Thursday 27 July 2017

Six steps that separate the new Nissan Micra from old

Eye-catching revamp sets new benchmark

Nissan Micra
Nissan Micra
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

They say each of us is only six or fewer contacts from knowing everyone else in the world. The 'Six degrees of Separation' theory says we're a maximum of half-a-dozen "friend-of-a-friend" steps from knowing everyone.

I'd say you'd need far fewer stages to find everyone who has driven or been acquainted with someone who owned a Nissan Micra. It has been part and parcel of so many people's lives - from being a first to a last car. The car has spanned generations, social classes, geographical boundaries (it's been called March in most Asian countries).

And it has had its critics: it was for 'old people', 'young wans' (girls), its relatively-recent vintage bulbous headlights were not nice (I agree) and so on. Yet it has always been the car millions of us turned to for daughter, uncle or granny when the need arose.

Now, however, it has changed. Utterly. So much so I think it would be helpful to charter that revolution in six 'steps' and to see if the changes are for better or worse.

1 It is totally different in shape and looks. Now that the old one has been replaced, I'm feeling nostalgically wistful for it. But don't worry, there will be used versions on the go for years. I like the look of this a lot. It is sharp, focused and smartly crafted. Based on the next-gen Renault Clio, it has edges where the previous had 'bulges'. One downside is that rear visibility is impinged a bit by thick pillars. I was glad of rear-parking sensors/reversing camera on my test car. Overall though, it's a massive improvement.

2 The cabin is significantly altered with crisp lines, clinically clear instrumentation and decent seats. I liked its simple, large dials. My version had top-spec materials, which always lift impressions, but down the grades, expect more practical applications. There was a good feel of space. But while we had excellent room at the front, space (especially headroom) at the rear was disappointing. The boot, thankfully, is nice and roomy. Overall, change is substantially for the better.

3 The 0.9-litre 3cyl petrol engine is well used in Nissan/Renault vehicles. I have great time for it. In the Micra's case, it sounded a bit noisy on start-up and in lower gears/at higher revs. But that is the nature of 3cyl engines; you like the sound or you don't. I love it. This was excellent on the motorway (5spd gearbox) but I could only get 7-litres/100km in my mix of driving. Against that, its nature encourages peppy acceleration and being quick off-the-mark from lights. Overall a big plus: just watch the fuel consumption.

4 The car I drove on test was perked to the gills with individualisations and specs. There are 65 interior and exterior personalisation options. Which means you'd have to go a good few steps to find one the same as yours if you really have a mind to. Not sure about the orange insets on the outside of my test car but I liked them in the cabin. My Bose stereo speakers generated a real surround sound too. I'm tempted to say this is now a car for younger drivers but that is ageist. This is a car for the young at heart. It can be a little bit of fun. Just don't overdo the personalisation.

5 Renault Clios have always been better-driving small cars and this, a close relation to the next generation Renault, is set up for a far sportier feel than the old Micra. I have to blame the tyres (on 17ins alloys) for too much road noise over moderately rough surfaces and, of course, Dublin-centre's version of Holey City. Rivals (Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Clio) ride that bit more smoothly.

6 Nissan had a chance to abolish the Micra name for us - given the extent of change in shape, nature and market orientation. They didn't, choosing instead to make it plausible for traditional owners to see its merits while trying to attract an audience who'd have previously scoffed at the idea of owning one. In a way that was the biggest step of all.

The package that ensued has, I think, justified the decision. I'm not saying it is a world beater. It is, after all, a supermini, a small car that must prioritise practicality. It does that in strong measure, despite my reservations on fuel consumption (there is also a 1-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel), road noise (probably model-trim specific) and rear-seat headroom. But it creates a whole new image for what Micra (March) will mean from now on.

For that, they have earned a high score for an eye-catching motor that sets its own sort of new standard in a competitive car segment. Me? I'd have no problem owning one. And my daughters thought it smart... cute even. That's just two examples of it spanning the generation gap.

Which means in future you will probably need even fewer friend-of-a-friend steps to make a Micra acquaintance.

Facts & figures

Nissan Micra 5dr 0.9-litre turbo 3cyl petrol, 104g/km, €190 road tax. Prices start: €16,650. SVE tested: €24,400.

Standard spec: 15ins wheels, LED daytime running lights, front electric windows, air con, 60/40 rear seats, radio/CD. SV adds 16ins alloys, 7ins display audio/Apple Car Play, cruise control. SV Premium adds front fogs, electric/folding/heated mirrors, auto air con, Nissan Connect. SVE adds 17ins alloys, rear-view monitor/parking sensors, Bose six-speaker audio, Safety Pack (high-beam assist, lane departure warning, front fogs, rain sensor), interior/exterior personalisation (orange insets/adornments).

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