Montreal, QC—They’ll get it in the Nissan Micra, an all-new model for 2015, and the lowest-priced car in Canada at $9,998. That’s for the bedrock-base manual-everything model that only a half-dozen people will actually buy, of course, but you can get air conditioning and an automatic transmission starting at $13,298, and pile everything on for the highest price of $16,748.
Micra makes major comeback
The Micra then backs it up with peppy performance, sharp steering, and a smooth ride. I’ll call it now: Nissan is going to sell a major whack of these things.
(Disclosure: Transportation, accommodation, meals, and a pre-set driving route were provided to the author by the automaker.)
It’s a comeback for the Micra nameplate, which was sold in Canada from 1984 to 1992. It’s now a global model that’s marketed in more than 160 countries, but given that most Americans aren’t too keen on tiny hatchbacks, the U.S. is not one of them. Our Micras are built in Mexico, and contain such Canada-specific features as rear-seat heater ducts, heated mirrors, rear stabilizer bar, and suspension tuning for Canadian roads.
Based on the “V” platform that underpins the Versa Note hatchback, the Micra shares that model’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, making 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque. It’s a good fit to this little car, with enough strength for highway merging and passing, and without any roar or buzz on acceleration, as you can often get in this segment.
The default transmission is a five-speed manual, found in all three S, SV, and SR trim levels. The good news is that the automatic version, also available in all trims, is a four-speed instead of a CVT.
Nissan chose the four-speed strictly to keep the cost down, but it ended up being better for the car overall. A continuously-variable transmission could potentially have ruined this car, given that they can be noisy and sluggish on small engines. Instead, the Micra shifts smoothly, and delivers linear power right where you need it. Unlike in many micro-machines, there’s no loss of performance and peppiness if you opt for the autobox.
Unlike in many micro-machines, there’s no loss of performance with the autobox
Fuel consumption is rated at 8.6 L/100 km in the city and 6.6 on the highway for the manual transmission, and 8.8/6.6 for the automatic. That sounds high for the segment, but keep in mind that the Micra is a 2015, and so those numbers are for the new and more realistic five-cycle testing that Natural Resource is introducing for all model-year 2015 vehicles. Under the two-cycle test that has been used up until now, the Micra would rate 7.4/5.5.
That’s slightly more than some of its competitors, but the purchase price will undoubtedly outweigh the difference at the pumps. Outfitting the base S trim line with air conditioning and an automatic transmission—the two options most people want—brings it up to $13,298. By contrast, Nissan says the lowest-price competitor equipped with A/C and A/T is the Chevrolet Spark, at $14,895. Other models so-equipped range from $16,298 (that’s the Versa Note, which meant some serious price calculations to prevent cannibalization between these two Nissan models) to a high of $17,690 on the Mazda2.
Cheaper than a used car?
Nissan has also priced the Micra not just to compete with new cars, but to encourage many buyers to consider it instead of a used car. It’s certainly a viable option, given that it’s usually easier to get financing on a new vehicle, and it comes with a full warranty. A 48-month lease will be $189 per month.
The $9,998 Micra S is pretty basic, with its wind-up windows and manual mirrors, but you do get a CD stereo with auxiliary input, tachometer, trip computer, four-way adjustable front seats, 15-inch steel wheels, and 60/40 split-folding rear seat. That’s the only way it comes; you can’t order the S with air conditioning but keep the stick shift. Instead, the next step up is the S A/C, for $13,298, which adds the automatic, air, and cruise control.
The mid-range SV is $13,698 with the manual, or $14,698 with the automatic, and it builds on the S by adding air conditioning, Bluetooth, power locks with keyless entry, heated power mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, power windows with auto driver’s operation, six-way driver’s seat with armrest, and cargo cover. For another $500 on either one, you can add a Convenience Package of 4.3-inch stereo display, USB port, and backup camera. Nissan expects this trim to be the volume seller.
The top-line SR is $15,748 with stick shift, or $16,748 with automatic. It further adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded cloth seats, side skirts, and some sportier styling cues.
Back to basics
The interior is sparse, but the controls are easy to use. Driver-handy small-item storage is limited to the door pockets and a small cubby in the centre console, but the glovebox is huge. The seats are more supportive than I expected, and headroom proved more than adequate for my 6-foot-1 co-driver when he was in the front and rear passenger seats. However, he was a little awkward behind the wheel, where even the lowest seat position still left him looking at the top of the windshield.
The rear chairs fold, but you need to remove the head restraints first, and the seats don’t fall completely flat.
Ready for the road
The day’s drive included a couple of laps around a handling course, where the Micra’s tuned-for-Canada handling and suspension proved very impressive. It stayed calm and composed through the slalom, and took sweeping turns with the smoothness I’d expect from a larger car. It also boasts a turning circle of just 4.65 metres, the tightest in the segment except for the Mitsubishi Mirage.
Although it’s primarily meant to be a city car, it was solidly planted on the highway at 120 km/h. I also took it over a couple of rough railway crossings that I thought would produce some serious undercarriage banging, but it handled them smoothly and with surprisingly little noise.
Am I gushing? Maybe so, but I just wasn’t expecting something this small, and this inexpensive, to be this good. Automakers are always bringing in new models or improving their existing ones, but every now and again, one comes in that truly shakes up the segment. For its performance, comfort and value, the new Micra is that car.