Nissan's improved Indian-built Micra still has to play to a wide audience. June Neary wonders whether British buyers will appreciate its charms.
Will It Suit Me?
First up, an admission. I absolutely loved this car's third generation pre-2010 predecessor. There was something delightfully eccentric about it, from its Bakelite-effect switches to its oddly haphazard placing of minor controls. I loved the way you could see the tops of the headlight pods from the driver's seat and I loved its bubbly styling. When I first caught a glimpse of the MK4 Micra, it was like seeing the old car's plain Jane sister. No matter how you care to dress it up, that car lacked the old model's extrovert nature. Nissan obviously thought so too because in the Autumn of 2013, they gave their little supermini a substantial facelift, hence the need for my re-acquaintance with it here. With slicker exterior styling, a much-improved interior, more equipment and better value for money, this car now looks a much better prospect.
It's hard to grumble when it comes to the amount of space you get. This Micra is almost supermini-sized, yet is priced against many smaller citycars. If you were looking at spending a £10,000 budget on one of those, you'll appreciate the extra space this car can offer, particularly when you get into the back. This really helps if, for example, you're trying to insert a kid into a child seat. Do bear in mind that the rear seat doesn't split, the bench instead folding down in one piece, but it does fold agreeably flat which is not commonplace in this class of car. With the rear seat in place, there's 265-litres of space available. Drop the bench and there's 605 litres of room. Storage space elsewhere in the cabin is generous with two glove boxes, a shelf, cup-holders and door bins. Perhaps the most extravagant piece of design on the interior are the doorhandles, fashioned as they are into an ornate circular design. Nissan designed the Micra to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP stability control fitted as standard alongside ABS brakes and six airbags. Seatbelt pretensioners also make the equipment list on all models, while Nissan's latest chassis offers top level impact protection.
Behind the Wheel
The Micra offers decent all-round visibility from behind the wheel but it earns a black mark in not having a telescoping steering column, the wheel instead being adjustable for rake only. This means that shorter drivers will end up sitting very close to the large steering wheel in order to reach the pedals. The seats are very comfortable and the three-cylinder 1.2-litre engine of my test car was decently refined. You'll need to work the 98PS 1.2 DIG-S unit quite hard if you need to get a wiggle on, but otherwise it's perfectly at home in town and a better bet if you can stretch to it than the base 80PS 12v powerplant. Both are petrol engines: there's no call for diesels in Micra-land. The manual gearchange has a sweet shift action and there's a CVT automatic on offer if you don't fancy working out your clutch leg. The electrically-assisted power steering again excels in town, where it makes parking and cheeky U-turns a doddle, but out on the open road I think I'd prefer something with a little more feel to it.
Value For Money
Micra prices haven't changed much, which means you'll pay somewhere in the £10,000 to £15,000 bracket. This Nissan has been designed to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP stability control fitted as standard alongside ABS brakes and six airbags. Seatbelt pretensioners also make the equipment list on all models, while Nissan's V-platform architecture offers top level impact protection. A wide range of personalisation options is available from Acenta grade, so owners can now specify their preferred colour of wheel centre caps and door mirrors on the exterior, while inside they can personalise their gear knob, air-vent, gear stick surround and velour mats to make their car unique. The interior also now benefits from dash-mounted AUX-in and USB slots linked to all audio units, while a 12v socket has been added, allowing mobile phones or MP3 players to be recharged on the move with ease. All but entry-level Visia models benefit from audio equipment that has been better integrated into the centre console with matching gloss and matt black finishers as appropriate. There's also the availability of Parking Slot Measurement and Rear Parking Sensors. PSM measures parking slots and alerts the driver via a dashboard display as to whether the Micra can be safely parked in the space or not: the system can even be adjusted to account for the driver's skill - amateur, normal or expert. A panoramic glass roof is available as on option on Tekna grade.
Could I Live With One?
The Nissan Micra is an extremely good small car that's now a much better bet in fourth generation form. But will British buyers notice? Perhaps they ought to. If you can't decide between a little citycar and a slightly larger supermini, this Nissan is an attractively priced and efficient compromise between the two. True, it's still not that charismatic - if you want funkier styling, I'd recommend you spring for a Juke. But I could now happily live with one. In fact, I think it might surprise you.