Can you believe it? A small Nissan that looks desirable, drives with precision and verve and is still called Micra. We've driven the new star.
In the Metal:
This is not a Micra as we know it. Nissan has chucked out the blue rinse and binned the Mass cards, mostly because it realised (and acknowledges) its mistake with the fourth generation model. This new Micra's predecessor was designed to be cheap and cheerful, but was mostly just cheap, and sales across Europe plummeted relative to older models. Nissan took the hint and, for this fifth generation model, has moved production, design and engineering back to Europe. It shows.
OK, so you could accuse the new Micra of being over styled. The deeply chiselled nose flows into a wavy character line that rises up sharply, dramatically and not entirely successfully into a shark's fin shape behind the rear door. Around the back, the big c-shaped tail lights wrap around and the heavily curved rear roof section looks, from some angles, like a high-tech Martello Tower. There's a 'floating roof' effect thanks to blacked out B- and C-pillars, and you can even have optional bonnet and roof graphics (stickers that, miraculously, don't look totally incongruous thanks to the already sporty styling). Boring it's not. Desirable? Pretty much, yeah...
The interior follows suit. There is a streak of conservatism in there, certainly compared to the exterior, but much of that is just down to the familiarity of the carry-over components from the Nissan Qashqai and Pulsar (main dials, lots of the buttons, the column stalks). The good points are good though - great seats, nice driving position, gorgeous three-spoke steering wheel (we'll forgive the flat bottom, this once) and chunky heater controls that feel almost Porsche-like in their tactility. OK, so our test car was a specced-to-the-gills SVE model with leather, a big touchscreen and big-car options such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping and a surround camera system. Strip all of that away, however, and this is still an impressive cabin.
Not a spacious one though, and here is the Micra's only major stumble. Space and comfort are very good up front, but in the back there's a dearth of knee-room and headroom if you're taller. Adults and taller kids will be griping. A shame, as surely Nissan could have robbed a little from the impressive 300-litre boot to better accommodate rear passengers?
It's not perfect, and it's not as sharp as a Ford Fiesta on the road, but here's a Nissan Micra that's really, genuinely rewarding to drive. Yes. Honestly. It is.
There are one or two issues. The steering, light at low speed, weights up pleasantly as you gather pace, but it never really feeds back an awful lot of raw data to your hands. The ride comfort was also slightly compromised on our test car by the optional 17-inch alloys. And when you're cornering briskly, there's an occasional odd corkscrew oscillation from the rear suspension as the springs and dampers struggle to keep up. It's not destabilising, but it's there.
Still, the fact that you're in a Micra that encourages you to press on hard enough to trigger that oscillation speaks volumes. That steering is linear and well weighted, and the chunky little nose darts nicely into corners - fast to get to the apex, but never nervous - and the whole car has a really pleasing, solid, planted feel to it, without ever becoming overly flat and boring. There's a little body roll to let you know how hard the chassis is working, which is welcome, but you are, genuinely, going to enjoy driving this. Thanks to decent refinement and those excellent front seats it should make a good long-haul companion too, albeit not if you're four-up.
The engine is a good little thing too, albeit it's not going to be the primary model for Ireland. It's the 898cc three-pot turbo familiar from the Renault Clio and Captur and, in common with most modern three-cylinder engines, it feels zingy and zesty, happy to rev and with a pleasing little three-cylinder warble as you head for the redline. Yes, Micras have redlines. Honest.
It should prove frugal too. Spec your Micra with stop-start and you'll get an official 64mpg and 99g/km. Around 75 per cent of Irish Micra customers will go for the new 1.0-litre 73hp petrol engine though, leaving 20 per cent to take the 0.9 turbo and a paltry five per cent who'll plump for the 1.5 diesel.
What you get for your Money:
The Micra should be decent value for money, but we won't know for certain until Nissan releases Irish prices next week. It will start at a ballpark of €16,200, which is both significantly more expensive than the old Micra and more than the Skoda Fabia. It's about benchmark with the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, though and the Micra has the sort of sophistication to mix it up with them. Safety levels are good and all Micras will have six airbags as standard, plus seat belt warnings and seat belt height adjustment for the front and rear and three ISOFIX points. Basic XE models will have LED daytime running lights, electric door mirrors with integrated turn signals, electric front windows, rear spoiler, Hill Start Assist, Intelligent Emergency Braking, trip computer with gear-shift indicator and outside temperature read-out, height-adjustable driver's seat, rake/reach adjustable steering wheel and a two-tone dashboard.
We don't think we've ever seen as big an improvement from one generation of car to the next, certainly not since Sierra became Ford Mondeo or Escort became Ford Focus. The transition from fourth to fifth generation Micra really is that good as it moves from the dead last bottom of the class to being in contention for the top spot.