Has this much-needed reinvention of the Nissan Micra turned it into a real contender once again? And should those who masterminded the Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia be worried?

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The only way is up for the Nissan Micra.

Today’s order of business is to determine exactly how far up our supermini class rankings the Nissan 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.

V-shaped motif of the Nissan grille is perhaps the only styling carry-over between Micra generations

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.

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Now begins the rebuilding process. The fifth-generation Nissan Micra moves into Renault’s Flins factory, near Paris, where it’ll roll down the same production line as the Renault Clio and Renault 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.



Nissan Micra rear

You’d be hard pushed to tell that the latest Micra is based on essentially the same ‘V’ platform as its predecessor – a facet not only of the completely different look but also alterations made to the model’s size.

The differences, most notably a 75mm increase in the car’s wheelbase, speak to the amount of re-engineering that has gone into the architecture’s European-spec configuration.

You know you’re about to drive a good supermini when the engineers talk excitedly about steering feel. The Micra’s steering rack is derived from a Qashqai’s and it serves the car very well

While it is now more closely related to the Note’s underpinnings, the alterations have obviously helped render a different sort of supermini; one now appreciably unlike the MPV-based style that long informed Nissan’s approach to the B-segment.

This reflects the European focus of the new model’s development, and the requirement for the car to satisfy a market dominated by the comparative stylishness of the Ford Fiesta and buyers downsizing from the segment above.

Consequently, as well as being 174mm longer overall, the new Micra is substantially wider and lower than the outgoing version, and the A-pillar has been moved forward to accentuate the sloping roofline. Inside, the hip point of its occupants has dropped.

Underneath, significant effort has been expended on the suspension components. The original rear twist beam, based on the Note’s, has been jettisoned for one more closely related to the Nissan Qashqai’s torsion beam, which delivers better stiffness.

At the front, MacPherson struts are stipulated by the platform, although Nissan has now solid-mounted the front sub-frame rather than using bushes, again for the gains made in structural rigidity.

The manufacturer’s Chassis Control system, divided into Intelligent Ride Control and Intelligent Trace Control, also features – both elements using the brakes to minutely enhance the Micra’s ride and handling.

The engine line-up compromises two three-cylinder petrol units and one four-cylinder diesel. Both the 89bhp 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol motor tested here and the 89bhp 1.5-litre diesel are familiar from various Renault-Nissan applications, most notably the Renault Clio.

The remaining 1.0-litre three-pot, modestly powered and naturally aspirated, completes the range. All are twinned with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. An automatic transmission is set to arrive later in the lifecycle. 


Nissan Micra interior

Although European buyers likely bristled at the banal appearance of the fourth-generation Micra, it was almost certainly the scratchy, low-rent interior that gave rise to a collective baulk followed by swift exit from the Nissan dealership.

So prodigious was the firm’s miscalculation in perceived quality – and the response it drew from previously loyal customers – that it ought to come as no surprise at all to discover that nothing of the previous car is deemed worthy of being carried over to the new version.

The blue? It’s not for me. But I drove an early car in Energy Orange trim back from Germany and liked it rather a lot. Horses for courses

Instead, as it ought to have done more thoroughly last time, Nissan has taken the temperature of the B-segment buyer and rigorously assessed the competition, resulting in a cabin that’s completely different in appearance and standard.

Significant, noticeable alterations abound, then, although it is the sizeable drop in hip point and the plentiful options for personalisation that make an immediate impression.

Available in Power Blue, Energy Orange and Invigorating Red, the optional £350 Personalisation Pack adds a considerable splash of colour to the seat bolsters, door cards, knee pads and instrument panel.

Combined with the soft-touch materials that pervade most of the upper dashboard, it makes for the kind of tactile, polychrome surroundings that were conspicuous by their absence when the previous generation of the Micra was launched seven years ago.

Somewhat less compelling is the provision of space. Up front, swayed by the car’s lower driving position and the generally pleasing ergonomics, the Micra is endowed with the kind of scale currently expected of a supermini.

But the rear quarters suffer in comparison with many of its rivals. The latest Micra has made gains in shoulder and elbow room over its predecessor, but it fails to rival the packaging prowess of cars like the Skoda Fabia.

It’s fine for small children, of course – and Nissan knows that three-quarters of B-segment buyers don’t often use the back seats – but its creator’s healthy and ultimately rewarding preoccupation in other areas has resulted in the usual compromises elsewhere.

