people opting for the ease of long-term leases, there’s been an explosion in demand for cheap wheels, with Toyota’s Yaris being the obvious winner.

The Micra is aiming to take a huge bite of the Yaris’s market share as well as its other rival, the oft-forgotten but eternally cheap Mitsubishi Lancer. How is it planning to do this? Well first off, it’s going to be very cheap. How cheap? How does a recommended starting price of AED44,500 sound to you?

Second, it’s going to be targeted at ‘youth’. Youth like toys. Youth also apparently like bright colours. Ergo, the Nissan Micra will have lots of toys. And some bright colours. Ten to be exact, including an eye-searing shade of lime green, or a 350Z-mimicking burnt orange hue that’s somewhat less offensive to the retina.

Looks wise…it’s a box on wheels. OK, a wheel at each corner stance might make the best possible use of space and the competition isn’t much better, with the Yaris being a rolling punchline for most of its existence. Still, one only has to look to the funkily-styled Sonic to understand that you can have your stylistic cake and eat it too, if you know what I mean. By comparison, the Micra has little in the way of design flourishes, even compared to the froggy previous version; we never got that here, but it was a daring car, to say the least.

On the toy count, there’s some interesting options, and some surprising omissions. For instance, you get standard push button start and an intelligent key you can leave in your pocket as well as automatic folding door mirrors and automatic headlights on the full spec versions, and alloy wheels.

But there’s a lot that’s seemingly missing. No Bluetooth available except as a dealer-supplied option, and the standard stereo only sports an AUX jack, no USB port. Steering wheel controls? Nope. Telescopic steering? Nope. All available on the competition, which just goes to show you how brutal things are.

Actually, I’m being slightly harsh. The Micra was actually designed two years ago as a car for developing markets, not a super-stylish supermini for first world countries and it’s taken a while to reach the Middle East as part of its global rollout. Two years as it turns out, is a long time in the world of design, and other manufacturers – I haven’t mentioned the Koreans once yet, which tells you a lot about the kinds of value they are capable of offering – have closed the gap.

But perhaps all hope is not lost, and the Micra can redeem itself on the road. On our short test route, I eagerly slid behind the wheel of our lime-green car and was confronted by…plastic. Plastic everywhere and it didn’t feel like the best quality stuff in the world either, with sharp edges, shiny textures and only acceptable levels of fit and finish. Space up front for the driver and his willing copilot is good and there’s a hefty range of adjustment available including height, so you don’t miss that telescoping wheel too much. In typical Nissan fashion, everything is well labeled and falls to hand; there’s not much in terms of adjustment period. Visibility from the big glass expanse is excellent in all directions – the one benefit of going boxy rather than sexy.

The good news sorta continues in the back seat if you’re under six foot, because then you’ll be able to fit. Taller and that and you’re walking. To be fair, this is a supermini so to be able fit four regular sized adults is a reasonable feat. Luggage? Pack light, because the boot is tiny. At least everyone will be cool and comfortable because Nissan’s A/C is predictably superb, cooling the admittedly small cabin down with artic levels of efficiency.

Under the hood is a thrifty 1.5-litre four cylinder, good for 99bhp at a high-ish 6000rpm and 100lb ft of torque peaking at 4000 rpm. It’s all hooked up to either a five-speed manual or a four speed automatic. That’s slap bang between the 84bhp 1.3-litre Yaris and the 115bhp 1.5-litre Sonic. Unsurprisingly, performance is quite middle of the road.

The little blip of torque hits nice and early so the Micra pulls quite well to 100kph after which things take a bit of break. Nissan have never exactly had a reputation for refinement and the Micra doesn’t bely it, so there’s a fair bit of harshness towards the top end, although the gearbox is relatively smooth through the few cogs it has. As a rental car, it’s got perfectly acceptable levels of performance and the same goes towards the ride and handling – composed in the former, and tidy in the latter. The electric power steering is obviously weighted towards quick movements in parking lots rather than high speed cornering, and with those skinny 15-inch alloys, it’s entirely possible to break the rear end loose if you lift off suddenly in a corner. Fun, but standard stability control would be nice, Nissan.

Verdict

The Micra is a hard car to sum up. On the one hand, it feels like a very cynical car, brutally designed downwards to hit that price point. Not a cent extra seems to have been spent on interesting design elements, and fit and finish could be better, even though I have little doubt that with its Indian origins, it’ll take a tough beating every day of its life without complaint. Compounding this is the fact to drive, the Micra is almost completely without character or excitement. Not that you’ll be excited, sitting every day in that cheap interior.

But how is this different from what Volkswagen is doing with the Jetta? Again, that was once a premium product with superbly finished interiors and sporty handling, but today it’s been stripped down to sub-Corolla levels of blandness. Of course, everyone’s bought it, so that strategy clearly paid off for Wolfsburg, and it’ll no doubt pay off for the cheapest Nissan you can buy.

And then there’s those rivals. The Yaris feels better inside, is more fun to drive, while the Sonic is nearly as cheap but doubles down on eye catching looks and feels solid on the road at highway speeds. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a tough segment to be in right now, and the Micra’s is only an average entry, a perfectly decent, perfectly unexciting car to buy. That’s just not enough.

 

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