Two years after launch, the fifth-gen Micra range gets a warm hatchback: the N-Sport

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When the current, fifth-generation version of the Nissan Micra supermini first hit UK roads in 2017, the Nissan's appearance suggested this N-Sport might be coming.

Gone were the effete, bug-eyed curves of generations gone by, ditched for a much more edgy, wedgey, arrowhead aesthetic that, though contemporary, looked less authentic on the car, according to some estimations. Whether they seem to belong on a Micra or not, however, the car’s new youthful, sporting looks undoubtedly lend themselves to a performance makeover; and, as evidenced by this week’s road test subject, the go-faster treatment is exactly what the Micra has now got.

The N-Sport bodystyling has to translate onto the IG-T 100 engine, which perhaps is why it isn’t more visually purposeful

As part of the car’s first mid-life update, a couple of new engines have been added to the model range, with an Xtronic CVT two-pedal transmission made available in anticipation of growing interest in automatic-equipped superminis. Some equipment and trim revisions have been brought in too, which we’ll also get into over the following pages.

But it’s the Micra N-Sport that’s the headline addition. This derivative becomes the first product from the Renault -Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance to feature the 1.0-litre three-cylinder version of the new petrol engine family developed in tandem with Daimler and, in 1.3-litre form, already used to power both the Nissan Qashqai and the Mercedes A-Class. It moves the Micra onto peak power of 115bhp – enough to stand comparison with cars like the Ford Fiesta ST-Line and Seat Ibiza FR. As you’re about to read, the N-Sport also benefits from changes to the technical specification of the suspension, steering and transmission, and from upgrades to the exterior styling and cabin.

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Time to find out what kind of junior driver’s car can be made from this newly assertive-looking supermini, then.

Nissan Micra design & styling

Outwardly, the N-Sport differs little from any other Micra – but, given the K14-generation model rewrote the Micra style book (sharpening the pudgy proportions while increasing both its height and length) and this latest version is a mere refresh, wholesale changes were never expected. Visual alterations are instead largely limited to carbonfibre-style finishing on the wheels and door mirrors, along with gloss-black bumper inserts, and the five-door Micra continues to disguise its rear doors by integrating its handles into the C-pillar trim.

Nissan’s engineers cannot be accused of sitting on their hands, however, because underneath the bonnet sits an all-new engine that makes this N-Sport the most powerful Micra yet. Admittedly, this is in the same vein as being the most practical Lamborghini, or the fastest snowplough, but in the context of a front-driven supermini that tips the scales at less than a tonne, 115bhp nevertheless seems promising.

An over-square three-cylinder turbocharged petrol, this 1.0-litre DIG-T unit uses a compact ‘delta’ cylinder head and spray coating for the cylinder bores (molten iron instead of solid, and far thicker, cast-iron liners), while the turbo benefits from electric actuators. Compared with the old 0.9-litre petrol, there’s also direct fuel injection, variable valve timing for intake and exhaust and a higher compression ratio, though this trio of technologies is found on the lesser – but also new, and similarly sized – 99bhp IG-T engine too. The resulting 133lb ft from 1750rpm, with 15lb ft of overboost, pushes the N-Sport into ‘warm’ supermini territory, joining the Volkswagen Up GTI, Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta ST-Line.

The aesthetic additions N-Sport trim brings can be optioned for any 1.0-litre Micra, though the most powerful version uniquely benefits from chassis tweaks to improve the driving experience. The suspension – passively damped, and using the same MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear architecture as any other Micra in the range – sits the car 10mm lower with firmer spring rates for greater body control.

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The electromechanical steering is also lighter and quicker, to impart a greater feeling of agility, though where most rivals have moved to better-performing discs, the rear is still braked using drums. Meanwhile, though the 99bhp Micra is offered with manual and CVT transmissions, only a six-speed manual is available for this 115bhp version.

Fitted with a new gasoline particulate filter (GPF), on 17in wheels and 205/45 tyres, the DIG-T Micra returns a WLTP combined fuel economy of 47.9mpg, with CO2 emissions of 133g/km.