The NissanConnect system has matured nicely. Arguably, it misses out on the slick aesthetic pedigree of a number of close rivals, but a preference for straightforwardness has made the interface very easy to get on with.

The use of a 7.0in touchscreen has not eliminated physical shortcut buttons and it’s unlikely that anyone will struggle with programming Nissan’s sat-nav system.

The entertainment options vary by grade (the entry-level trim getting a measly two speakers, the Acenta four) and, rather shamefully, you’ll need to go all the way to our test car’s N-Connecta level to find a DAB tuner on the standard kit list. Mystifyingly, Nissan has made the strange decision to equip Acenta-grade Micras with Apple CarPlay, but omits it from the more expensive N-Connecta and Tekna models.

Inevitably, optional extras spice things up somewhat. Nissan offers a Bose Personal Audio Pack with two supplementary driver headrest speakers for £500.

As for standard equipment, there are five core trims to choose from - Visia, Visia+, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna. Entry-level cars get LED day-running lights, a rear roof spoiler, front foglights, auto lights and wipers, front electric windows, 15in steel wheels and electrically adjustable wing mirrors as standard on the exterior. Inside there is a manually adjustable steering column and driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seats, Nissan's chassis control system and numerous safety technologies - including hill start assist, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking system.

Pay a little more for Visia+, and you'll find manual air conditioning and engine stop/start added to the Micra. Mid-range Acenta trimmed Micra's get 16in steel wheels, traffic sign recognition, cruise control, steering wheel mounted controls and a 5in colour driver's information screen.

Upgrade to N-Connecta and you get your first glimpse at alloy wheels, 16in ones in fact, plus electric folding and heated wing mirrors, a leather steering wheel, ambient LED interior lighting and climate control. While opting for the range-topping Tekna model includes luxuries such as a synthetic leather upholstery, 17in alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and the superb Bose Personal audio pack.


0.9-litre Nissan Micra petrol engine

Renault-Nissan’s 898cc three-cylinder petrol engine offers a slightly different proposition in the nose of the Micra from the one plenty of other new-age downsized turbocharged petrol superminis trade on.

Although it has a broader spread of torque and better driveability than an equivalent atmospheric engine, the motor isn’t gutsy enough to compete on performance with some of the slightly larger turbo units available elsewhere at the same price (such as Citroën’s C3 Puretech 110 and the Fiesta Ecoboost 125). And so, while the Micra’s 89bhp IG-T engine doesn’t deliver a significant emissions advantage over those cars, we must assume that Nissan could have fitted Renault’s more powerful 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo in the Micra if it had preferred and thereby addressed at least one of those problems.

Torque isn’t quite strong enough to pull third gear on steep climbs, but it would be on turbo petrol rivals

The 0.9-litre three-cylinder motor is being used here, presumably, for its blend of lightness, economy, value for money and performance.

We’ll deal shortly with the resultant handling that this engine’s comparative lightness may confer. But as far as performance is concerned, the Micra does a competitive job against the clock without really standing out.

A typical naturally aspirated supermini with the same amount of power, such as the Mazda 2 1.5, takes about 11sec to go from 30mph to 70mph through the gears and about double that to do the same sprint in fourth gear. A particularly strong-performing like-for-like turbo supermini such as the Citroen C3 Puretech will dip under 10sec for the former and go under 15sec for the latter.

So the Micra’s showing (11.7sec and 16.9sec respectively) is quietly commendable for its flexibility, although Kia’s equivalent turbo Kia Rio narrowly beats it even for that.

On the road, the Micra’s engine combines a quietly torquey delivery with the free-revving quality we’ve come to expect of modern three-pot motors, but it doesn’t turn the car into a desperately zesty or engaging car to drive.

The good news for Nissan is that the new Micra is (equally narrowly) a better-performing car than the identically engined Renault Clio we tested and, more important, displays the evident polish of a classy European-grade dynamic finish.

There is heft and definition to the action of its gearlever and matching weight to its clutch pedal. The three-cylinder engine works away quite quietly, contributing to 3dB less cabin noise at 30mph than an equivalent Rio and 5dB less at maximum revs in third gear. 


Nissan Micra cornering

Nissan’s engineers will tell you how they aimed to perfectly combine the handling dynamism of the Ford Fiesta with the comfort and refinement of the Volkswagen Polo in the new Micra.

It’s an obvious ambition but much easier to say than to achieve. In a £15,000 supermini, where adaptive chassis technology is well off the menu, that kind of breadth of ability is probably still impossible.

