When the fourth-generation Micra arrived in 2010 it was hard to find anyone with a good word to say about it. UK consumers responded to its dead-hamster styling and grim interior by simply not buying it, leading to a sales slump that saw numbers slip below the dying gasps of the previous model.
This year brings an urgent revamp, with the 2013 Micra gaining a less glassy stare and defibrillated fixtures and fittings. But can even drastic surgery bring this virtually lifeless patient back from the brink?
UK Micras are built in India but we found an early example of the reanimated breed in Slovakia, where we took it for a vigorous shakedown over the roughly surfaced roads of the capital, Bratislava.
The current Micra was conceived as a global car destined for multiple markets. Few cars with a worldwide mandate have ever been much cop, given the big differences in taste, budgets and competition around the globe. The Micra was no exception. If you had to pick two words to sum up the mark 4 car they’d probably have been “oh” and “dear”. Or possibly, “No” and “thanks”.
It’s hard to believe that the bland, blob-shaped Micra was unveiled alongside the brave and charismatic Nissan Juke, both cars debuting in the spring of 2010 at the Geneva Motor Show. The subsequent sales chart for the Juke – resembling the vapour trail of a recently launched rocket – makes the Micra’s slide into obscurity all the more telling.
Nissan has responded by turning to another of its successful crossovers – the Qashqai – for inspiration for the Micra’s makeover. The fierce new face looks a little awkward on the smaller car but nonetheless brings a remarkable improvement in presence and character. New bumpers and LED lights at the back do their best to lift the tail end.
Inside, all but the base Visia model gain a new dashboard design featuring a piano black central slab, offering up controls that no longer resemble stewed mushrooms. Upholstery and some plastics have also been given a lift – though most remain hard and scratchy – while the interior door handles even appear to be real chromed metal.
Overall, the rejuvenated Micra now looks like a car from a couple of years ago, rather than a decade or more adrift.
At 3,780mm long, the Micra sits roughly in the middle of the conventional gap between city cars and superminis. The Fiesta and Polo are noticeably bigger, the Ka and Up substantially smaller. This unusual size makes the Micra feel either cramped or spacious, depending on your benchmark.
Performance & Handling
The two petrol engines on offer are unchanged over the pre-facelift Micra, and the pick of the pair remains the DIG-S. This is a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre, supercharged unit offering 98PS (97bhp) and 147Nm (108lb ft).
This eager engine still outshines the rest of the car, and feels more lively and urgent in the one-tonne Micra than in the larger and heavier new Nissan Note. Shorter final gearing than in the Note also gives the engine more leverage, making the Micra feel quicker, though 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds is not especially speedy. A six-cog gearbox wouldn’t go amiss, but there are only five gears on offer unless you opt for the infinite ratios and rubber-band feel of the CVT.
Officially, there’s been no change to the suspension though it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been given a firm tweak. The Micra seemed a lot less bouncy and wayward than we remembered, though it is still a long way off the pace in ride comfort, precision and poise.
The steering isn’t bad though – feeling light and direct and well suited to urban pottering.
Economy & Environment
The DIG-S engine provides CO2 ratings as low as 95g/km and combined cycle economy of up to 68.9mpg. Our tests of the outgoing model suggest real-world economy in the mid-40s is readily achievable. An automatic stop/start function helps to achieve the sub-100g/km score.
Top-spec models now include an upgraded navigation system with eco-routing, designed to suggest the most frugal route from A to B. The central screen also provides a variety of scores at the end of each journey to help the driver improve their economy.
Equipment & Value
The revamped Micra range comprises Nissan’s usual “VAT” selection of grades: Visia at the bottom of the heap, Acenta in the middle and Tekna at the top. As well as the DIG-S engine there’s also a 1.2-litre petrol option without supercharger, delivering 20 fewer horses and managing without stop/start. A clutchless CVT transmission is also an option.
The basic Visia grade starts at £9,950 and provides 14-inch steel wheels, Bluetooth phone integration, a USB slot, electric front windows and remote central locking. Air conditioning costs another £500, CVT an extra £1,000. Combining the DIG-S engine with Visia trim brings aircon and a manual gearbox only and starts at £11,700.
The mid-range Acenta trim costs from £11,550 – or £12,650 with the better engine – and brings 15-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel with buttons, climate control and cruise control. A big glass roof costs £500 extra, as does Nissan Connect. The latter adds a 5.8-inch touchscreen that can talk to your laptop via Google Send-To-Car tech, allowing journey planning without all that fiddly prodding in the car. The touchscreen can also access Google data including points of interest and weather forecasts.
Nissan Connect comes as standard with the range-topping Tekna grade, starting at £12,950 or £14,050 with the DIG-S engine. It also boasts 16-inch alloy wheels, a clever parking slot measurement system, rear sensors and keyless entry and ignition.
Order books are open, with the first UK deliveries of the updated model due in September.
All models of the new Micra get a full complement of six airbags and an ESP stability system fitted as standard, though the car is not the safest option in its class.
The Micra’s basic structure hasn’t changed since Euro NCAP measured a few too many “marginal” results in its 2010 crash tests and awarded only four out of five stars. Smaller cars like the Volkswagen Up have done better since.
Nissan’s upgraded Micra is noticeably better than before, but the mid-life makeover cannot hide the car’s basic flaws. It’s an odd size, it’s not very refined or comfortable, and it isn’t especially cheap for what you get. Shopping for a Kia Rio, Toyota Auris or even a Chevrolet Aveo would bring more capability and quality for the price.
The welcome improvements made by Nissan in looks and technology should help the car to find a few more buyers than before. But there seems little chance that the updated Micra will follow its Juke big brother on the upward path to success.
Model tested: 2013 Nissan Micra DIG-S Tekna
Engine: 1.2-litre supercharged three-cylinder petrol
Power: 98PS (97bhp) at 5,600rpm
Torque: 147Nm (108lb ft) at 4,400rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
Combined cycle economy: 65.7mpg Emissions: 99g/km