Long-term test review: Nissan Micra

Final report: our time with the Nissan Micra has shown how quickly the supermini class moves on

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

After its time on our fleet, the Micra still appeals with its stylish looks and neat tech features, but it’s let down by its lacklustre powertrain and cramped back seats. I bonded with the Nissan, but have now fallen for rivals that have come out since.

Mileage: 7,300Economy: 43.2mpg

Apart from the tech industry, the automotive sector has to be one of the fastest-moving product markets around. As we often find at Auto Express, a brand new car can be up among the class leaders at the start of the year, yet will be merely an also-ran by Christmas.

Our Nissan Micra, unfortunately, is one of those cars. It made a splash at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, taking over from its woefully dated predecessor with a sharp new look. And when we first drove it in early 2017 it impressed. Then when the Micra joined our fleet in April, I settled into it with a real respect for how far Nissan’s supermini had come over the years. The design also struck a chord with friends and family, who more often than not commented on the styling or overt colour scheme.

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Yet by the time of the Micra’s first group test a few weeks later, the initial shine was clearly starting to wear off. The supermini faced the ever-popular Volkswagen Polo and the funky new Citroen C3 in the shoot-out, and finished a close, but disappointing, third.

Its appeal hadn’t diminished as much in my eyes, though; I was still enjoying its grown-up road manners and solid, attractively designed interior. But as 2017 rolled on, new superminis including the Ford Fiesta and SEAT Ibiza arrived; and thanks to those cars the Micra has dropped down the rankings.

Driving the excellent Ford and SEAT back to back with my Micra really illustrated the Nissan’s flaws: namely its tight, claustrophobic rear seats, dated infotainment and disappointing performance.

The latter has been my biggest gripe. The Renault-sourced 0.9-litre turbo petrol engine offers decent pace once higher in the rev band, but a lack of torque means it feels a bit wheezy next to other turbo superminis.

It doesn’t excel around town, either, where its boosty nature and inconsistent throttle response could grate after a long day in the office. A problem with the gearbox alignment also made third tricky to select for a few weeks, although after Nissan took it in for a fix, changing cogs proved a much sweeter experience. Given the stop-start traffic around our office in central London and how hard the Micra needs to be worked, a final economy figure of just over 43mpg is pretty good, too.

It’s a pity the engine didn’t deliver, because despite newer rivals showing it up, I’ve enjoyed the Micra’s overall blend of ride comfort and handling. My commute takes in motorways and country roads, where its high-speed refinement and accurate steering made the daily grind less of a chore.

Other, more minor gripes have come from rear-seat passengers, particularly those who are as tall as I am. On a camping trip with four friends last year there were frequent complaints, although some were due to the boot being so full that things were spilling over into people’s laps.

Still, there have been no issues from up front, with a comfortable, easily adjustable driver’s seat accommodating my lanky frame. I’ve also really warmed to the interior design; it’s not exciting, but the contrasting colour scheme really lifts it. Similarly, the central screen’s graphics look old-hat, but I found the button shortcuts make it easier to use on the move than touchscreen-only systems.

The tech upgrades on our car have proven welcome additions. The £600 Vision+ pack was a highlight, because it brought Nissan’s brilliantly useful Around View Monitor – perfect for the narrow bays of our office car park.

The punchy sound from the Bose Personal Audio Pack (a £500 option on our car) with speakers in the headrests also made commutes more enjoyable, although we’d be tempted to try the standard system before splashing out.

Second report: Nissan Micra

We see how Mk1 supermini of the eighties measures up to the latest model

Mileage: 6,100Economy: 43.1mpg

Back in 1983, Margaret Thatcher secured a landslide victory in the General Election, Culture Club’s song Karma Chameleon dominated the charts and the Austin Metro was the UK’s best-selling car. It was also the year that the first Nissan Micra arrived on British shores. 

In the decades since then, politics, the music scene and the automotive industry have all been transformed. So we thought we’d see what’s changed on Nissan’s small car by bringing the Mk1 model together with our 2017 version.

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This car is a slightly later 1988 example with a mere 4,500 miles on the clock – it’s actually travelled less than our six-month-old Micra. It’s almost in showroom condition, but now looks decidedly dated thanks to its boxy, featureless shape and tiny 12-inch wheels.

