JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Looking for a B-segment hatchback? Well, you’re positively spoilt for choice at the moment. In years gone by, C-segment hatches seemed to be the go-to purchases but that's no longer the case, thanks in part to the continued rise of the crossover. However, smaller offerings, such as Volkswagen's Polo, are seemingly as popular as ever in South Africa. And, in a bid to take advantage of this, Nissan SA has expanded its Micra line-up to accommodate those yearning for a bit more zest and luxury.
The three new variants (featuring Acenta Plus, Tekna and Tekna Plus trim) employ the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance's turbocharged 1,0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, delivering 84 kW and 180 N.m of torque (with an additional 20 N.m on tap via an overboost feature). Those figures represent fair increases over the 66 kW and 140 N.m offered by the 898 cc unit employed by models lower in the range.
The new engine sends its oomph to the front wheels by means of a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. Demand for an automatic transmission in this segment is increasing and Nissan SA has confirmed it's working on a self-shifting option for this powertrain. In addition, the new derivatives feature sports suspension, lowering the ride height by some 10 mm.
After sampling the flagship model (which will set you back R336 900), I was quite impressed by the number of standard features included. Luxuries such as LED headlamps, keyless entry, a 360-degree parking cameras, leather upholstery, blind-spot monitoring and a Bose Personal sound system work together to create a properly premium small hatch experience.
The Bose sound system is definitely the highlight of the package, thanks to the two "UltraNearField" speakers fitted to the driver’s headrest. That said, it's unfortunate the passenger doesn’t also enjoy this unique feature. While the speaker package is comprehensive, I was a bit disappointed that the delivery of the audio was not quite as refined as that of Bose systems used in, for instance, Mazda’s products (this after a sound test with a FLAC audio file demonstrated a hint of reverb).
In terms of perceived quality, the high-spec Micra's cabin feels right up there with the best in the segment. The texture of the leather and plastics feels premium, and the fit and finish solid. Interestingly, however, the air-conditioning system's minimum temperature setting is a fairly lofty 18 degrees. Not ideal on a scorching day in Johannesburg.
Using the outgoing Renault Clio’s platform as a base, the Micra is still an enjoyable car to pilot, while that new sports suspension and the fairly weighty electrically assisted power steering system add a further degree of excitement. In terms of handling, the small hatch feels refreshingly enthusiastic, thanks in part at least to its set of grippy Bridgestone Turanza tyres. Overall, the vehicle offers an impressive mix of stability and comfort through the suburbia and on highways.
The new 1,0-litre engine, however, doesn't quite match the verve of the chassis (the 88 kW 1,2-litre four-cylinder engine used in the Clio GT-Line launched back in 2017 felt far stronger, for instance). While this latest three-cylinder unit is fairly refined, it struggles somewhat with turbo-lag, forcing the driver to rev the engine harder than is ideal in order to make decent progress. In addition, the hill-start assist function feels unusually intrusive, holding the vehicle in place a fraction longer than it needs to, thus making for a sometimes awkward take-off.
While the B-segment certainly is certainly bustling at the moment, it's interesting to note there aren't many hot hatches playing in this part of the market. Nissan’s MR16DDT turbocharged 1,6-litre engine (used in the fourth-generation Renault Clio RS) would be the perfect powerplant to push the Micra into this performance territory, particularly with a six-speed manual gearbox fitted. Something like this would make a great successor to the 1988 Nissan Micra Super Turbo and put smiles on the faces of enthusiasts. One can only dream...
Regardless of my hot hatch fantasies, I will say this: while the new engine isn't quite as perky as I had hoped, these latest well-equipped additions to the local Micra range serve to broaden the line-up's appeal, offering further choice to the many consumers considering vehicles in this segment. And that's surely only a good thing for buyers...
FAST FACTSModel: Nissan Micra 1,0T Tekna Plus
Price: R336 900
Engine: 1,0-litre, three-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 84 kW @ 5 150 r/min
Torque: 180 N.m @ 1 750 - 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 9,9 seconds
Top Speed: 195 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,0 L/100 km
CO2: 115 g/km
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: Three-year/90 000 km service
See Full Nissan Micra price and specs here