If ‘new’, ‘inexpensive and ‘automatic’ top your list of necessities in your next car, chances are the Nissan Micra ST is on your shortlist.
At $15,290 plus on-road costs (about $17,600 drive-away), the recently updated, 2015 Micra ST four-speed automatic is one of the few models at its price point to tick all of those boxes.
Cheaper options include the Mitsubishi Mirage and Suzuki Celerio, which are both available with an auto from $13,990 (factory-backed drive-away in the case of the Suzuki), and the Holden Barina Spark at $15,090, while potentially more tempting is making the jump up a class – from micro car to light car – into the larger and more sophisticated Toyota Yaris that kicks off at $16,490 in auto form, or an equivalent Honda Jazz or Mazda 2 for another $500 more.
But if your budget won’t budge beyond Micra ST money, the basic package includes manual air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel buttons, and a four-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, USB and AUX inputs, and a CD player.
Also standard are six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control, which contribute to the Nissan Micra’s four-star ANCAP safety rating (awarded based on 2011 criteria).
Sticking with the base model means missing out on a number of niceties fitted to the $16,990 high-grade Ti such as auto on/off headlights, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and a reverse-view camera.
The Micra ST’s basic trim also gives away its budget status, coming with 14-inch steel wheels (Ti gets alloy 15s), ugly black exterior door handles, and thin cloth upholstery, while also lacking the Ti’s foglights and roof spoiler and some of its soft-touch interior panels.
Despite its micro exterior (the Micra measure just 3.8 metres from nose to tail), the cabin is surprisingly spacious, and unlike one of the best of the breed, the Celerio, it gets five seats rather than four.
Read our recent head-to-head comparison between the Micra ST and Celerio, in manual guises, here.
Most adult passengers will have enough headroom in the second row, though the base of the front seatbacks is intrusive at about shin-level, cutting into legroom. The rear seat base is flat and firm, though it’s unlikely to cause too much discomfort if only used for short trips – or probably more regularly for shopping bags…
The front seats are comfortable and set quite high, giving drivers a surprisingly good vantage point from such a tiny car.
We found the seating position works best for smaller drivers, however. At 180cm tall, I felt as though I was sitting up too high, even with the seat set at its lowest point, and oddly felt that the rear-view mirror obscured my view out the left side of the windscreen. The C-pillar is also quite broad, though tall side windows mean rear visibility is decent.
As with most cars in this class, the Micra’s steering wheel also lacks reach adjustment.
There may be a dearth of soft surfaces in the cabin, but the buttons and dials at your fingertips touch all have a quality feel about them.
There’s also an accommodating glovebox, good door bins, and handy spaces to stash phones and wallets.
The boot has a handy 251-litre capacity, which is among the best in its class, while less common and more impressive is the full-size spare wheel beneath its floor. Split-folding rear seats allow owners to pack even more into the back of the Micra.
At the other end is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine producing 56kW at 6000rpm and 104Nm at 4000rpm. Those outputs may sound modest, though they prove adequate in motivating the Micra’s diminutive 965kg body off the line around town and up to highway speeds.
While not as characterful as many three-pot motors, the Micra’s engine is quiet and reasonably refined – rare attributes at this end of the market.
The Micra’s four-speed automatic transmission belongs to another century, however. Driven gently, it’s too quick to shift from first gear to second, and is then forced to dig its way up from the depths of a torque hole. It’s even tardier when you point it up a hill, where it’s still hesitant to hold or drop down to first.
Around town, it seems to react best to being driven with a heavy right foot, as it hangs onto gears for longer and labours less.
Copping second gear and too many revs at 80km/h when accelerating on the highway is another less than pleasant experience, and another that proves that clearly the Micra would benefit from an extra gear or two, or an infinite-ratio continuously variable transmission (CVT) like that offered by some of its rivals.
The little Nissan’s combined cycle fuel consumption rating of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres looks ordinary in comparison with larger, more sophisticated models, and is also out-classed by the likes of the Celerio and Mirage in this area. It proved reasonably efficient in the real world, however, averaging under 6.0L/100km on a country run with four adults on board, and remaining under 8.0L/100km in the city.
The Micra’s ride is commendably comfortable and composed, particularly after spending a few months behind the wheel of our Mirage long-termer.
With little in the way of sound deadening, bumps and holes are heard loudly inside the cabin, and the Micra can feel heavy-footed over pockmarked patches of road. But it’s far better at ironing out smaller imperfections and rolling over speed humps thanks to a chassis that feels tight, suspension that corrects quickly and accurately, and super-absorbent 70-aspect tyres.
The basic hydraulic steering likewise has a confident, consistent feel. Its mid-weighting is fine in all conditions and there’s a nice solidity to the wheel when sitting on the highway. It’s a slow system, at a tick over 3.5 turns lock to lock, though taken to its limits provides an excellent turning circle of just 9.0 metres.
The Nissan Micra is covered by a basic three-year/100,000km warranty and three years of roadside assistance. Servicing it at Nissan’s recommended 12-month/10,000km intervals will set you back $731 to three years/30,000km and $1657 to six years/$60,000.
The Nissan Micra is one of the more appealing options in Australia’s micro car class, offering a refined engine, an auto transmission (albeit an average one), reasonable ride comfort, five seats, and some interior niceties such as steering wheel-mounted phone, audio and cruise control buttons for just over $15,000.
If you can find another $1200-$1700 behind the couch, however, there’s better value in the next segment up, where we’d recommend testing out basic light cars like the Yaris, Jazz or Mazda 2.
Photography by Mitchell Oke.