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Nissan Micra 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
5

A UK Top Gear host famously reviewed the Nissan Micra while wearing a paper bag over his head. The car in question was an eye-gouging pink, which alone was enough reason to go incognito. And it was also a few years ago, when a Micra in any colour was a bad idea.

But there’s no shame in being seen in the current Micra. It’s true the little car has its faults. However, you have to weigh them up against its good points: economy, space and -- in the base model -- price.

Value

We tested the $12,990 manual base model and then skipped over the $14,990 mid-range ST-L to the $16,990 Ti ($18,990 as tested with the $2000 auto option).

That’s not cheap, compared to the rivals – mainly the $11,990 Chery J1 and Suzuki Alto, and even the Barina Spark comes in at $500 less.

It had a strong competitor in the Hyundai Getz, but the little Korean is leaving the battlefield. However the Micra could face an even stronger on in the new Kia Rio, which arrives in September armed with fresh new looks and attitude.

But the Micra currently argues well on equipment, with the base model getting a respectable amount of safety kit, height-adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth, remote central locking and MP3/CD audio system with controls on the steering wheel.

The instrument panel curiously offers ‘personalised anniversary, birthday and New Year reminders’ which raises the question of whether people too vague to register the end of a year should be behind a wheel at all. But it does explain why all sorts of warning chimes, bleeps and blips are standard.

Upper spec ditches the steel wheels for alloys – and a full-sized spare – and adds power-folding mirrors, climate-control for the airconditioning, reverse parking sensors and a driver’s armrest that was so annoying we punched it in frustration.

However the top-spec’s price has to be shopped against contenders like the $16,690 Volkswagen Polo, $16,990 Ford Fiesta and $16,990 Mazda2, all three of which leave it eating dust in terms of both value and verve.

Design

The Micra’s looks have calmed down over the years, but it’s still a tallish pod with front and rear lines that slope steeply away. But it no longer has the little ‘buds’ on the headlights for you to tell where the front corners are, and you really have to crane over the dash to see where the bonnet disappears – before you bury it into something.

Dash design is good, with the oversized – and probably iPod-inspired airconditioning controls adding a bit of funkiness.

Storage spaces are at a premium, with a tiny glove box and miserly door pockets, while the little nooks in the centre console don’t take much, and the storage space in the front passenger seat only works if you’re flying solo. Luckily, the cargo area is generous, and with the rear seats down almost cavernous for a car this size.

However the main let-down is the poor impression left by touchpoints like the steering wheel and seats – all of which are hard and feel cheap. The driver’s seat gets a flip-down armrest that was so annoyingly positioned we punched it in frustration.

Technology

The base model ST gets a 56kW/100Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder, which claims 5.9L/100km with the standard five-speed manual and 6.5L/100km with the optional four-speed automatic.

The ST-L and Ti get a 75kW/136Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder with fuel figures posted at 6.5L for the manual and 6.6L for the auto.

Suspension is McPherson strut and stabiliser bar at the front and torsion beam with springs at the rear. And some corners have been cut with the brakes, which are front discs but rear drums at all spec levels.

Safety

It does well at this price level with six airbags, dynamic control and anti-skid brakes with brake assist for panic stops and brakeforce distribution to send more anchor to the corners that need it.

The Micra hasn’t been crash-tested in Australia, but in Europe get four stars.

Driving

The first thing you notice is how much headroom the Micra offers, even in the rear pew. However passengers back there don’t get much legroom unless the front seats are set forward.

We suspected we’d prefer the Ti’s 1.5-litre engine – so no shock there. But we were surprised to find the base model’s 1.2-litre wasn’t an outright woofer.

Granted, it was better on the flat and struggled on hills, especially with more than two people, but if you were unhurried about the slopes it got there eventually.

Its downside was that when you needed to rev it – which was often – the lack of sound damping meant you got an earful of noise. And not the good kind.

The larger engine was our clear favourite, even with the four-speed auto. Again, steep slopes gave it a bit of pause – you had to throw it back into second gear on some hills -- but these were the kind that joggers set as a training challenge.

Otherwise it punted the Micra’s light weight around with ease. Coupled with a manual transmission to stoke it along, this engine could offer up even more enthusiasm.

The steering is light but with acceptable feel for a city bug, and with a satisfying return to centre. The wheels at far corners help with dynamics, letting you flick the little body around easily – and parking is naturally a cinch.

But both our test cars fared poorly in the noise assessment. The manual had some unpleasant sounds coming from around the rear underfloor (possibly wheel bearings) while the rear roof spoiler on the Ti added a chorus to the wind noise from the front on both.

Verdict

The Micra range is pitched at the budget-conscious city dweller, and – graded on the curve – it’s a good little jigger for the job.

But if Nissan spent a few more dollars on softening both the noise intrusion and the touchpoints, it would be twice the car it is now.

As it stands, the base model is a good price, but not a good car, while the auto Ti is underdone when shopped against the competition.

Pricing Guides

$6,900
Based on 89 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$3,984
Highest Price
$9,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ST 1.2L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,400 – 8,999 2011 Nissan Micra 2011 ST Pricing and Specs
ST-L 1.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,000 – 6,999 2011 Nissan Micra 2011 ST-L Pricing and Specs
Ti 1.5L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,799 – 9,990 2011 Nissan Micra 2011 Ti Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
5