The Nissan Micra range at a glance

In step with the wider supermini market, Nissan offers the Micra as a five-door hatch only. The engine line-up is mostly made up of three-cylinder petrols paired with five- or six-speed manual transmissions, depending on output. A sole four-cylinder diesel is offered with a five-speed ’box.

Visia represents the entry-level trim and Tekna crowns the range. Interior and exterior personalisation packs provide plenty of scope for customisation.

Price £19,005 | Power 115bhp | Torque 148lb ft| 0-60mph 10.2sec | 30-70mph in fourth 12.4sec | Fuel economy 33.4mpg | CO2 133g/km (WLTP) | 70-0mph 47.1m


Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 road test review - front seats

There’s an athletic flair that permeates the N-Sport Micra’s cabin – one that is well judged in relation to its status as a moderately sporting performance derivative. The seats are trimmed primarily in dark Alcantara, which is complemented by contrasting dual white stripes.

The dashboard facing is finished in the same material, complete with further contrasting white stitching. Meanwhile, the soft-touch synthetic material covering the top of the dash is inoffensive to prodding fingers, and the white surrounds of the outer air vents are juxtaposed smartly against the cabin’s darker palette.

Instruments are one part of the interior untouched by the N-Sport uplift – so no red needles or go-faster fonts. At least the clocks are clear and easily readable

Of course, the N-Sport isn’t free from the sorts of tougher, more industrial plastics common to members of the supermini genre, but their use is subtle enough to prevent the Nissan from being singled out among its peers. It’s just a shame that the range of colourful interior personalisation packs available throughout the wider Micra range can’t be optioned at the N-Sport grade – orange seat bolsters would inject the place with a touch more character.

Elsewhere, the Micra continues to exhibit an impressively low hip point, while generous reach in the telescopic steering column mitigates the need for taller drivers to hunch themselves over the well-spaced pedals. That same ergonomic sensibility is also present in the location of controls for the HVAC and infotainment systems.

The NissanConnect touchscreen infotainment set-up in the updated Micra is all new, adding voice recognition, a customisable home screen and a single-line search function to the previous system’s functionality.

It has a 7.0in screen, which is not particularly large compared with what is offered by the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen Polo. However, it integrates mirroring for Apple and Android smartphones on all Micra grades above entry level and optionally adopts a navigation system provided by TomTom that offers live traffic information and ‘door-to-door’ navigation routing by which you can plot a destination before getting in your car via an app. Our test car didn’t have the optional nav.

The overall system has slightly less latency than its predecessor, although it remains relatively slow to respond to inputs. Nissan’s changes to the menu structure make it easier to hop between CarPlay and the car’s proprietary menus, though. Audio quality is adequate but not particularly powerful or crisp.

Where the Micra’s interior packaging begins to come unstuck is the second row. Rear leg room is miserly compared with the VW Polo’s, but it is the shortage of head room that proved most troublesome for our road testers. Measured at 860mm, it is some 90mm less generous than what you’ll experience in the Polo. We can accept that the occasions where taller adults find themselves sitting on the rear bench of a Micra may be few and far between, but the need to bend your neck uncomfortably forward when doing so is a significant ergonomic flaw – supermini or not.

Small children will fit just fine, but this oversight undermines what is otherwise a convincingly conceived cabin. As for boot space, the 300-litre capacity is enough to see it outshine the comparatively stingy Ford Fiesta (292 litres). However, with 355 litres apiece, the Seat Ibiza and VW Polo take class honours.


The recipe for a convincing warm hatch can be a tricky one to execute. Just as important as a balanced, responsive chassis is an engine capable of compensating for a lack of outright pace with a sense of bold, effervescent character.

A 123bhp Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza with VW Group’s 113bhp 1.0 TSI engine are fine examples of how these ingredients can be combined successfully. As well as their strong performance (relative to the wider class), their powerplants foster a good level of driver engagement.

