2008 Nissan Micra review
- 2008 Nissan Micra City Collection, 5-door, 4-speed automatic, 1.4-litre, $16,690
Distinctive styling. Keenly priced. Good fuel consumption
Turgid open road performance. Small boot. Too cutesy for some.
- by Robert Wilson
It’s not often that I burst into a peal of Clarksonian laughter on seeing a press car but when I clicked the key in the Nissan holding yard and a Micra winked back at me I let out a guffaw that could have been used on a Top Gear trailer.
My transport, metal attire and self-image for the next week was short, rounded - and pink. The two frog-like headlamp eyes that poked from its stubby bonnet lit up in camp anticipation. Instantly I reverted to 15-year-old schoolboy mode “That is so gay!” I proclaimed to the rows of impassive vehicles.
Other car makers want their cars to be all things to all people. Not Nissan, at least not with the Micra. It is unambiguously a city car and aimed squarely at women. And not the glorious variety of women in general, but girly girls. That’s why it only comes as a four-speed automatic, which, I soon discovered was nothing special when teamed with its 1.4-litre 74kW and 137Nm engine.
If the Hello Kitty collection included a car the Micra would be it. But at least it’s good value at $14,990. For that it comes with the auto, ABS brakes , front airbags and air conditioning. A $1700 City Collection option package adds side and curtain airbags, a six-disc CD player (as obsolete as the gramophone in the age of the iPod, if you ask me) and 15-inch alloy wheels. A pity there’s no electronic stability control. Its inclusion would have scrubbed all the bitchy phrases from this review.
The less said about driving the Micra down the Hume Highway, the better. It’s a moot point which one was more uncomfortable, the Micra on long gradients or me sitting behind the wheel. Now I know how Richard Hammond felt in the Top Gear episode where he drove across Alabama in a pick-up truck sprayed with effete slogans. Was I imagining things or could I lip-read the word “poof” as cars crawled past me?
Grim-faced, I stared fixedly ahead - but there wasn’t much to look at. No tacho and no temp gauge - not that they’ll be missed by Micra buyers. The sparse speedo seems to read fast. Driving as quickly as I dared, to get the experience over as soon as possible, I was passed by all and sundry.
The four-speed automatic comes across as a torque thief, absorbing a greedy fraction of the engine’s modest outputs. It varies between being slow to change and hyperactivity. Generally it prefers to let the engine labour and the speed drop. The fuel gauge also drops, quicker than it should in a car this size. But fuel use on test of 7.2 litres per 100km was not bad for a small auto. At its stated fuel consumption it would use 1360 litres over a year, or 20,000km, which would cost about $1840.
And when short city trips replaced freeway driving the Micra gave a better account. The automatic works particularly well in stop-start traffic, with a smooth roll-on as you crawl along (Don’t you just love Sydney driving?). And the cabin is roomy, even for tall burly men who would not be seen dead in it.
The trim is unambiguously plastic with no attempt to disguise it as wood, leather or alcantara but it’s well-finished in a cutesy sort of way. There are cubby holes and an under-seat tray for mobile phones, glasses, and, I can only presume, handbags.
The turning circle is excellent, at 8.8m, and the bug-eyed headlights , which can be seen from behind the wheel make the car easy to place in parking spots. The high, flat seats, which felt none too comfortable on the highway were easy to get in and out of. There’s even a fold-down armrest on the driver’s seat. And with six airbags in the top version and a credible four star NCAP rating it's a good combination of affordability and safety.
Dynamically there’s nothing flawed about the Micra, although the powertrain (almost a misnomer) makes it hard to exploit its capabilities. It corners flatly, despite its high body and the steering’s weight and directness is nice. Ride is not bad, and much quieter in the city than on the highway but the high seating position tends to magnify the pitching that is unavoidable in a short-wheelbase design.
Another thing that's unavoidable is this: A small car with a conventional torque-converter automatic is just about the dreariest thing on wheels, no matter who makes it. No person with even a drop of petrol in their veins can be anything other than dismayed at the noise, harshness, slowness and general turgidity of small autos. Conversely, people to whom a car is merely a means of getting from point A to point B see nothing wrong with them. It’s one of the great divides of humanity.
Nissan has no illusions about what the Micra is and who’s going to buy it. Here’s a line from its press release.
“Micra buyers will have plenty of cash left over for shopping centre forays, and plenty of space in the boot for their boutique bargains, too,” it says.
Actually, at 251 litres the boot’s not particularly roomy. And if you fit a child seat the tether strap will cut across that area. If you wanted to be snide you might say it’s big enough to hold a collection of Joan Crawford DVDs, but not much more.
There’s a space-saver spare in the boot but I suspect the only puncture kit many Micra buyers will care to use is a mobile phone.
Yet, reviewed on its own terms -as a city car the Micra’s not bad, and certainly interesting. It’s a city car and it does city things well, for a good price and with the individual style that is valued in a teeming metropolis. It's far from perfect but is a distinctive and price-competitive alternative to dungers such as the unlovable Holden Barina. But unlike the best small cars it doesn’t manage to be a passable all-rounder.
The Micra’s been on European and Japanese roads since 2002 and it’s good to see it here, even a few years late, even if I won’t be in a particular hurry to drive one again. After all, tolerance and diversity are good things, right?
CarAdvice overall rating: How does it drive: How does it look: How does it go:
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder
Top speed: N/A
Safety: ABS - front airbags, side and curtain airbags on City Collection model- front seat active head restraints.
NCAP rating: 4
Turning circle: 8.8m
Fuel tank: 41 litres
Fuel consumption: 6.8 l/100km
Fuel type: 91