"The Nissan Micra isn't particularly exciting or stylish. But, it's easy to drive, surprisingly spacious and cheap."
The Nissan Micra, is a supermini rival for the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, and has been around for nearly three decades, thriving on its reputation for strong reliability. The current fourth-generation model was designed to sell almost unchanged the world over, so Nissan toned down the wacky design of the previous car to give it broadened appeal. As a result, it is only available as a five-door hatchback, with the three-door and convertible CC models being resigned to the history books. Since its 2010 update, it has lost some of its quirky charm and the interior feels a bit cheap thanks to a drop in build quality. Most of the basics are present and correct, however, with a spacious interior with room for five adults, along with a decent-sized boot. However, the latest model isn't much fun to drive, and loses out to the Ford Fiesta for driver enjoyment. Plus, the lowest-specification Visia models are missing some basic equipment that really should be essential on a supermini nowadays.
The Nissan Micra remains a very good town runaround, thanks to its small dimensions, good visibility and light, responsive controls. It's not the most exciting car to drive and has a tendency to lean to one side when going round corners, but it's comfortable and easy to manoeuvre. Its tiny turning circle makes busy town driving a doddle, and parking a cinch. It's currently available with two 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engines – neither of which will set the world alight in terms of acceleration or outright speed, but both feel suited to the urban environment. That said, the entry-level 79bhp engine doesn't feel too slow, managing to accelerate from 0-62mph in 13.7 seconds. The newer 97bhp DIG-S supercharged engine improves both efficiency and power and is the one we'd opt for, combined with the manual gearbox.
Because the standard engine has to be worked quite hard, the Micra can get a little noisy on the move. The more powerful supercharged engine is only marginally better but does benefit from that little bit more power, which comes in handy on the open road. The manual gearbox isn’t great but is a more sensible option than the slow automatic, which can make the engine quite noisy at motorway speeds. On the plus side, both in and out of town, the suspension absorbs most of the larger bumps and jumps, but uneven roads do noticeably rattle the interior. The major problem in terms of comfort, though, is the cheap and drab interior - the materials inside look and feel cheap, with lids, door handles and switches all feeling quite fragile. Top-of-the-range Tekna models do get a panoramic glass roof, which improves matters slightly.
A four-star rating from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests does place the Nissan Micra behind many of its rivals in terms of safety, but it did score 84 per cent for adult safety. It's also fitted with lots of clever technology and plenty of equipment, including six airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and ISOFIX child seat anchor points. Nissan has performed consistently well for owner satisfaction, placing fourth overall in the 2012 Driver Power survey - so you can expect the Micra's parts and mechanicals to be pretty reliable in the long run.
Despite its compact dimensions, the Nissan Micra is surprisingly roomy on the inside, thanks to the wheels being positioned at the corners of the car. There's certainly enough room to sit (relatively) tall adults in the rear seats, while the boot's 265 litres is what you'd expect from a supermini. Fold down the rear seats and the boot capacity increases to 1,132 litres - however, only mid-range Acenta and top-line Tekna models come with split/fold seats. Lowest-spec Visia owners have to make do with the standard boot, which is still bigger than in the rival Mazda2 or Hyundai i20. You do get a large, two-compartment glovebox and plenty of storage space in the cabin, too. But, do bear in mind that top-of-the-range Tekna models equipped with the Nissan Connect sat-nav system don't actually come with a 12v socket, so you can't charge your accessories in the car.
Value for money
The Micra's budget price tag is reflected in the cars newfound budget feel. With the 2010 facelift came a noticeable drop in quality, with all cars getting a selection of hard plastics and a miserable grey interior. Basic Visia models don't come with very much equipment as standard, though all cars do get Bluetooth connectivity and a CD radio. Moving up to the Acenta models adds cruise control, alloys and climate control, while top-spec Tekna models get parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and an integrated sat-nav. There's no Sport model but limited edition ELLE cars build on the Acenta spec and gain a panoramic roof, 15-inch alloy wheels and some chrome trim. Resale values are relatively strong thanks to decent reliability, but there are plenty of deals to be had on both new and used cars so try not to pay list price without haggling a significant discount.
You'd expect any supermini to be cheap to run and the Nissan Micra is no exception. There's no diesel option but the petrol engines are perky and don’t cost a lot to run. While the standard three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine returns fuel economy of 56.5mpg and emits 115g/km of CO2, the supercharged 1.2-litre DIG-S is both faster and more efficient, returning 68.9mpg and emitting 95g/km – making it road-tax exempt. Both models fall into a low insurance group and servicing costs should be reasonable. Add that to a decent reliability record and a comprehensive warranty, and you’ve got a dependable supermini that's exceptionally cheap to run.