Though less rewarding than a Fiesta engine, the Micra’s new 115bhp 1.0-litre DIG-T three-pot enabled our road test subject to post better mid-range performance figures

The N-Sport’s new 1.0-litre triple doesn’t quite lend itself as convincingly to that art. This is an engine missing the whimsical levity of its more popular rivals, and a forgettable soundtrack hardly encourages the driver to let the tachometer spin all the way out to the limiter. That and a resolutely damp throttle response were chief gripes among our testers.

But though there can be a degree of grumbling and coughing at low crank speeds, and a noticeable amount of lag to overcome, reasonable mid-range performance helps the Micra keep its head just above water. A recorded 30-70mph time of 9.4sec places the Nissan just ahead of the 123bhp Fiesta Titanium (9.6sec) road tested in 2017. The Nissan also exhibited greater in-gear tractability than its major rival – in fourth gear dispatching 30-70mph in 12.4sec versus the Fiesta’s 14.8sec.

Less relevant in this context is its 0-60mph effort but, on Millbrook’s mile straight, the Micra ran an average time of 10.2sec. Considering it was fuelled to the brim and carrying two testers, that is quick enough for Nissan’s claimed 0-62mph time of 9.9sec to be accepted without cynicism. While these runs didn’t expose an overt deficiency in traction off the line, it did shine a light on a gearbox that’s a natch too long in throw and woolier than the best manual ’boxes in the class.

The Micra’s ventilated front discs and rear drums, meanwhile, allowed for controlled, stable deceleration under emergency braking conditions. From 70mph, the Nissan came to a halt in 47.1m, against 54.7m for the Fiesta.


Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 road test review - cornering front

Nissan’s aim with the fifth-generation Micra was to create a car that struck a compelling balance between the rubber-footed rolling composure of the Volkswagen Volkswagen Polo and the outright dynamic accomplishment of the Ford Fiesta. With its lowered suspension and reworked steering rack, one might reasonably assume this N-Sport variant in fact leans towards the latter, though if it does then the execution isn’t quite as convincing.

However, while not as spry or engaging as a Fiesta ST-Line or Mini 3-door, there’s enough handling composure here to ensure the N-Sport doesn’t embarrass itself next to its more dynamically gifted classmates.

Body roll is most noticeable through hairpins, but it loads up its outside tyres in a controlled manner

The 205/45 section front tyres grip particularly well when charging into tighter bends, and though there is still a noticeable amount of body roll under cornering, the firmer, lower suspension ensures any weight transfer is delivered in a controlled, predictable fashion that doesn’t upset the Micra’s inherent stability. That said, the additional firmness enabling this level of composure does make the Micra marginally more susceptible to deflections mid-corner, but there’s still enough pliancy here to ensure the worst of the shock is dissipated.

Where the standard Micra’s helm requires three full turns to travel from lock to lock, the N-Sport’s tuned rack cuts this down to 2.8. This allows the N-Sport to change direction with a convincing sense of agility, but then again a lack of nimbleness wasn’t something we ever criticised the fifth-generation Micra for when we road tested it in 2017.

A Fiesta’s steering set-up delivers a more natural weighting and a turn-in that feels a degree more incisive, but the Micra’s gearing is at least commendable for its linearity and weight – if not its ability to relay information from contact patch to fingertips. The result is a supermini that’s reasonably tidy-handling; but its dynamic disposition leans more towards the grown-up than the playful. Ultimately, it’s the Fiesta that remains the sweeter, more enjoyable steer.

The Micra N-Sport made more of a show of its warmed-up supermini identity when it was confronted with the twisting Tarmac of the Millbrook Hill Route.

Its chassis exhibited a willingness to be tipped into sharper bends at pace, feeling at all times balanced, controlled and steadfast under a measured throttle and consistent steering input. Charge in too fast, though, and it will begin to understeer, but a mid-corner lift of the accelerator will unsettle its rear enough to tighten the line.

It’s a shade disappointing to find that the Micra doesn’t feel particularly playful with regards to its dynamic exploits, but there will be those for whom its grown-up, mature disposition carries sway.

