Britain loves the Nissan Micra. Since 1982 the diminutive hatchback has been impressing UK small car buyers with its functionality, practicality and reliability. One third of the Nissan Micras still in use in Europe can be found in British garages and on British driveways. And, until recently, the Japanese manufacturer even chose to build the Micra in the UK, at Nissan’s Sunderland plant in the North East.
British car buyers shouldn’t take the fact that production of the new, fourth generation, Micra has shifted elsewhere as a letdown for the UK economy; the Sunderland plant is busier than ever with the new electric Leaf and distinctive Juke.
Instead, the shift of production to plants as far afield as China and Mexico reflects the new Micra’s status as a ‘global vehicle’.
So what can UK Micra fans expect to see as a result of the Micra’s new push for international recognition?
Well, a new CVT automatic version for a start. The automatic gearbox option is an important one in the Micra line-up, with the combination of cost effectiveness, ease of use around town, five-door practicality and an automatic transmission proving popular with mature drivers.
Although less economical than the five-speed manual model, the CVT-equipped Micra boasts better fuel economy than a traditional torque-convertor automatic and offers smoother progress, too, thanks to the lack of ‘stepped’ gear changes. Nissan has developed the new Micra’s compact and lightweight CVT transmission specifically for the job, and with the intention of working alongside the also all-new three-cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine.
Another hint at the new Micra’s international status is the lack of a diesel in the line-up. Not every market is as keen on the fuel as the UK and to avoid the costs for manufacturer and customer of producing a diesel version Nissan has opted to take the unconventional approach of supercharging the small petrol unit for greater efficiency.
That version of the engine, complete with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, will arrive later in 2011. For the mean time the CVT transmission is attached to the standard 1.2-litre engine with positive results. The engine itself is smoother and more refined than some rival three-cylinder units – particularly at idle – and revs freely for relatively refined progress.
CVT transmissions, almost without fail, are accompanied by a whiny engine note and the Micra is no exception, but it’s hardly intrusive and the transmission appears tuned to opt for as high a ratio as possible even when crawling in traffic. Kick-down response is better than might be expected, too, and, although performance is hardly scintillating, the Micra puts in a decent performance in a straight line for uphill drags and tractor-passing.
The all new platform on which the Micra is based is destined for use in two other compact models from the Japanese manufacturer but, for the mean time, is put to good use in furthering the Micra’s city car potential. The turning circle is excellent and the compact, familiar bubble shape and accompanying dimensions make short work of parking. Even so, a useful and simple to operate parking space measuring system is available.
Ride quality feels a little firm over some winter-worn road surfaces, but traditional strong build quality ensures no rattles or knocks are present. Light steering is a bonus in the Micra’s intended environment and visibility is excellent all around.
Inside, the Micra feels modern by design. The rotary centre console layout is an efficient and charismatic use of space and the cabin feels reasonably spacious for a compact car. Storage is good and quality high, even if the dashboard plastics are hard to the touch.
Nissan expects to sell some 17,000 examples in the first full year, the majority of which are likely to be mid-range Acenta models. Strong specification furthers its cause in terms of value adding toys and plain useful equipment.
Cruise control, 15-inch alloys, driver’s arm rest, a bag holder and electric mirrors are nice to have. Boot illumination, map reading lights and a trip computer are functional additions to the generous standard specification that show thought has gone into model.
The new Micra may have been designed with the global market in mind, but it’s clear that the car still boasts the qualities that have made it such a success in Britain for fast approaching three decades.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Nissan Micra 1.2 Acenta CVT, £11,545 on the road.
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol unit developing 79bhp and 81lb/ft of torque.
Transmission: CVT transmission driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 100mph, 0-62mph 14.5 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 125g/km.
By Richard M Hammond