The Nissan Micra is the sort of car you'd consider if you are looking at buying your first ever new-car or a second family car as a runabout.
Nissan has come a long way with the Nissan Micra badge over the past few years and Australians have finally caught up to the rest of the world with the launch of the all-new model.
From the outside the new Nissan Micra is now far less frumpy and inoffensive than before. Those who loved the previous-generation may argue that it has lost some of its character but the idea of a mass-produced car is to appeal to the masses, something the old Micra never really did.
Nissan has also expanded the Micra lineup with two different engines and three different variants, so there is now a Micra for everyone.
Prices start from $12,990 for the 1.2-litre five-speed manual ST (pictured) and go all the way to $18,990 for the 1.5-litre four-speed automatic Ti. In between, there are four additional model variants to choose from.
The 1.2-litre is ideal if all the driving you'll ever do is around the city and the occasional run to the coast. It's best suited to journeys that will take no more than an hour. The tiny engine is working well when coupled to a manual transmission but even then, it needs to be pushed to get it up to speed. If you're worried about your 17 year-old daughter speeding, then you needn't worry with this engine.
Match the 1.2-litre with an automatic transmission and you'll find that 56 kW and 100 Nm of torque is just enough to make a car move (even if it does weigh only 950kg). If you live in a hilly part of town, best to stick with a manual or upgrade to the bigger engine.
If you can't be bothered to drive a manual or are yet to learn how to drive one, your punishment will be to pay an extra $2000 for the 1.5-litre engine and an additional $2000 for an automatic transmission. Sure, you can get the base model in an auto but you'll find yourself wondering why the Micra is invariably not accelerating fast enough as you attempt to merge onto the highway.
Learning to drive a manual (and hence choosing the 1.2-litre ST if price is the big decider) is the preferred option. Best of all, if you can drive a 'stick', it opens up an opportunity with the Holden Barina Spark as a good alternative to the Micra. Make sure you drive one of those for comparison before you spend your money.
The 1.5-litre engine manages a more than reasonable 75kW and 136Nm of torque. When driven back to back with the 1.2-litre, it's a noticeable improvement and the better choice for buyers intending to drive outside just the city or suburbs.
You'd be happy to know that fuel economy is rated as low as 5.9L/100km for the 1.2-litre manual. But here's the catch: since the 1.2-litre engine has to work much harder when coupled to an automatic gearbox, it chews up 6.5L/100km. Not much more than the manual but only 0.1L/km less than the 1.5-litre automatic. In fact, the 1.5-litre manual uses 6.5L/100km (compared with 6.6 for auto), so if you can afford an extra $2000 to upgrade engines from 1.2 to 1.5 (also upgrading from ST grade to ST-L) it's well and truly worth it.
The one thing that the Nissan Micra does much better than its competition is ride and handling. It behaves itself extremely well around corners and its impressive 4.5 metre turning radius makes getting in and out of tight spaces a breeze. Parking sensors are available on all three variants (standard on the Ti) and although you may not need them for a car this micro, they do make the driving experience even simpler.
Sit inside and you'll instantly be reminded that this isn't an expensive car. The new Nissan Micra is made in Thailand and although the quality is just as good as anything from Japan, it would have been nicer if the use of hard plastics were minimised, as it was in its UK-made predecessor.
In saying that, had it been built in the UK or Japan, you can bet your house it wouldn't start from $12,990. This is a Nissan built to appeal to the masses, which are flocking to the light-car segment and for that to work it needed to be as cheap as possible. So if you get inside and think "oh, it certainly doesn't look like my parent's Maxima or my friend's old Micra", remember it's also significantly cheaper.
For $12,990 you get a bundle of technology and a reliable new car with a full new car warranty. The benefit of buying a new car, even if it's cheap like a Micra, is that it has the latest in safety technology.
While you can find a decent used car for about $13-18,000, which will be bigger and might potentially be more practical, it's more than likely going to be missing the all-important and life-saving benefits like side airbags. If anyone tries to convince you that side airbags are not neccesary, just remember that with this protection onboard you have around half the chance of dying or having brain injury if a side-impact crash does occur. There is a big push in the industry to make side airbags mandatory and you'd have to be mad to buy a car without them.
Although other manufacturers have decided to offer side-airbags as an option on some base models, the good people at Nissan have ensured that if you're going to buy a Micra, it will come with all the safety features standard. So even the very base model $12,990 Micra comes with front and side airbags, Bluetooth and an auxillary port for the stereo - three essential features that every new car should have.
The seats are comfortable for short to medium journeys but certainly don't plan a drive from Sydney to Brisbane too often. You can fit two adults in the back seat for short journeys but they won't want to be stuck there for hours. As for three adults, forget it.
The four-speaker stereo system presents good sound quality and is pretty easy to use (the Ti version has a better user interface). Nonetheless, it doesn't have native iPod/iPhone support, which is increasingly close to a 'fail' on Nissan's part - especially given the car's target market. It does come with an auxiliary input though, so you can simply connect your Apple product up that way. It would've been nice to have the one connection that delivers music and charges at the same time.
It also doesn't have Bluetooth audio streaming, which would've fixed the need for costly wiring to accommodate an iPhone/iPod but also added support for nearly all smart phones to stream music direct to the car's stereo.
Those little niggling issues aside, the one rather irritating thing about the Micra or pretty much any car in the ultra-light segment is cabin noise. This applies more to the 1.2-litre ST variant as you really have to rev it hard to get it to perform. During hard acceleration (e.g. merging on to a highway or overtaking) the Micra tends to emit a considerable amount of noise which you're probably not expecting to hear from a new car. This is exactly the same issue facing the Barina Spark. Both cars can do with a little more soundproofing inside the cabin.
Overall, there are a great deal of good things about the Micra. It has a spacious interior for a car its size, it has smart features like the passenger seat compartment which provides an ideal location to place your wallet or mobile phone. It certainly ticks all the safety boxes and comes in at a very affordable price.
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