Few people will remember the original Nissan Micra, a bland box on wheels that improved marginally when production moved to the company’s Sunderland plant as the generations progressed.
Contrast that original with the latest Micra, which feels like you are viewing it through a sea of tears after being poked in the eyes with a sharp stick.
It’s a stand-out car because Nissan has taken outward reinvention to its ultimate stage while masking seemingly ordinary mechanicals. Sophisticated is not a word to describe its under-the-skin oily bits but externally you rightly expect it to be something really whizzy.
It seems that buyers are really taken with the new Micra, so much so that they spend an average £500 on personalising their new car. On our Tekna test car, Nissan had indeed spent £550 on an exterior pack that included 17-inch gloss black and chrome alloy wheels with splashes of chrome to emphasise the startling lines of the car.
Inside, there was another £1,050 on leather trim with heated front seats but the Micra does come laden with goodies as part of the standard price.
Across Europe, evidently Energy Orange is the biggest seller among customising customers but in aptly-named Passion Red the car looked really appealing. Some people don’t like red cars but they are distinctive as a result. Red has been the colour of choice on the cars we liked most – Range Rover, Jag XJS, VW Passat estate, Ford S-MAX although the rule has been broken on our latest car, a Galaxy, which is in a deep shade of blue.
On the Micra, it was made to look bitty by the use of silver for the door mirror housings but the various patches of black suited it – the jury’s still out on those chrome extras that came with the exterior pack.
Naturally, the Tekna comes loaded with standard features but then at £17,870 (£575 less if you don’t tick the box for metallic paint) it really has to. We are growing to appreciate keyless entry and push button starting, the latter seen as a modern novelty when every car once had a pull or push control to spin the starter motor into life. Twisting just the ignition key to unlock the steering and fire up the motor was seen as an advance in the ’70s, now it’s frowned on as being downmarket.
The good thing is that Nissan gives you a proper key – when first seen on the Micra 14 years ago keyless entry involved a key the size of a fact credit card and was a bit of a pain.
Surprisingly not as much of a pain as it might have been was the ride quality of the test car, despite those 17-inch alloys shod with 45 profile tyres that allow very little sidewall flex to help the suspension and seats do their job. It shows how well tuned the Nissan’s ride quality is.
When compared with the latest Ford Fiesta, which has enjoyed truly great styling for the last nine years, the Micra’s game of catch-up does not extend to such good ride quality or mechanical sophistication.
Both it and the latest Fiesta Zetec we drove shared the same three cylinder, 1.0 litre engine layout but Ford has taken great pains in the Fiesta to subdue any harshness from the engine with better noise and vibration control. The result is that the Fiesta, offering 10bhp more power than the Nissan, has a far more grown-up feel and runs more cleanly.
They match each other for day-to-day fuel consumption in the real world despite the Nissan’s five speed manual gearbox and the Fiesta’s six speed unit that brings as its real benefit more relaxed cruising and better driveability.
At times, the Nissan needs working hard to get the best from it, the result of a one cog compromise in the transmission and a 10bhp deficit in horsepower, and this is reflected by its lesser performance figures when compared to the Ford.
The Fiesta also seems to offer better interior space, important if you need to carry rear passengers. Boot space is roughly equivalent when all five seats are in use – the Micra goes eight better at 300 litres. But fold the seats and the Fiesta’s 1,093 litres give it an 89 litre advantage.
The Micra driver’s legroom is improved by the flat-bottom steering wheel, a dissuader for those who adopt the technique of feeding the wheel through the hands. It has the usual array of button controls but at this money most buyers would expect four electric windows all round controlled from the driver’s door rather than the wind-up items in the rear that children can fiddle with.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Nissan Micra Tekna 0.9l IG-T 90
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 12.1 secs
Top speed: 109 mph
PS: 90 @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 140 Nm @ 2250 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 61.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 104 g/km