While it was always going to look more cutting-edge, it’s clear that some effort has gone into lifting the new Micra into the realms of desirability. Its curvaceous shape and bold colour scheme ensure it turns more heads, but it’s also grown a fair bit in size. In fact, it’s nearly 27cm longer and 20cm wider than the Mk1 model. 

Even more eye-opening is how much heavier the Mk4 Micra is compared with the Mk1. The model on our fleet weighs in at 1,060kg, which is on the hefty side even by modern supermini standards, but the old car tips the scales at just 635kg. Spending some time around the original Micra really makes you realise just how much the meaning of the term “small car” has been stretched in recent years. 

Obviously, there are several important reasons why the new car is so much bulkier. The most vital is safety; today’s Micra (with our car’s optional safety pack fitted) achieves a five-star Euro NCAP rating thanks to a multitude of airbags, crumple zones and active safety systems. 

The original Micra has none of those things – even this GLS model doesn’t get a driver’s airbag – although seatbelts were at least made compulsory in the same year the Mk1 was introduced. The rest of the cabin is as basic as you’d expect, too, with wind-up windows, no air-con and only a radio/cassette player to act as your infotainment

Our modern Micra has luxuries that even a Mercedes S-Class driver in the eighties could only dream of, though. While some features such as the lane departure warning tend to grate more than they assist, equipment like sat-nav, cruise control and Bluetooth is taken for granted. I also love our car’s 360-degree camera, because it makes parking a breeze wherever you are.

Quality is good inside, too, although we’re now noticing a few dash rattles that weren’t there when the Micra arrived on our test fleet. Still, there’s no comparison between old and new when it comes to the driving experience. The 1.0-litre Mk1’s 54bhp seems reasonable given it weighs so little, but the car’s three-speed auto box saps power and makes things pretty loud at motorway speeds. We've complained about the new car's lack of punch relative to rivals, but it's far faster and quieter than the eighties car. 

The new car’s handling is in a different class, too. Turning into a bend at even moderate pace in the 1988 model induces copious body roll, while the ponderous steering and lack of grip don’t inspire confidence. The new Micra has minimal body movement, accurate steering and plenty of grip, yet at the same time it manages to be more comfortable over bumps. 

Nissan Micra: first report

Is the foxy Nissan Micra supermini in the hunt for class honours against the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia?

Mileage: 1,730Economy: 42.6mpg

Had she emerged from the General Election with an increased majority, Conservative Party leader Theresa May planned to have a vote in the Commons on repealing the foxhunting ban, so it wouldn’t have been the best time to bear a resemblance to the bushy-tailed mammal.

• The best superminis on the market

The latest small car to arrive on our fleet, the new Nissan Micra, seems to have just that problem. Friends and family alike have begun to nickname it ‘the fox’, on account of the pointy, angular face paired with its £575 optional Energy Orange paint scheme. I’m only a few weeks into running the supermini, and it seems like the nickname has already stuck fast.

Whether you think the looks are foxy or not, the Nissan has certainly grown in size, with a far classier and more mature design than old Micras. But maturity doesn’t come cheap in the car world, and owners of the previous model might be surprised by our mid-spec Micra’s £16,570 list price – particularly given it has a modest 89bhp 0.9-litre petrol engine.

Still, our N-Connecta trim comes with a reasonable equipment tally, including a seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav with DAB radio, cruise control, climate control and LED daytime running lights. Our car also has the £550 optional Vision+ Pack with Nissan’s useful 360-degree Around View Monitor, parking sensors and blind spot detection. It's an option well worth considering - the Micra is a small car so it's not exactly tricky to park, but rear visiblity makes reversing a bit of a guessing game without the cameras. 

Another neat optional feature on our car is the Bose sound system, which uses not only four high-quality door speakers but also two headrest-mounted speakers for the driver, dubbed PersonalSpace, that provide a punchy surround sound. Cabin materials are suitably solid and plush, too, although the lack of electric rear windows is a disappointing cost-cutting measure.

Our Micra’s 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo is sourced from Renault, and offers adequate but not sparkling pace. We’re hoping it might loosen up as the miles pile on, but we suspect the car needs a bit more outright poke to make the most of the chassis’ impressive ride and handling balance. Still, overall, first impressions are strong, and we’re looking forward to spending time with ‘the fox’ on our fleet.

*Insurance quote (below) from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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