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.
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 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 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 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.