In isolation, the new Nissan Micra looks sharp. Indeed, I proclaimed it to be one of the best-looking superminis on the market when it was first launched, expressive, interesting and distinctive. Some of the detailing is a little contrived (check out the shape of the side glass, for example), but the net result is undoubtedly a small car that can turn heads and get a conversation going. In short, the antithesis of its predecessor.
And yet, park it next to the new SEAT Ibiza, even in this hideous ‘Mystic Magenta’ paint colour, and it looks like Nissan's designers were trying a little too hard to atone for past sins. The Ibiza is remarkably subtle, especially in pictures. Spend some time walking around it and you'll soon appreciate that it's much more than the 'Leon's little brother' we've all been guilty of labelling it as. It looks contemporary and, dare I say it, almost elegant. The pictured test car is the high-spec XCellence model, which helps its cause of course, and it doesn't grab attention as the Micra can, but I suspect the latter's design will date quicker.
Nissan didn't go so crazy with the Micra's interior, which is pleasant, but already a little old-hat in terms of the plastics and switchgear in places. It's shown up by the Ibiza's relatively simple cabin design, which manages to feel a step above in terms of quality and tactility for the most part. Again, you need to look past the XCellence fripperies to truly compare these cars like-for-like, but I still feel that the Ibiza has the upper hand here. It’s also tangibly larger inside, especially in the back, and has a usefully bigger boot, though the Micra counters with good interior storage, including a large glovebox.
At the time of writing, the Nissan Micra range is made up entirely of relatively underpowered petrol engines and a sole diesel for those that plan on taking it on the motorway all the time. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol unit is willing enough around town, but woefully inadequate out of it, meaning the fuel economy is negatively affected if you try to extract any decent performance. An illustrating point: every time the air conditioning compressor kicks in, it tangibly drains a little power from the car. However, I concede that most supermini buyers aren't looking to win the traffic lights grand prix, and it's perfectly ok around town, with alert steering and good bump absorption. The chassis delivers a solid performance all round, with good damping and body control if you take the car out of its comfort zone. Shame the power steering weighting is so leaden.
Jump into the Ibiza after some time at the wheel of the Micra and it initially feels too light on the road with weightless steering and other driving controls. Slowly, however, it wins you over, with great body control over free-flowing roads and real precision in the chassis. This really is one of the best-to-drive superminis on sale, warranting comparison with the mighty Ford Fiesta on that score. Sure, the steering could do with more weight and feel, but then again, it's set up well for use in town. It's not fair to compare the feisty 115hp version of the SEAT's petrol engine with that of the Nissan for this test, but suffice to say that it has plenty of go and it's also a seriously smooth operator. Same for the six-speed manual gearbox that comes with this engine.
What you get for your Money
We realise that the two cars photographed are not realistic rivals, but we can look past that at the rest of the Nissan and SEAT line-ups to find how they are remarkably close in price and specification. The entry-level Ibiza S costs from €14,999 (or from €154.82 a month on PCP) with a 1.0-litre 75hp petrol engine, while the cheapest Micra XE is €16,650 (or from €156.91 a month on PCP thanks to a low 2.9 per cent offer), powered by a 71hp 1.0-litre petrol engine. A better comparison is perhaps the level two cars, i.e. the SEAT Ibiza SE at €17,335 (€163.37 a month) and the Nissan Micra SV at €17,450 (€230.18 A month).
The Micra gets 16-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights up front, while the Ibiza makes do with 15-inch rims and LED rear lamps only, though gains front fog lights. The Ibiza has a five-inch touchscreen to the Micra’s seven-inch item, but both have Bluetooth, aux-in ports, electric front windows and air conditioning. They’re very evenly matched, in effect, though we noticed that the Ibiza has Front Assist including City Automatic Emergency Braking as standard, a system that is part of the €550 Safety Pack for the Micra.
Summary - Shane O’ Donoghue
I prefer the Ibiza, it's as simple as that. While accepting that the Micra is, by far, the most desirable generation to bear the badge, the SEAT has leaped forward by an even larger margin. It’s spacious, refined, good to drive, well-equipped and quite good value for money. If budget allows, get the 115hp engine, but even without, it’s a cracking supermini that really deserves to move the brand up the company sales chart.
Summary - Maurice Malone
Having driven the Ibiza for a few days prior to jumping into the Micra, I felt a little let down. That’s not a go at the little Nissan as such, merely a sign of what a quality bit of kit SEAT’s supermini has become. It’s everything that Shane has alluded to above and more, and bodes well for the Spanish manufacturer’s future. Lest we forget, its platform also underpins the new Volkswagen Polo and the upcoming Skoda Fabia, but I’d have no hesitation in proclaiming the new Ibiza as my current favourite in the segment, especially with that peach of a 1.0-litre TSI engine.
However, the Micra is no longer the weakest contender in the class, far from it in fact. Nissan has to be applauded for achieving such a massive improvement between generations, something that’s rarely seen in the industry. The bold exterior design won’t appease everyone, but to my eyes it’s one of the sharpest-looking cars in the category.
Nissan reckons that this naturally-aspirated, 1.0-litre engine will be the most popular choice in the new Micra, but in my opinion it totally cripples the car out of town. Pity, as there’s a competent and stable chassis beneath the futuristic looks, although the interior isn’t at the same level as the SEAT’s. My advice would be to try the more powerful petrol and diesel options before fully committing to a purchase.
Nissan Micra Tech Specs
Model tested: Nissan Micra SV 1.0
Pricing: €17,450 as tested (Micra range starts at €16,650)
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 103g/km (Band A3, €190 per year)
Combined economy: 61mpg (4.6 litres/100km)
Top speed: 158km/h
0-100km/h: 16.4 seconds
Power: 70hp at 6,300rpm
Torque: 95Nm at 3,500rpm
Boot space: 300 litres (seats up)
Safety: Euro NCAP rating for 'standard' Nissan Micra / Euro NCAP rating for Nissan Micra with Safety Pack
SEAT Ibiza Tech Specs
Model tested: SEAT Ibiza 1.0 TSI 115hp XCellence
Pricing: €22,588 as tested (Ibiza range starts at €14,995)
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 108g/km (Band A3, €190 per year)
Combined economy: 60.1mpg (4.0 litres/100km)
Top speed: 195km/h
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds
Power: 115hp at 5,000- to 5,500rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2,000- to 3,500rpm
Boot space: 355 litres (seats up)
Safety: Euro NCAP rating for SEAT Ibiza