A realigned Micra range adopts the Active moniker to make space for the new European-spec Micra to join our market...

There’s no doubt Nissan lost its way somewhat with the fourth-generation Micra. Whereas the previous generation (the first in our market) was a funky little thing with quirky, bug-eyed looks, its successor became sensible and grown up. Mechanically and space-wise, it may have been a better car, but its relatively conservative styling meant the Micra’s charm went missing, along with its showroom mojo.

To get that back, Nissan has adopted a strategy successfully begun by Volkswagen 34 years ago with the Citi Golf. Like the subsequent Polo Vivo and Ford’s original Figo, Nissan has taken this fourth-generation Micra, slapped on a new badge (Active), given it a bit of visual zing and a wallet-friendly price, and will offer it alongside an all-new (and very stylish) fifth-generation version when that one goes on sale here in the middle of the year.

From these pictures, you’ll notice some clear visual tweaks to the Micra’s exterior styling, the most obvious of which is the addition of the current Nissan brand signature – a chromed V-shaped grille – a revised front bumper, as well as tweaked front and rear lamps. Our test car also came with the optional 14-inch black alloys (R5 070), mud flaps (R1 082), a chrome exhaust finisher (R343), rear spoiler (R2 893) and Turquoise Blue metallic paint (R1 350). It’s this R10 000 worth of options that add most of that extra zing; in its regular clothes, the Micra Active suffers a little from Sensible Shoe Syndrome.

Step inside and the notable updates include chequered upholstery and a revised centre stack on the dashboard, one that in our test unit was occupied by the optional touchscreen infotainment system (R8 000) that includes auxiliary and USB inputs, as well as Bluetooth and satellite navigation. While the Micra Active’s interior is not as contemporary as those of its modern rivals and does show its age, what it lacks in design flair, it makes up for in perceived build integrity. The materials are sufficiently solid and the cabin feels well screwed together.

Rear-passenger room for both legs and heads is good for this segment and, in terms of luggage and utility space, the Micra sits between smaller cars such as the Kia Picanto (144/728 litres) and larger ones such as the Renault Sandero (264/1 000 litres). The rear backrest isn’t split, though, and folds as a single unit.

As you would expect in a vehicle of this ilk, beyond a redesigned exhaust system, the drivetrain remains untouched. And that means it’s business as usual with a three-cylinder, naturally aspirated 1,2-litre petrol putting out 56 kW and 104 N.m. It’s neither the smoothest nor quietest engine in its class, but it is a revvy unit that, at least at sea level, feels willing. Power is fed through a five-speed manual gearbox that has a somewhat rubbery shift and is geared fairly tall; not ideal for a city car.

At under a tonne – 960 kg, to be precise – the Micra is light on its feet but at 6,1 L/100 km, its consumption on our 100 km fuel route is merely acceptable rather than impressive; modern A-segment hatches should comfortably dip below 6,0.

Braking performance is unimpressive, too, with the Micra Active’s discs/drums setup averaging 3,44 seconds across 10 stops from 100 km/h, which registers “poor” on our rating system. That said, fitted with ABS, EBD and brake assist as standard, these emergency braking tests were not the wayward affairs we’ve experienced with some budget cars that don’t benefit from these essential supplementary systems. Airbags for the driver and front passenger are also standard.

Despite its languid performance – the sprint to 100 km/h takes 13,52 seconds – the Micra Active is far from a chore to drive. Granted, its naturally aspirated heart may struggle more at the Reef, but it is not without its charms. It’s an easy and comfortable car to pilot; you get a real sense that all the niggles have been sorted out and the little Micra goes about its business without fuss. Along with the price point, these older-generation cars offer tried-and-tested reliability that makes them attractive propositions.



TEST SUMMARY

Has Nissan successfully Citi Golfed the Micra? Yes and no. Take away those R10 000 worth of accessories and it still looks staid but, that aside, this Micra Active does deliver on the promise of reliable and, crucially, safe motoring at an excellent price. And a best-in-segment three-year/90 000 km service plan only adds to that.

 

The Micra Active may not be as refined as its newer competition, but with words such as 'solid', 'honest', 'comfortable' and 'easy going' peppering our testers' feedback reports, Nissan has indeed succeeded in offering South African consumers a well-priced, dependable set of wheels.

 

*From the February 2018 issue of CAR magazine...