COTY 2011 Nissan Micra

Nissan Micra ST - COTY 2011

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ON CarsGuide


Here the price is king, with everything else - from comfort to safety, style to audio system - falling in behind. Push the price too far and the domino effect upends all these other factors and as a finale, pours cold weater over buyer appeal. It's vital to get it right.

Light cars have become an ominous pointer to the future of localised transport amidst dense traffic conditions and premium-priced parking.

They are impossible to miss, existing on our current roadscape aside SUVs and utes, big sedans and even compact hatchbacks, darting into forgotten gaps in the freeway crawl and pinching the last parking bay in an impossible corner of the underground city carpark.

Many adjectives have been thrown at the Micra and some smell as sweet as the cash savings promised on the car's fuel bill while others are derogatory slights at its amusing body style.

This is the second of the new-wave Micras, replacing a 1990s boxy UK-built model and following - since 2007 - the almost frog-like curves of the new generation that is now built, at least formally, in Thailand.

Formally because Australia is supposed to get the Micra from Thailand after importing the previous car from the UK became cripplingly expensive. And formally because the recent floods in Thailand have severely affected the supply of components so the car will comes, at least temporarily, from Japan.

Sales since the remake of the model early this year have been brisk - at least in comparison to the previous model that was criticised for being too weird to park safely in a home driveway - at almost 8000 year-to-date, up 16.4 per cent on 2010.

But the transition to the latest 2011 version comes with a lot of downsides.

Referred to by one judge as being "the avocado" and "Kermit cute" - a reference to the test car's colour - the newest Micra loses points for its poor quality dashboard and associated cabin trim., The hard plastic is common in the Micra's sub-$15,000 bracket, but most do it with some level of pride. The Micra's dash panels were ill-fitting and competed with the cheap-looking and flimsy covering for the boot and the confidence-deflating tinny sound of the closing doors.

On the road it's a trier. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder verson was optioned with a four-speed automatic and the pair didn't do each othr any favours. Performance was adequate and would be ideal for city and inner suburban commuting but on the open road tired with any incline, wheezed when more than one adult was aboard and laboured noisily when pushed hard in each gear.

But, surprisingly, it held on well through the corners and there was adequate grip towards the limit. It's not something we expected and are unlikely to willingly repeat the test, but it shows that the chassis isn't too bad.

But it's the price and the low running costs that win here, though the car also proves to rate reasonably high in the safety sakes with a four-star crash rating, six airbags and electronic stability control. There's even a full-size spare tyre beneath a thinly covered, yet quite cavernous, boot. It will seat four adults and has a decent audio system and would make an ideal first car or second car for the city commuter.

Fun? Maybe. In this demanding Carsguide Car of the Year environment, it's placement in the Top 10 is worthy. It's relegatio n to the bottom of that list is - because price ultimately shouldn't be everything - is to be expected.

Price: (as tested): $14,990
Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cyl petrol, 56kW/100Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto; front drive
Thirst: 6.5 L/100km; 154g/km CO2.