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Nissan's much improved fifth generation Micra has to play to a wide audience. June Neary wonders whether British buyers will appreciate its charms.
First up, an admission. I grew up with Micras and particularly loved this car's third generation pre-2010 predecessor. There was something delightfully eccentric about it, from its Bakelite-effect switches to its oddly haphazard placing of minor controls. I loved the way you could see the tops of the headlight pods from the driver's seat and I loved its bubbly styling. In contrast, the fourth generation Indian-built design was a disappointment, that model lacking the old model's extrovert nature. Nissan obviously thought so too because in the Autumn of 2016, they introduced the 'Gen5' version featured here. With slicker exterior styling, a much-improved interior, more equipment and better value for money, this car now looks a much better prospect.
Can an extrovert-looking car also be a practical one? This modern Micra's shape is a riot of emotive curves and creases, with design cues including a distinctive V-motion grille, from where a sharp-edged character line runs through to the rear end with its boomerang-shaped lights. There's a so-called 'floating roof', an effect created by blacked-out rear C-pillars that hide the rear door handles so as to create a 'coupe'-like look. Yet at the same time, there's reasonable rear seat space (for a supermini anyway) and a 300-litre boot, extendable to 1,004-litres if you fold down the rear bench. In other words, you'll appreciate the space this car can offer, something that really helps if, for example, you're trying to insert a kid into a child seat. Nissan designed the Micra to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP stability control fitted as standard alongside ABS brakes and six airbags. Seatbelt pretensioners also make the equipment list on all models, while Nissan's latest chassis offers top level impact protection.
The Micra offers decent all-round visibility from behind the wheel A new brushless electric power steering system - for greater steering feel and response - is also available. And much attention has been paid to reducing noise in the cabin. The seats are very comfortable and the three-cylinder 0.9-litre 90bhp 'IG-T 90' petrol engine that most will choose is decently refined. There's also a 73bhp 1.0-litre petrol unit and a 1.5-litre dCi diesel. You'll need to work the little 'IG-T 90' petrol unit quite hard if you need to get a wiggle on, but otherwise it's perfectly at home in town and a better bet if you can stretch to it than the base 73bhp powerplant. The manual gearchange has a sweet shift action and that electrically-assisted power steering system excels in town, where it makes parking and cheeky U-turns a doddle, but out on the open road I think I'd prefer something with a little more feel to it
Micra prices start at around £12,000, but most buyers will be paying somewhere in the £14,000 to £16,000 bracket. As for running costs, well the entry-level 73bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine isn't particularly frugal but the 0.9-litre 90bhp unit achieves a much better combination of performance and efficiency. Ideally in this regard though, you'd go for the 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Here, you can expect around 80mpg on the combined cycle and under 95g/km of CO2. As you'd expect, Nissan has developed a Stop-Start system for the car to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. If you've got a top version with the optional 'Connect' sat nav set-up, then you'll also have a navigation system with so-called 'eco-routing', a feature that sees it able to calculate the route likely to use the least fuel. This Nissan has been designed to be one of the safest small cars around, with ESP stability control fitted as standard alongside ABS brakes and six airbags. Safety features include 'Lane Departure Prevention' and 'Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian recognition', as well as an 'Intelligent Around View Monitor', 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'High Beam Assist' and 'Blind Spot Warning'. As for the media stuff, well Micra 'Gen5' comes with a 7-inch full colour central display, providing access to the audio system, satellite navigation, mobile phone connectivity, downloadable apps and Siri voice control via Apple CarPlay. Nissan has also worked with Bose to develop a bespoke 6-speaker 'Personal sound system' for the car, with two Bose 'UltraNearfield' speakers, combined with Bose 'PersonalSpace Virtual Audio Technology' built into the driver seat headrest for a remarkably immersive listening experience.
The Nissan Micra is an extremely good small car that's now a much better bet in a fifth generation guise that's seen it re-discover its mo-jo. If you're looking for something a little more interesting in this segment, it's well worth a look. In fact, I think it might surprise you.