Nissan Micra 2011 first drive

A SOPHISTICATED supercharged three-cylinder engine is still on Nissan Australia’s wish-list for the new Micra as it looks to triple sales of its baby price fighter.  The fourth-generation Micra, which goes on sale later this year, will continue as Nissan’s price leader in Australia but there is no confirmation yet on the powerplant.

And there is no confirmation that the brand will continue with a $15,990 starting price.  The Micra has been a hit in Japan, where it has just gone on sale. Already the company has taken 10,000 orders, 6000 more than it had expected in the car’s initial launch phase.  Nissan Australia expects the newcomer to triple sales of the current car, which regularly does 400 a month in Australia.

Mechanical

The new Micra will be available in Europe with both diesel and petrol engines, including the supercharged three-cylinder.  Initial estimates suggest the supercharged engine will produce around 70kW and 140Nm of torque, with a non-supercharged version at 58kW/108Nm.

Significantly, the supercharged triple delivers class-leading C02 emissions of just 95 grams/km and has been designed for Europe, where cars are taxed for their greenhouse gas emissions.  The high-compression engine uses direct fuel injection and a Miller-cycle combustion process to delivery performance that Nissan says is equivalent to a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

The supercharger only operates at higher speeds. Around town and at constant speeds it idles to boost fuel economy.  Japanese buyers not only get the supercharged three-cylinder but stop-start technology and full suite of safety gear.

The company has slashed production and parts costs from the new Micra, which uses 18 per cent fewer components than the old car. The dashboard alone uses 28 parts rather than the 50 in the old model.  Nissan is also working on a Micra sedan for the new model which will go up against  four-door versions of the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta.

Driving

OUR brief drive of an early-build prototype Micra was just one lap of Nissan’s test track at Yokohama, so a full assessment will have to wait for several months until – and if – the supercharged Micra makes to Australian lineup.  However, one thing is clear – the supercharged three-cylinder is a sparkling and crisp performer.

At idle the compact engine is quiet and has little evidence of the “three cylinder thrum” that marks cars like the Suzuki Alto and Smart’s Fortwo.  Once underway most people would not know this front-driver is powered by three cylinders.

The supercharged Micra delivers particularly strong mid-range response from 40km/h upwards and the gearshift and clutch operation is on par with its rivals.  Despite losing a cylinder, it feels like a particularly strong unit and, although Nissan is championing the car’s ultra-low C02 emissions of just 95 g/km, the company could easily push its sportier credentials.

Although our example was a prototype the Micra’s cabin is fresh and contemporary, with supportive seats and a light, airy feel.  The only thing we see in the way of the supercharged three is cost, so if Nissan Australia can make the numbers work it should be part of the local lineup.

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