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From a frog lookalike to something with a more universal appeal, the Nissan Micra has a come a long way since the last generation. Previously, we only had one trim level and one driveline available. Now, there are three grades and two engines and transmissions, enabling the Micra to take on a broader audience.
In ST-L trim, as tested, there's a lot to like about Nissan's light car. For starters, the price is not unreasonable.
At $14,990 (plus $395 for metallic paint) the Nissan Micra ST-L manual is exactly the same as the ST automatic. If you can drive a manual, and $15,000 is your budget, then leave the lethargic 1.2-litre powered ST off your shopping list and step up to the 1.5-litre four-cylinder found in the ST-L. The reason? Well, there's a difference between the two, and it's less obvious than you'd think.
Power is the most apparent difference. With the 1.2-litre producing just 56kW and 100Nm, and the 1.5-litre making 75kW and 136Nm, it's fairly obvious which is the more pleasant drive. Another difference is how much the automatic affects the outcome.
As a manual, the 1.2-litre consumes 5.9L/100km and makes 138g/km of carbon-dioxide. Add an auto to it, and fuel consumption jumps by 0.6L/100km and CO2 climbs to 154g/km.
The 1.5-litre as a manual equals the 1.2-litre auto's fuel consumption (6.5L/100km) and betters it for CO2 (153g/km). Add an auto to the 1.5-litre and fuel use only climbs by 0.1-litre and it produces just three grams/km more of CO2. The four-speed automatic certainly works better with the larger engine.
On test though, we had the manual, and it's an easy shift, if a little long in the throw. Contrasting that, the clutch travel is quite short, though it offers good take-up feel. It's easy to get from reverse to first and back again, as in a three-point-turn situation, and given its excellent turning circle (9m) which Nissan says is best-in-class, that's a problem you shouldn't have to worry about.
The Micra's steering is excellent with good feel and weighting, though it does require a few turns from lock to lock, meaning a bit of wheel-work when pulling into tight parking spots, but again, the Micra slips easily into the smallest of spaces; it's an exceptionally easy car to park.
For a light car, it also handles quite well. Corners can be taken fairly quickly without tyre scrub or too much body lean. It's actually quite a fun car to punt around, yet the Micra's ride never suffers as a result of the firmer suspension. Nissan has done a great job of tuning the car to strike an excellent balance between ride and handling, something which can't be said of the Toyota Yaris, for example. The Micra's dynamics, then, are above par.
There's nothing wrong with its space, either. Front seat passengers won't feel cramped, and even a rear seat passenger behind the driver won't feel claustrophobic. That's not because there's heaps of legroom - in fact your knees will be touching the seat in front - but because the back of the seats have been cleverly designed.
While the back of the seats look like they're solid, the stretchy fabric covers a big recess. Your knees sit inside the recess, making it a lot more comfortable. Clever packaging.
It also feels a lot more spacious because of its excellent visibility. There are no blind spots to speak of, so checking traffic in either your mirrors or with your head means you won't be doing the chicken dance trying to move your head back and forth to avoid B- or C-pillars.
The whole redesign is easy on the eye, unlike the polarising last-gen Micra. The subtle creases in the bonnet give the new version a much classier look. If you look hard enough from the front, you'll see a bit of an angry frown, too. There are two boomerang-like dips in the roof, which give the Micra a bit of a scowl. Makoto Yamane, Associate Product Chief Designer, explains why they're there:
“The boomerang-shaped grooves on the roof aren’t just for looks either,” he says. “These roof-line grooves work to reduce resonance in the cabin making the car very comfortable at any speed.”
Open up the boot and you'll find 251 litres of space, all in a very accessible format. Lay the back seats down and there's a heap more.
Some of the interior inclusions are appreciated, too. Kudos to Nissan for including Bluetooth in a light car. It pairs up quickly and easily, though having the volume control separate from the stereo volume control can be a bit of a pain - you have to take your eyes off the road and reach forward and down to alter the volume, which is a little unsafe.
The stereo, despite being a four-speaker setup, is actually very good. The air-con works well, automatic lights are good to have and at night, the headlights are certainly bright enough.
So what's not to like? Well, despite the Micra's ADR combined figure, our fuel use in just city driving was 8.0L/100km for the week. That said, it is better than the ADR city figure of 8.3L/100km, and certainly better than the 1.2-litre automatic in real-world use (we recorded 9.2L/100km in one last week). It would be nice to see a diesel in a light car like the Micra, though; the extra torque coupled with hybrid-like fuel use would certainly put the icing on the cake.
As a light car, however, the Micra is certainly competitive and a decent car to boot. It's got more personality than a Yaris, it's cheaper than a Kia Rio, better looking than a Hyundai Getz, and quicker than a Suzuki Alto or Holden Barina Spark.
As a cheap runabout, it's definitely worth shortlisting.