I recently went to see a live performance by bespectacled shaven-haired comedian Harry Hill and was surprised to hear mention of the new Nissan Micra as part of his routine.
He said Nissan dealers were briefed not to sell the cars to owners with cats. 'They look like mice,' he said of the superminis, 'It winds them up.'
While this can only have occurred in the peculiar imagination of a stand-up comedian, it's something that crossed my mind when I first saw the car last year. In some ways it does look like a mouse, with its round eyes, whisker-like grille and front edge of the bonnet that tapers into a snout in the bumper. The door mirrors then become the ears and the mousey transformation is complete. But this does not take away from the fact that the new Micra is one of the cleverest cars in it sector, as well as one of the quirkiest.
It falls into the off-beat group of superminis, along with the likes of the Citroen C3, Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz, which line up against more sober cars such as the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Nissan set out to make a 'friendly' looking car, but it is also practical. Although shorter than the long-serving model it replaces, the new Micra is taller and wider, with a few extra inches in the wheelbase.
Our 1.2 SE model was also well equipped. Standard features include remote central locking, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, a CD radio and power steering. But these features are standard to all new Micras, and the SE also benefits from a trip computer, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, air conditioning and something called an intelligent key.
I decided it was more intelligent than me because when I first got into the car using the remote, I noticed that the key was hidden inside as a back-up measure. With no press pack in our vehicle I spent a few minutes twisting the plastic Fisher-Price-type switch on the steering column without success.
A call to the Nissan press office informed me that I had to press the brake pedal to start the car, and it would only start if the car was not in gear. Despite the minor inconvenience, I welcomed this method of starting the Micra. If anyone was to break into the car, I guarantee they would give up before they worked out how to drive it away.
I was also impressed by the design and materials of the driving environment. Light colours lift the ambience of the interior and it feels more upmarket than cars like the C3 and the Fiesta, if not quite offering the feeling of solidity in the Volkswagen Polo. The glove compartment is split into three areas and offers a total of almost 13 litres of storage space, while rear legroom is generous and the boot is a decent size. However the curve of the rear of the car limits headroom in the back and might prove uncomfortable for taller passengers.
The 80bhp 1.2-litre car is surprisingly nippy, although it can sound strained on the motorway, while the Micra handles neatly and predictably with little body roll. The steering in almost unbelievably light at parking speeds, but is reassuringly weighty in mid to high-speed bends, making the Micra easy to drive in the city, and fun to drive on the open road.
Nissan Micra fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £9,370
CO2 emissions (g/km): 145
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £100
Insurance group: 2
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £3,600/38%
Depreciation (9.07 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,442
Maintenance (1.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,074
Fuel (7.97 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,782
Wholelife cost (18.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,298
Typical contract hire rate: £201 per month
Three rivals to consider
THE Micra matches the Fiesta on P11d price but actually boasts a few extra horsepower. Although the Polo has only 65bhp, its three-cylinder engine is second only to the C3's 1.4-litre unit on torque. The Citroen probably seems more expensive than it actually is here – with the company's cashback offers for retail sales, rarely are any sold at full price. A more transparent price strategy would ensure fleet drivers are not penalised on benefit-in-kind tax.
A WIN for the Micra here showing that despite relatively short service intervals of 9,000 miles, Nissan has done its homework to ensure parts prices are competitive. The C3 and Fiesta are evenly matched, while the Polo is not far behind in what seems to be a relatively cheap category. However, the fractions of a penny between the cars here could make all the difference in a cost-conscious sector of the market.
THE Micra edges ahead again, costing a total of £4,782 over 60,000 miles. However, the gap to the Volkswagen is just £78 at a cost of 8.1 pence per mile compared with the Micra's 7.97pence. With equal fuel consumption on the combined cycle of 45.6mpg, both the C3 and the Fiesta are expected to cost 8.37ppm. Over 60,000 miles it results in them costing a total of £240 more than the Micra, which could be crucial when deciding to add large numbers to fleets.
THE C3, the car with the highest P11d price, loses the most cash through depreciation, but the next highest P11d proves to be the strongest on residual values. The C3 equals the Micra in percentage terms on 38% but loses out though its higher list price. CAP predicts the Polo will retain an awesome 46% over three- years/60,000-miles. The Fiesta achieves 39%, making its depreciation record the second best here. However, the Polo offers the same sort of financial security percentage-wise as a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW.
BY virtue of its incredible residual values the Polo leapfrogs the others when totalling up all the figures. However, it should be pointed out that the Micra comes out top in every other cost comparison, and perhaps if its designers had settled for a more conservative design more in line with the Polo or Fiesta it might have fared better in the black art of setting residual values. Nevertheless it represents good value overall – even among this tough competition.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
IN the medium term there is little to choose between these four. All will face benefit-in-kind tax of 15% over the next two years. Assuming the rules tighten, the Polo could be best placed to protect drivers from higher tax. But at the same time, the Micra and the Fiesta tie for the lowest BIK liability over the next two years. The C3, with its higher P11d price, suffers. The taxman does not recognise retail offers such as cashback.
THE Micra's styling is a double-edged sword which some will like while others will be faintly embarrassed by. However, it cannot be denied that it is fun to drive and if it wasn't for the Volkswagen Polo and its extra- ordinarily strong residual values, the Micra would have scored a victory in our running costs comparison. However, we would award the win by the narrowest of margins to the Polo because of its broader appeal.