Inside, the new Micra is light years better than the car that has just departed. All models get a two-tone interior, but in higher-spec models like our test car there's some faux leather, and in this form the inside feels as good as anything in the class. But all variants will apparently get soft-feel plastics in crucial places, and a lot of features are standard to all models.
In return, Nissan has saved the odd quid elsewhere but is pitching this as a virtue. Open the boot and where a Polo would have flat boot sides for better perceived quality, there are rough panels that follow the contours of the wheel arches. The luggage cover gets string hooks rather than plastic clips and just rests on a perch rather than clipping in and out. But Nissan says this helps to make the boot bigger and the load cover quicker to remove and replace. That may be a fair point. Rear seat passengers have to wind their own windows, too.
The pay-off comes in the front, where the Micra feels great. The driving position is sound, the pedals are spaced perfectly, the seatback is adjusted by a rotary dial rather than a ratchet and there's a central multimedia touchscreen that’s certainly easier to operate than Ford’s infotainment system, if not VW’s.
If we keep mentioning the Fiesta and Polo, it’s because Nissan, not just us, regards those cars as the current class benchmarks – dynamically, as well as anything else. Broadly speaking, the VW is one of the most comfortable-riding cars in the class and the Ford is the best handling. Nissan has aimed the Micra somewhere between the two, and it has hit the target. The ride is smooth, even on 17in wheels with 45-profile tyres, while the steering is precise and responsive, if light.
Science bit. All Micras come with Chassis Control, which includes Active Trace Control and Active Ride Control. Ride Control can gently apply a brake – usually a rear – after you’ve hit a speed bump to ease back body pitch. Active Trace Control works in corners, above 0.4g. It, too, applies a brake gently – very gently, given that it’s about three or four bar, when an emergency stop is 120 bar – to keep the car on your intended line.
It’s operating comfortably within the realms of grip, well before the stability control kicks in, so you don’t have to drive as if your pants are on fire. It just maintains a sense of agility and security, and the stability control operates so subtly that you really don’t know it’s there, until you try it back to back with the system on and off. Even with it off, though, Nissan has set up the Micra to be agile and trustworthy. A Fiesta still remains the more compelling car to drive, in our eyes, but the Micra probably runs it second in the class, while offering better bump absorption. It’s that good, this car.
The 0.9-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, a Renault-Nissan Alliance unit, is smooth, although it offers nothing below 2000rpm and not a great deal for a few hundred revs more. It thrums along sweetly enough, though, aided by a very slick five-speed manual gearbox. Over two days’ driving, we didn’t return any more than 40mpg, but you should consider that worst-case consumption.
Our drive in the four-cylinder 1.5 dCi Micra was much briefer. It has a broad spread of power low down, but the extra 80kg it carries blunts the dynamics. The petrol version is probably preferable.
As an option, there’s a new Bose sound system, the cost of which ought not to be a deal-breaker if you’re buying on finance. It includes a speaker in the head restraint, and I’ve never heard a better system in a car of this size.