The Nissan Micra is a supermini offering low running costs but in most other areas is below the class average

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The Nissan Micra has been with us since 1982, and is one of the UK’s most recognisable nameplates. We’ve always thought of the Nissan as a soft, bubbly, chintzy supermini. Not any more. At least it’s no longer some of those things.

The fourth-gen Nissan Micra is now a global car, sold in more than 55 countries and built in four, of which the UK (now home to the higher-tech Nissan Leaf) is not one. It is built in Thailand, Mexico, China and – from where UK-destined Micras sail – India.

The fourth-generation Micra is sold around the globe

Marketing a global car is simple enough if you are at the extremes of luxury, performance or utility; a Mercedes-AMG SLS is equally as desirable and a Toyota Hilux equally as useful in central Europe, the US mid-west or the Far East.

Conventional family cars have, traditionally, had a harder time convincing their respective customers that, say, standards for Asia are compatible with those of western Europe. Nissan, though, says that its ‘V’ (for Versatile) platform has allowed its engineers to adapt the Micra to suit the myriad regions where it will be sold.

Nevertheless, just three years after the launch of the fourth-generation K13 Nissan Micra, the car was heavily facelifted in response to poor sales. The fundamental problem was that after the funky third-generation Micra, it lacked any sort of pizzazz – dynamic, design or otherwise.

The facelift saw an entirely new front end from the windscreen forward, cosmetic tinkering at the rear of the car and revisions to improve perceived quality and appearance.

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With the Nissan Pixo previously marking the entry point to the Nissan range in the UK, the Micra moved upscale in pricing and is only available a naturally aspirated 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and four trim levels: Visia Limited Edition, Vibe, Acenta and n-tec. Buyers have the option of a five-speed manual or a CVT automatic gearbox mated to either engine.

With the standard engine emitting just 99g/km of CO2, Nissan’s engineers didn’t think a diesel engine would be worthwhile – and they’re probably right.

However, as you may find from visiting Nissan's website, this fourth generation Micra is being phased out for an all-new version. The fifth generation Nissan Micra has a very different remit by aiming for the established front runners - the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, and to do so it will share numerous components and the production line with the Renault Clio.


Nissan Micra headlight
The headlamps still lack the impact of those fitted to the bug-eyed model sold between 2003 and 2010

While it is beyond our remit to tell you whether or not you should think a car attractive, even the most cursory glance at the latest Nissan Micra will tell you that it does without the flair that marked out its predecessor when it was launched in 2002, and that of the car’s rounded 1993 antecedent.

The 2013 facelift helps in this regard – all the bits you can see from the windscreen forward are new. The grille features a chromed V motif and the bonnet, wings, headlights and front bumper are also all new. A rear wing, previously only available on top-spec models, is now fitted across the range, base model apart, and there’s a lip on the base of the tailgate which creates a smoother look between the boot and bumper.

That such a refresh of the latest model was rushed out so quickly says plenty about how unloved the car was

Two semi-circular creases in the roof are claimed to increase panel rigidity and add a little visual drama, but given the cost of pressing this largely unnoticed flourish into a cheap car, the cash would have been better spent elsewhere.

The moulded rear wing is designed to improve aerodynamics (0.33 Cd) as well as styling. It also helps to keep the rear screen a touch cleaner. The Micra is not a car blessed with myriad styling details aimed at surprise and delight, but the way the roof extends back towards the rear spoiler is one of the few.

The changes are a vast improvement, but it still lacks the visual impact of the Kia Picanto, second-generation Hyundai i10 and any number of cheap superminis. Despite the significant visual changes, the Micra is an unremarkable piece of design.

Were this car the product of any one of several budget manufacturers, we would bat not an eyelid, but it’s more surprising – and more than a little disappointing – when it comes from a company that has promoted the Nissan Juke to its ranks. However, Nissan has aimed to rectify this with a far more aggressive and attractive looking fifth generation car, while its larger dimensions have also placed it in the European B-segment for the first time, which will allow it to compete with the popular Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta.

The new Micra is claimed to be lighter than its predecessor – as little as 915kg – and that’s not a shabby achievement for a car that is bigger than before. At 3780mm long, it’s still one of the smaller superminis currently on sale.


Nissan Micra dashboard
The Micra’s interior plastics are almost exclusively of the brittle variety

The way you or I might look at quality is somewhat different from the way a car manufacturer looks at quality and the Nissan Micra is a case in point. A table that takes a craftsman six months to make and lasts for 1000 years is one take on the idea. A car manufacturer’s take on it involves thousands of components dropping out of a machine in rapid succession, all meeting a set of pre-specified tolerances.

Doubtless, Nissan’s production techniques ensure plenty of the latter, but if you’re looking for evidence that it cares much for the former, you’ll find less of it in this generation of Micra than in most rivals.

The addition of shiny plastics lifts the ambience, but it still feels like it's built down to a price

For instance, the Micra’s interior plastics are almost exclusively of the brittle variety, and even the high equipment level offered by the n-tec trim does little to lift the malaise. The 2013 facelift brought some shinier, more premium-feeling trim on the centre console, but it serves mainly to highlight the inadequacies of the materials, fit and finish elsewhere.

