"The Nissan Micra isn't particularly exciting or stylish, but it's easy to drive, surprisingly spacious and cheap."
The Nissan Micra has been a common sight on UK roads for nearly three decades, a toe-to-toe supermini rival for the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, thriving on a consistent reputation for strong reliability. However, the latest, fourth-generation version of the Micra was designed to be sold almost anywhere in the world in the same form, so Nissan toned down the wacky design of the previous model to give it a broader global appeal. The resulting car is only available as a five-door hatchback, with the three-door and convertible CC models being resigned to history's junkyard in the sky. Following its 2010 update, the Micra has had most of its quirky charm engineered out of it, and the interior now feels a bit cheap thanks to a drop in overall build quality. Most of the basics are present and correct, though, with a spacious interior that (more or less) comfortably sits five adults, along with a decent-sized boot. However, the latest model isn't very much fun to drive, and loses out to the Ford Fiesta for sheer driver enjoyment. Plus, the lowest-specification Visia models are missing some fairly essential, basic equipment that really should be included as standard on any supermini nowadays.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
If you’re buying a supermini you expect it to be cheap to run – in fact, no supermini would ever sell if it wasn’t – and thankfully the Micra certainly fits the bill. You don’t get the option of a super-efficient diesel engine, but at least the petrol engines are perky and don’t cost very much 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 offers both better performance and improved fuel economy, returning 68.9mpg and emitting 95g/km – making it road-tax free. Both models fall into a low insurance group, while servicing costs should be reasonable due to the number of parts knocking around. Factor in its decent reliability record and a comprehensive warranty, and you’ve got a dependable supermini that is undeniably exceptionally cheap to run. We just wish it was a bit better.
Interior & comfort
Be prepared to give both your arms and your ears a decent workout in the Micra, because you have to work the standard engine pretty hard to get the most out of it, and when you do it gets quite loud in protest. The more powerful supercharged engine is only slightly better but at least it does benefit from that little bit of extra power, which does come in handy when driving the Micra on the open road. Sadly, the manual gearbox isn’t great, and it's a case of better the devil you know as the automatic gearbox is very slow, which can make the engine noisy yet again when driving at motorway speeds. On the plus side, the suspension does absorb most of the larger bumps and jumps, both in and out of town, but rough roads do noticeably rattle everyone inside the car about. However, the major problem in terms of comfort, frankly, is the cheap and drab interior - the materials used inside look and feel cheap, with lids, door handles and switches all feeling far too delicate for a car this generic. The top-of-the-range Tekna models do get a panoramic glass roof, which improves matters slightly, but hardly makes up the general sense of cheapness.
Practicality & boot space
For a supermini, you actually get a surprising amount of room inside the Nissan Micra. This in part thanks to its compact dimensions being supported by wheels that are positioned at the corners of the car, which frees up more space than in a lot of equivalent competitors. There's certainly enough room to sit (relatively) tall adults in the back seats, while the boot's 265 litres is about the amount of luggage space you'd expect from a supermini. When you fold down the rear seats, that capacity increases to a healthy 1,132 litres – but it's worth knowing that only mid-range Acenta and top-line Tekna models come with split-fold seats for maximum flexibility. The entry-level Visia models have to make do with the standard boot only, which is still bigger than you’ll find in the Mazda2 or Hyundai i20. You do also get a large glove compartment with two sections and loads of storage space inside the car, too. But bear in mind that top-of-the-range Tekna models that are equipped with the Nissan Connect sat-nav system actually don't come with a 12v power socket, so you can't charge your assorted technological accessories in the car.
Reliability & safety
Given its drop in quality, it's interesting to see that the Micra made its debut in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey at a fairly lofty 24th place in the top 100 cars ranking. It scored particularly highly on running costs, technology and reliability – so if you put value for money above outright quality, then the Micra could well be worth looking at. Nissan's new global policies appear to have affected its overall quality as a company, with it dropping a queasy eight spots down the manufacturers rankings to fall out of the top 10 and finish at 12th. The only category where it wasn’t raked over the coals was reliability, so you can expect the Micra's parts and mechanicals to be pretty reliable in the long run. Another area of potential concern is the Micra's four-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, which sets it at a severe disadvantage in a day and age when most (nearly all, in fact) new cars score the maximum five stars for crash safety. The Micra is in a marketplace where four stars sets alarms bells ringing, but at least it did score 84 per cent for adult safety. It is actually fitted with lots of clever technology and plenty of safety equipment, including six airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and ISOFIX child seat anchor points, all as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
As the Micra is small and offers decent visibility, light steering and responsive controls, it remains a solid city runabout, despite the turn for the worse that the car in general has taken. It's not an exciting car to drive and has a lot of body roll, really leaning to one side when going round corners, but it is comfortable and easy enough to manoeuvre. Its tiny turning circle makes driving through busy urban traffic pretty much a doddle, and parking is very easy affair given the car's small dimensions. It's currently available with two 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engines – neither of which is going to set the world on fire with its acceleration and excitement, but both do feel suited to urban driving. That said, the entry-level 79bhp engine doesn't feel that slow, managing to accelerate from 0-62mph in 13.7 seconds. The newer 97bhp DIG-S supercharged engine manages to improve both efficiency and power, and is the engine we’d recommend, combined with the manual gearbox.
Price, value for money & options
The Micra is definitely cheap, but it feels cheap, too. And that's the key criteria here for judging the Micra's value – whether a budget price is worth a drop in quality. The 2010 facelift definitely brought just such a noticeable drop in quality, with all models being decked in a selection of hard plastics and a miserable grey interior. The entry-level Visia models now don't come with very much equipment as standard at all, though all cars do at least get Bluetooth connectivity and a CD radio. Up a spec level to the Acenta adds in cruise control, alloys and climate control, while top-of-the-range Tekna models come with parking sensors, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, and an integrated sat-nav as standard equipment. There's no Sport model but you can buy a limited edition ELLE car that's based on the Acenta spec but gains a panoramic roof, 15-inch alloy wheels and some chrome trim. Resale values in the used car market are relatively strong thanks to the aforementioned decent reliability, but there are plenty of deals to be had on both new and second-hand cars, so try not to pay list price without haggling for a significant discount if you can help it.