Fleet News

Nissan Micra



I am always being told I am too miserable and I moan too much, which may or may not be true.

But I have discovered the panacea to all my problems. I shall cheer myself up with the new Nissan Micra - the happiest little car on the block.

In fact, on the launch, Nissan executives stressed what a friendly attitude it has so many times, it almost got on my nerves.

Basically, the supermini world now splits into two camps. For sober and sensible, see the likes of Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo or Vauxhall Corsa. For cute and cuddly, opt for Toyota Yaris, Citroen C3 and now, the Micra.

And although predisposed towards the former camp, I can see the attraction of a car with as much cheekiness as the Micra.

It is following on the back of an extremely successful car. The Sunderland plant bolted a staggering 1.3 million of the previous models together, of which 431,384 were sold in the UK.

Nissan expects to sell 40,000 here next year, with fleet comprising a quarter of all sales.

There will be three petrol models, a 64bhp 1.0-litre, 78bhp 1.2-litre and 86bhp 1.4-litre available in January 2003, and two 1.5 dCi diesels.

The 64bhp diesel engine will be on sale in February and the 80bhp in August. Prices will be announced later in the month, but take the Toyota Yaris as a rough guide and you will not be far wrong.

There are no emissions figures for the diesels as yet, but as the unit is the same exceptional one used in the Renault Clio, expect them to be very good.

The petrol versions are smack in the middle of the class at 141, 143 and 154g/km from the smallest engine to the largest so all will fit into the 15% benefit-in-kind tax bracket for the next two years at least.

Fuel consumption figures are also pretty healthy. Although the 1.0-litre is obviously the best with 48.6mpg, the 1.2-litre is not far off it at 47.8 mpg.

Although decent fuel economy figures are a key component of the supermini proposition, another key ingredient is how they look.

Supermini buyers like a little cutey, and the Micra is certainly that. In fact it is positively bubbling with sweetness, with a bubble sat on top of a longer bubble, and its headlights have the innocent look of a young fawn blinking its first look at a wondrous new world.

But there is method in the Micra's saccharine shell. The bubble on bubble design ensures there is maximum interior space, and with the wheels pushed right into each corner, Nissan claims it is easier to park.

The car is actually 30mm shorter than the outgoing model, but has a 70mm longer wheelbase, as well as being taller and wider.

The big headlights also sit atop the bonnet, and with small nodules on top, they also act as guides for parking. This is a car with the practicalities of urban living in mind.

Inside, the Micra is equally perky. Although the plastics are not up to the quality of the Fiesta or Polo, they have been worked on with some ripply effects that improve them and the ambience is light and airy.

The higher spec models get 'ivory' dials for the CD player and climate control, which tip their cap towards traditional Japanese pottery apparently. Most of the other switchgear is more prosaic, but it is well laid out and clear to use.

Equipment levels across the range are pretty good. All cars come with ABS with EBD and brake assist, driver and passenger airbags, CD player, remote central locking, electric front windows and 'Friendly (there's that word again) Lighting' to guide drivers to their doors.

But it is from the SE model where it becomes more exciting.

The third model in the range comes with a plethora of goodies, including automatic rain-sensing wipers, part leather trim and steering wheel- mounted radio controls. But the detail that could prove a real hook for buyers is the intelligent key.

Stick the key in your handbag or pocket and it never need be seen again. But unlike other systems that lock and unlock the doors automatically from a distance, a button by the door handle does the job.

Nissan believes that drivers are paranoid about such systems leaving the car unlocked, and still want to feel in control of the process. I think Nissan is right.

Behind the wheel

The Micra was launched in Rome, which is a brave thing to do because those glorious streets are not for the faint hearted, but as a test of its urban competitiveness, they don't come much stiffer.

Switch the car on with a turn of the keyless ignition and tickover of the 1.2-litre engine is astonishing. It was so whisperingly quiet, I thought it had stalled.

Getting a decent seat position is fairly easy, although the steering wheel could do with a bit more reach for taller people, but there is plenty of head and shoulder room.

As a nippy city car, the Micra, especially the fizzy 1.2, works very well. The electric power steering is light without feeling over-assisted and the ride, while not in the class of the Fiesta or Polo, does the job. It errs more towards the soft settings of the Citroen C3, but without the body roll of the French car.

So flashing through the streets of Rome was easy enough, and in keeping with its happy demeanour, it has the most gleeful horn of any car I've driven, and sends out a cheery 'hello' rather than the 'get out of my way you crazy idiot' tone the Italians use with monotonous regularity.

On the open road, the 1.2 model proved to be more than adequate if a little noisy at high speed due to some low gearing, and there seemed little to separate it from the 1.4-litre unit. With the larger engine likely to cost £600 extra, and with worse fuel consumption, the 1.2 would be my pick.

Driving verdict

The Micra hums a happy tune and sales will no doubt keep those production lines in Sunderland busy. It has the right attitude for the type of buyers in the sector, and seems decently built with some genuine innovations to keep that smile plastered across its owner's face.

The all-important prices are announced at the end of the month and unless something unforeseen happens - such as they are prohibitively high - there seems little to stop the new Micra being as successful as the old one.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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