In places the Micra feels no better than, say, a Hyundai i10 and certainly not up to the standards of a Skoda Fabia, Vauxhall Corsa or Volkswagen Polo. That’s fine if it is priced to match but the Micra is pitched to compete against plenty of genuine superminis.

Accommodation itself, mind, is entirely adequate, especially given the Micra’s compact dimensions. There’s considerably more shoulder room than in its predecessor, decent enough rear accommodation and a boot that’s competitive in the sector. It’s an airy cabin, too, thanks to a low window line and large glass area. It remains a pity, though, that there isn’t more to surprise and delight in here.

As we mentioned before there are four trim levels to choose from - Visia Limited Edition, Vibe, Acenta and n-tec. The entry-level models come with 14in steel wheels, speed-sensitive steering, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, six airbags and front electric windows, while upgrading to a Vibe specced Micra adds alloy wheels and air conditioning to the package.

The mid-range Acenta trim equips the small Nissan with 15in alloys, a rear spoiler, cruise control, auto wipers and lights, and electric door mirrors, while the range-topping n-tec models come with 16in alloys, rear parking sensors and a 7.0in Nissan Connect touchscreen infotainment system.


Nissan Micra rear quarter
You don’t make bad progress in the lower reaches of the rev range

What is unusual about the Nissan Micra is that you can’t tell it’s powered by a three-cylinder engine as soon as you fire it into action. By the standards of three-pot engines, it settles into a fairly smooth and muted idle.

You find out soon enough, though. The gearshift and the clutch are as light as you would expect on a car that has clearly been developed for ease of driving – for buyers in many of its intended markets, the Toyota iQ spring to mind – that it’s intentionally over-geared to keep the motor speed and noise low and the fuel economy high.

Both engines are available with automatic gearboxes

Work the Micra’s engine, in a manner that we suspect owners rarely will, and although you’re left in no doubt that it would be smoother with the extra cylinder that nearly all its rivals feature, things are less thrummy than they could be.


Nissan Micra cornering
The Micra is utterly safe and predictable

Given everything we’ve said about the Nissan Micra so far, we suspect you won’t so much as raise an eyebrow when we tell you that Nissan seems to have optimised the latest Micra towards the ‘ride’ rather than the ‘handling’ side of things. That’s certainly been the case indicates how serious Nissan are on disrupting the monopoly created by the Volkswagen Polo and the Ford Fiesta.

It covers the low-speed stuff well enough, offering a smooth urban ride that is unaffected by lumps and bumps like most things in the class. Its electrically assisted steering is light, as most buyers will demand, and although it lacks the oily slickness and response of the better electric racks, it proves accurate enough.

It would take an emergency or some dogged determination to unsettle the Micra significantly

Raise the speed and you challenge a few of the Micra’s facets. The first is noise – the Micra isn’t an overly refined car – and the second is its driving dynamics. We wouldn’t expect the Micra to be any kind of driver’s car, but there are superminis out there, even inexpensive ones like the Suzuki Swift and Skoda Fabia, which maintain a broader level of capability at all speeds than the Micra, whose primary interest is at the slower end of the scale.


Nissan Micra
Its ambition is to be a world player, so will it show world-class ability?

Nissan isn’t frightened to stick a high price tag on the Nissan Micra – it’s possible to spend more than £15,000 before you attack the options list.

The running costs for the Micra are also compelling. Cheap insurance, decent economy and an emissions rating that translates into low VED tax rates or company car tax rates that are negligible are all among the best running costs in the class.

The Micra looks pricy compared to rivals from Suzuki and Kia

The official average economy figures for the 1.2-litre petrol engines aren’t bad, so you can understand why Nissan hasn’t bothered with a diesel version, for which it would have to charge a premium. The naturally aspirated 1.2 churns out 115g/km and returns an official average of 56.5mpg, increasing to 125g/km and 52.3mpg when specified with the CVT gearbox.

It’s still difficult to justify the Nissan over similarly affordable and yet much more likeable competitors but, even so, the financial argument for the Micra is easily its most persuasive element.


2.5 star Nissan Micra
Micra’s global ambition doesn’t deliver sufficient local appeal

There are a number of ways in which even superminis such as the Nissan Micra with limited overall capability can still worm their way into our affections. They can be very spacious, very cheap, a lot of fun, or perhaps supremely refined.

Any one of those facets can turn an otherwise average car into an intriguing and appealing one for a customer with certain wants and needs.

High-spec models are the easiest to justify

What’s disappointing about the Micra, then, is not just that it’s a supermini of fairly limited appeal when stacked up against the best alternatives in the class, but that it doesn’t have a USP to fall back on. The Ford Fiesta will always be an engaging car to drive. The Honda Jazz is supremely practical. The Micra, to us, is just a car that hits, at best, class average in most key areas.

There’s a reasonable amount of space inside and visibility out is good, and it’s a comfortable if not particularly engaging drive. In spite of a parsimoniously equipped base model, other cars do fairly well with their equipment levels.

If a highly specced supermini is all you’re after, a bigger segment that the Micra has ever competed for, and even at this early stage it is leaps and bounds the best version Nissan has ever developed. Let's hope it fulfils its potential.

Nissan Micra 2010-2017 First drives