At an exclusive pre-launch event near Barcelona, Nissan took the unusual step of allowing us to drive two near-production prototypes of the 2017 Nissan Micra in the company of their major opposition: a 1.2-litre four-cylinder Volkswagen Polo (the class refinement standard) and a Renault Clio powered by a 0.9-litre petrol triple (the powertrain standard).
The Micras were a basic-spec 1.5-litre diesel and a mid-spec model using the same 0.9-litre turbo as the Clio.
The route was a decent test: it started with some ragged, crowned blacktop pocked with the kind of bumps you normally drive around (we didn’t), plus faster, bumpier asphalt that tested the body control over the suspension’s entire stroke. There were bumpy corners, both quick and slow, plus a fast and evil blind one with a closing radius, then a few miles of smooth motorway to test wind noise.
The Polo was soft, so it bounced rather untidily, but it was safe and quiet over broken surfaces. Its steering was nicely weighted and had that typical VW feeling of unburstability, and the four-cylinder engine was capable but definitely nothing special.
The Clio felt instantly sportier, helped by its zingy little motor, but its gearchange was gravelly and its suspension felt distinctly busy. And it was not as quiet as the Polo over busy bumps.
Both of the Micras were impressively capable from the off: poised over the bumps, flat-riding, easy to steer (the wheel seems smaller in diameter than the Clio’s) and with a sweeter gearchange. The petrol car’s engine was poorly calibrated, which put it out of the game, but if it comes as good as the Clio’s iteration (Micra engineering manager Norman Snowdon reckons it’ll be better), the petrol Micra will be a proper fun car. The diesel was all of that, but with a torquey, long-legged and very smooth power delivery and no feeling of nose-heaviness.
Of course, this was far from being the final test. But there was no doubting that in the fight to be supermini top tog, the new Micra will be a serious contender.