An engine with a bit more vigour would go some way to addressing this shortcoming. As it stands, the N-Sport’s 1.0-litre three-pot struggled with some of the Hill Route’s steeper ascents.


While a VW Polo is undoubtedly a more settled and composed supermini, the fitment of sports suspension and 17in alloys hasn’t crippled the N-Sport’s town ride. Poorer patches of Tarmac unearth a pronounced sense of fidgeting, but the car’s secondary ride stacks up favourably against its more athletically inclined classmates.

A Mini 1499 GT is more agitated in such environments, while the heavy-handed severity of the way in which the Toyota Yaris GR Sport interacts with the road surface makes the Nissan feel cloud-like by comparison.

The Micra’s sterner temperament mellows out on the open road, too. The controlled, restrained nature in which its chassis was able to breathe with undulating road surfaces imbued the little Nissan with a welcome sense of maturity.

The N-Sport doesn’t exactly shine as a beacon of outstanding refinement and isolation, however. A suspicion that this engine is more vocal than desirable was confirmed by our testing microphone: at idle, the rough-edged three-pot gave a reading of 45dB. By comparison, the Seat Ibiza’s 94bhp 1.0 TSI unit came in at 42dB, while in the Fiesta, Ford’s 123bhp 1.0-litre Ecoboost was measured at a saintly 41dB.

The effect of the Micra’s poorer sound-deadening was less pronounced at a steady 70mph cruise, where ambient road and wind noise was recorded at 71dB. The Ibiza returned a 69dB figure, while the Fiesta managed 70dB – although it’s necessary to point out that both of these cars were running on smaller-diameter wheels.


Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 road test review - hero front

In basic Visia trim and with the entry-level 70bhp petrol engine, the Micra costs £12,875. By comparison, this top-spec N-Sport model, equipped with the most powerful engine in the range, will set you back £19,005.

This somewhat alters the Micra proposition in terms of value for money, not least because the Ford Fiesta ST – the finest supermini hot hatch on sale – costs roughly the same, albeit with less standard kit.

Micra’s residual value forecast isn’t totally disheartening, but it lags behind the Fiesta and Ibiza by a fair margin

N-Sport Micras come with such niceties as cruise control, automatic high-beams, DAB radio, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, though there’s no escaping the fact that this model, along with other better-equipped Micras, is simply too expensive given the muted driving experience on offer. That the Nissan is also predicted to hold its value less well than many of its rivals – including the Seat Ibiza FR – makes it particularly difficult to recommend.

But if you do like the sound of an N-Sport, and can find a tempting PCP deal, the running costs bring better news. Our test touring economy of 55mpg is competitive in the class, and a 41-litre fuel tank suffices for a range of more than 300 miles.


Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 road test review - static

A perceptible feeling of missed opportunity seems to trail in the Micra N-Sport’s wake.

The distinctively sporting aesthetic and renewed sense of motive purpose that characterised the fifth-generation Micra at launch suggested there was a genuinely interesting, and entertaining, warmed-up supermini waiting in the wings.

Having seen what GRMN can do with a Yaris, Nismo should do a clean-sheet Micra. The N-Sport feels half-hearted, but perhaps that’s because this chassis simply isn’t fluent enough

Despite the foundation being all but there, the reality is much less convincing. An engine short on character is arguably its greatest shortcoming; particularly when the Ford Fiesta ST-Line and Seat Ibiza FR so successfully place their charming, zesty motors at the forefront of their driving experiences. At times stilted low-speed manners and unengaging steering, meanwhile, detract from a chassis that otherwise grips with convincing tenacity and has a fairly rounded, if occasionally wooden-feeling, ride.

These concerns, and others, ultimately deny this Micra our full endorsement. It’s a frustrating reality: N-Sport should have been an opportunity for Nissan to further elevate its supermini, to give it a compelling new USP. As it stands, however, the argument that this represents a worthy improvement over the regular model is a particularly thin one.

Nissan Micra First drives