Suspension handles compressions quite well. If there’s pitch control going on via tweaking of the rear brakes, you can’t feel it

But as a slightly simpler attempt to split the difference between the dynamic positions of the Fiesta and Polo, the new Micra is a reasonable success; and it’s a world away from the dynamic mediocrity of the outgoing Micra.

The car certainly has many strong suits. It has good body control; robust grip levels; good high-speed stability; a fairly supple but quite sophisticated ride; agile handling; pleasant and well-weighted steering; and subtle and progressive chassis electronics.

Small cars rely on careful tuning and execution to have such a complete set of attributes, and the Micra has clearly been the recipient of both.

Around town, where superminis rule the roost, the car feels manoeuvrable and tackles junctions and roundabouts with intuitive sweetness.

Out of town, although it doesn’t quite match the ride comfort and isolation of the most grown-up compact hatchbacks (Polo, Fabia, Audi A1), there’s a pleasingly supple, settled feel to the way the car deals with back-road lumps and bumps.

On the motorway, that big-car feel fades a little bit, although high-speed body control and straight-line stability remain fairly good for such a small car. And in response to a keener driving style, the Micra has nimble handling and clings on to a tight cornering line well, although it doesn’t have the balance, feel or fun factor of the Ford Fiesta.

The Micra remains well within itself when being hustled along quickly, with more grip than its 89bhp engine can really test. The suspension keeps the body in check long enough for you to drive right up to the tyres’ limit of grip without destabilising the car — although that’s true of most decent small cars.

After that point, the car’s electronic traction and stability controls begin to trim engine power and trigger braking interventions with a gentle hand so as to help rather than hinder while avoiding going to panic stations. There’s plenty of grip and traction available up until that point, though.

The car’s stability electronics can be disabled via the trip computer rather than by a button. Doing so doesn’t exactly bring the car’s handling to life.

It doesn’t handle with the joie de vivre of a Fiesta, although it tolerates a provocative driving style with good fundamental stability.


Nissan Micra

The Micra is available in five trim grades – Visia, Visia+, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna – and starts at around £12k.

Realistically, though, because the entry-level version does without air-con and the Visia+ variant fails to add alloy wheels, it’s likely that discerning UK buyers will ignore both in favour of the mid-spec Acenta, which gets 16in alloys, cruise control, the Drive Assist Display and – crucially – the 7.0in infotainment touchscreen for a little over £15k.

Values have taken a marked upward turn since the deletion of the last Micra but aren’t expected to be class-leading

Our test car, in N-Connecta trim, adds niceties such as a leather steering wheel, a sat-nav and climate control – but, as with the range-topping Tekna, nothing that would be sorely missed. However, if it was our money we would add the Bose Personal pack for an additional £500.

In Acenta grade, the Micra costs around the same as a Skoda Fabia SE L and the equivalent Renault Clio; and slightly less than the Mini Cooper.

Expect it to roughly measure up for running costs, too. The 0.9-litre engine emits 104g/km CO2 – less consequential for retail buyers than it used to be, but indicative of the kind of efficiency that permits Nissan to claim 61.4mpg combined economy.

True MPG testing returned a slightly more rigorous 45.3mpg, but that’s not far off the 46.5mpg returned by a Fiesta 1.0-litre Ecoboost.


4 star Nissan Micra

Europe’s lucrative market for superminis doesn’t owe Nissan anything – after the past seven years, the company has learned that the hard way – but it’s certainly receptive to stylish, contemporary, well-equipped, rounded cars like this new Micra.

Having plainly now banished the memory of its dowdy early years, this car has it all to do to retain owners of the outgoing model.

A return to form: old strengths recovered and a few new ones gained

There has never been wider choice for those with a typical supermini budget than there is now. But with its high-end equipment features, dashing looks and mature dynamic finish, the Micra is well placed to compete with premium-brand offerings as well as its mainstream rivals.

Where it is weak – it doesn’t have a stellar engine, it’s not the most practical car in the class and it’s not a brilliantly compelling bargain – it leaves just enough room to doubt that it’ll propel Nissan back to the very top of the European sales charts.

But that it’ll do much better than its predecessor is an absolute given. The Micra may not be great again just yet – but it’s back on the right track.

That is why the new Micra makes its way into our top five, but overall lacks the polish of the Mazda 2, the Mini Cooper, the new Ford Fiesta and - the latest class-leader- the Seat Ibiza have in abundance.


Nissan Micra 2017-2019 First drives