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Nissan Micra R

Despite its excellent build quality, modern styling and capable driving manners, even Nissan will admit that the average age of a Micra owner is much higher than that of most of its supermini rivals.

Nissan is working on a hot Micra to boost the car's image, and the R shows the direction it's likely to take. If the look and feel of this special points the way to future performance versions, the supermini could be a car young males, rather than their mums, aspire to.

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Despite its excellent build quality, modern styling and capable driving manners, even Nissan will admit that the average age of a Micra owner is much higher than that of most of its supermini rivals.

So how could the marque shake off the blue-rinse image and attract younger buyers? By producing a mad 265bhp version, of course...

While the Micra R retains the friendly shape, its low stance, wide wheelarches and huge rear wing set it apart. But the biggest surprise lies under the bonnet, where all you will find is a fuel tank and radiator. You'll have to look through the rear screen to spot the engine.

Built by Ray Mallock - the British engineering concern that ran Nissan's BTCC campaigns in the late Nineties - the Micra R is fitted with a detuned version of a 2.0-litre touring car powerplant and puts out 265bhp via a six-speed sequential gearbox to the rear wheels.

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All this has been achieved by using lots of bits from the Nissan parts bin. So the R has Almera chassis components, mated to racing-spec Brembo brakes and a Hewland gearbox. Inside, the Micra features a welded roll cage making it 30 per cent stiffer than the standard car, plus racing seats and a tall gearlever.

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Amazingly, this machine is fully road legal, and it still retains central locking, electric windows and three cup-holders! Once you strap yourself into the driver's seat, though, it's very different from other Micras. The standard dash is filled with a digital instrument panel and you have to push a big red button to fire the engine.

With the powerplant behind you, the cabin fills with noise. Select first and the gearbox whine adds to the racket. Short ratios see the 7,750rpm red line arrive fast, but you can shift up with a pull of the lever. You don't even need to use the clutch - a co-ordinated throttle lift will do. Going into corners at the test track, the non-servoed brakes need a shove, but turn-in is sharp. The short wheelbase and soft rear suspension make slides easy, yet the R is forgiving.

For road driving, the set-up isn't too stiff and, with 18-inch tyres, the Nissan is more akin to a tarmac rally car than a circuit racer. And while the R is 40mm lower than a standard Micra, its exhaust and suspension arms are no closer to the road - so speed bumps will be fine.

Can you buy one? At the moment, it's a one-off, but Nissan must be tempted to produce it after seeing how Renault boosted the Clio's image with the V6. Watch this space, whatever your age.

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