Today’s order of business is to determine exactly how far up our supermini class rankings it may rise, before the all-important European registration numbers begin to reveal whether or not it can reclaim what was once a heavyweight sales profile.
Nissan created a fine reputation for a car visible on UK roads even in its 1980s first generation. It became the first Japanese car to win the coveted European Car of the Year gong in its second.
The third-generation Micra, known as the K12 version, became every inch the sophisticated, desirable, European-built small car that noughties tastes demanded, cleverly turning the Micra’s existing image as a worthy learner-driver’s favourite on its head.
But Nissan’s big gamble, seven years ago, was to move production of the fourth-generation K13 Micra out of Nissan’s Sunderland factory and into new production bases in India, Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia, importing cars back into the spiritual home of the supermini in the hope that Europe’s discerning customers would accept them as if nothing had changed.
But by 2013, European Micra sales had fallen from an all-time high of 171,000 cars (in 2003, the year of the introduction of the third-gen model) to fewer than 50,000 – and the Micra had plummeted out of the continent’s top 10 best-sellers.
Now begins the rebuilding process. The fifth-generation Micra moves into Renault’s Flins factory, near Paris, where it’ll roll down the same production line as the Clio and Zoe. It’s the first Nissan car to be built at a Renault factory in Europe.
Designed with what Nissan describes as “expressive, athletic themes”, developed using top-of-the-pile European rivals the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo as dynamic benchmarks and equipped with market-leading safety and infotainment features, this is a car intended to make a clear and clean break from its immediate predecessor. But its key mission is not only to match the rivals in the here and now but to keep up and challenge the next generation headed by the new Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza, swiftly followed by the next iteration of the Volkswagen Polo.
It’s here, then, to prove that Nissan can do what it takes to earn a place at the top table in the world’s biggest supermini market. So let’s see if it can cut the mustard.