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Tony O'Kane | Jul 1, 2009 | 4 Comments
“With no manual gearbox to worry about, excellent outward visibility and compact proportions, the Micra is a cinch to drive.”

FOR MANY PEOPLE, a car is little more than a means to get from one place to another. Basic transport, but a lot more convenient than public transit.

For this type of motorist, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of inexpensive n’ uncomplicated vehicles to cater to them, the majority sitting snugly in the sub-$20,000 price bracket.

The 2009 Nissan Micra is one such vehicle, but while it undoubtedly holds no pretensions to luxury, speed or rugged utility, is there more to it than just bare-bones motoring?

We wanted to find out what the cutely-styled hatchback had to offer the average motorist, and when Nissan flung us the keys to a New York Blue Micra City Collection, I was only too happy to run it through the wringer.

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Styling

By far, the Micra’s most notable feature is its shape. Although it’s almost seven years-old now (the K12 Micra debuted in 2003), the Micra still looks as fresh, funky and eye-catching as it did when it first went on sale.

Curves are the predominant theme in the Micra’s design. There’s nary a straight line to be found, and the shape is smooth, organic and somewhat bulbous. Those headlights are practically amphibian in the way they protrude above the bonnet - perhaps the most polarizing aspect of the Micra’s design.

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As a result of its upright, cab-centric shape, cabin space is maximised and outward visibility is good. The exterior may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it grows on you.

Admittedly, it might not reek of testosterone, but with a range of gender-neutral hues in the Micra’s palette, men can still drive around in one without looking completely emasculated.

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Our tester looked great in New York Blue, but Roma Red, Madrid Ebony and Monaco Platinum are equally as bloke-friendly. Women (on my observations, young women in particular), seem to dig the numerous pastel hues on offer, while a dark purple and deep red are a classy touch.

Being the up-spec City Collection model, our test car also came with a set of 15 inch alloy wheels.

 

The Interior

The Micra’s cabin is a touch more conventional than its exterior. While large rotary dials, chunky door-handles and ‘uncomplex’ shapes signify that Nissan has placed function over form, there are flourishes of the exterior design’s influence extending to the cabin.

The door bins, for example, are framed by a large elliptical plastic supports which tie into the door handles and window controls. The seat cushions have a large oval panel sewn in and the front headrests have an almost cartoonish hole punched through them.

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The only interior colour option is what Nissan calls the Belgian Chocolate scheme, which consists of dark brown plastics offset by patterned door and seat trim in matching earthy tones.

We found it a rather pleasant interior for what is one of the cheapest cars on the market, but some buyers may not appreciate the lack of interior trim choice.

What they will appreciate is the generous amount of storage space. The Micra’s long dashboard is contoured to hold knick-knacks; there are map pockets in the front doors; a small mobile phone tray under the ventilation controls; a storage tray under the passenger’s seat, a grand total of four cup-holders and the most cavernous glovebox I’ve ever seen in a car – big or small (front-seat passengers could feasibly fit an entire foot in there comfortably).


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Hiding within the depths of the glovebox is a 3.5mm audio jack, which feeds into the stereo system. The four-speaker FM/AM head-unit with six-CD stacker (standard on the Micra City Collection) isn’t anything to write home about, but its ability to take sound from an external MP3 player wins it a few points.

Ergonomically, there are no big complaints. The seating position is upright and relatively high, which affords you a decent view of your surroundings. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the squab adjusts for height.

The Micra’s glasshouse gives great rearward visibility, but the wing mirrors are a little on the small side.

The steering column adjusts for rake, but not reach. All controls fall readily to hand, and the instruments are clearly legible. The instrument cluster is pretty basic. All you get is a speedometer, fuel gauge and gear indicator; so those used to seeing a tachometer and temperature gauge may feel shortchanged.

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In the rear of the cabin, things are slightly more cramped. Depending on the dimensions of the front occupants, rear legroom may be at a premium, while headroom can be a little tight.

The rear seats are comfortable enough if you can secure some decent legroom, but the middle seat gets a lap-only seatbelt – a sales handicap in an increasingly safety-conscious society.

The boot is relatively spacious for a compact car, and the 60/40 split-fold rear seats open up a lot more room should you need it. There’s certainly enough room for the week’s shopping, but don’t bank on being able to move furniture with it.

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Safety

Safety is a bit of a mixed bag for the Micra. Driver and front passenger airbags are standard, while side and curtain airbags are part of the City Collection package.

Pretensioning seatbelts are fitted to the front seats, and ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist are also standard.

Countering this is the unavailability of electronic stability control, the centre lap-sash belt on the rear seat and the Micra’s three-star ANCAP rating. The Micra’s age is starting to show in this department.

 

Mechanical Package

Mechanically speaking, the Micra is a pretty basic machine. A 1.4 litre inline-four drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox (no manual option is offered), and the car is suspended via MacPherson struts up front and a beam axle at the rear.

Peak power of 72kW is developed at 5600rpm, while maximum torque of 137Nm is delivered at 3200rpm. Those numbers won’t impress your mates down at the pub, but given the whole car weighs just 965kg empty not a great deal of power is needed anyway.

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Braking hardware consists of ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear, while the electro-mechanical power steering makes twirling the tiller an effortless affair.

The drivetrain feels solid and there’s nothing worrying in how the rest of the mechanical package operates.

That’s pretty much it. Not the most technologically sophisticated car on the market, but the upshot is that there is very little than can go wrong with it.

 

The Drive

Driving doesn’t get much simpler when you’re in something like the Micra. With no manual gearbox to worry about, excellent outward visibility and compact proportions, the Micra is a cinch to drive.

The suspension is soft and soaks up bumpy roads with aplomb. It’s well damped and despite the relative simplicity of its suspension layout, the Micra handles fairly well.

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The engine is always willing to rev, and it’s surprisingly zippy for a naturally-aspirated 1.4 litre motor. It would be a more involving experience if a manual transmission was offered here, but the four-speeder is at least a good one, with well-spaced ratios.

Being a rather bluff shape, wind noise at speed is a little more evident compared to other cars in the Micra’s class. The rear parcel shelf also has a habit of bouncing around and causing the occasional rattle when traversing rough pavement, while insufficient sound deadening in the doors and roof allows pothole impacts to reverberate through the cabin.

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But drive it in an inner-urban environment (unarguably the Micra’s intended habitat), and the little Nissan feels quite at home. Thanks to its compact dimensions, ducking into and out of traffic streams is a breeze, and, should you get snagged, the integrated armrest in the driver’s seat makes sitting in traffic a less stressful experience.

Visibility is excellent, and the wheel-at-each-corner stance of the Micra makes parking a doddle (helped also by the prominent headlamp bulges providing an accurate indicator of where the extremities are).


 

The Verdict

Easy to drive, reasonably well balanced and more than capable of cutting a path through peak-hour traffic, the Micra is worth a close look by those looking for an individually-styled, city commuter.

While it’s not exactly stacked with creature comforts, it is easy to live with and grows on you the more time you spend at the wheel.

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It’s not a bad steer, it can handle neglected rural roads without breaking into a sweat – though is much more at home in an urban environment - and is pretty comfortable to sit in for long periods.

A good A-to-B choice then? Well yes; it might not be for everybody, but as an entry-level car, it is a competent and capable steer.

While it’s not the most heart-racing automobile around, I couldn’t help but like the little Micra after my time with it. If all you need is a small, modestly-equipped and somewhat fashionable-looking hatch to cart you around town, odds are you’ll like it too.

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