MOTORING

Nissan Micra Turbo Acenta: A brave new face

By Deon Schoeman 24 August 2018

Nissan Micra 66kW Turbo Acenta

Nissan’s new Micra baby hatchback boasts the most distinctive design the marque has come up with since the Juke crossover. But does its brave new face reflect an equally appealing motoring experience?

It’s been a while since Nissan came up with something exciting in passenger car terms. The Juke crossover still turns heads, a good seven years after it was launched, and the 370Z remains a sports car thoroughbred, albeit an ageing one.

The previous, bulbous Micra has been reinvented as the Micra Active, providing budget-conscious buyers with an affordable option, much like VW’s Polo Vivo. And then there’s the Almera, which is a popular rental fleet option, but doesn’t exactly stir the private motorist’s senses.

Enter the all-new Micra – a thoroughly modern subcompact hatchback with edgy lines that commands instant attention, and for all the right reasons.

The little Nissan finds itself facing some tough competition, notably from the new-generation VW Polo and Ford’s equally new and impressive Fiesta. Other rivals include the Renault Clio (which shares the same platform and drivetrain) and the Peugeot 208.

The Hyundai i20 and the Kia Rio, as well as the excellent Mazda2, Opel’s underrated Corsa and the humdrum Toyota Yaris are also on the rivals list. Yes, it’s a crowded segment filled with talented contenders, which makes the new Micra’s job a tough one.

The eye-catching design is the most obvious drawcard. The shape is progressive and individual, with a short bonnet leading to a steeply raked windscreen, and a roofline that tapers towards the rear.

The crisp shoulder line emphasises the sculpted sides and the pronounced haunches of the hatchback, and extends into the protruding taillight clusters. At the front, the V-shaped grille is framed by narrow, profiled headlights incorporating daytime running lights.

Arrow-shaped taillight clusters intersect the tailgate’s shut lines at the rear, while the integrated bumper incorporates a carbon fibre-look insert and a centrally located third brake light.

Cleverly the rear door latches are concealed in the partially blacked out C-pillar, creating a coupé-like impression. In short, there’s a lot of clever attention to design detail, and it benefits the overall appearance.

The Micra’s adventurous design theme continues inside, where two-tone seats and a slightly weird, soft-touch textured dashboard create an intriguing impression. It’s certainly different, but the cream-coloured, web-textured cladding and the off-white seat bolsters are likely to become grubby in time.

There’s nothing wrong with the ergonomics, though: the excellent front seats are shaped for support and are multi-adjustable, allowing even taller folk to find a decent seating position. A multifunction steering wheel frames a set of round analogue dials, partnered by a high-res TFT display for the trip computer.

The dashboard is dominated by a 7-inch touchscreen display that provides intuitive access to the infotainment system. It offers a user-friendly gateway to the Micra’s Bluetooth-driven hands-free telephony and audio streaming capabilities.

The system also incorporates an FM/AM tuner, USB connectivity, vehicle set-up and system menus, and Apple CarPlay. The latter requires an Apple lightning cable connection, but then offers access to iPhone functions such as navigation, music streaming services, and more.

Rear seating is adequate by small car standards, but not exactly roomy, while the boot’s 300-litre capacity is useful, although slightly compromised by a high loading sill. Need more space? The 60:40 split rear seat folds flat to boost the cargo space to 1,004 litres.

There’s an extensive list of standard features, but with some puzzling omissions. You get remote central locking, cruise control, electric mirrors, auto headlight activation and aircon, but have to make do with halogen headlights, and manual winders for the rear windows.

However, safety is comprehensively addressed via six airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance, as well as Nissan’s take on electronic stability control, dubbed Vehicle Stability Assist.

The Micra is powered by a three-cylinder turbo engine good for 66kW and 140Nm. Yes, they’re humble output figures, but then, the Micra only weighs 909kg, which makes for a decent power-to-weight ratio.

That said, progress is hampered by a fair amount of low-down turbo lag, which requires some deft manipulation of clutch and throttle to overcome. Hill start assistance actually makes matters worse in some situations, as it requires even more throttle input.

Once on song though, the engine goes about its business with enthusiasm. I actually like the gruff engine note so typical of three-pot mills, and there’s ample urge as long as you keep it in the power band.

With the turbo doing its job, there’s no need to force the engine into the red and you’re actually better off short-shifting to maintain momentum, especially since the gearing matches the engine’s characteristics well.

Given its low mass, overtaking is swift and decisive, and the Micra easily maintains highway cruising speeds. Expect to use the gearbox more often when the car is fully loaded, though.

The Micra is a sweet-handling hatchback. The suspension finds a good compromise between taut control and forgiving damping, allowing the car to ride bumps and dips with composed confidence.

The turn-in is crisp, and the steering quick and fairly precise, although the electric power assistance tends to numb feedback. Even so, tackling some corners with intent highlights the Nissan’s neutral and predictable attitude, with plenty of grip and composure.

Road and drivetrain noise are more pronounced than expected, though: at highway speeds, tyre drone was particularly noticeable, and the engine becomes quite vocal when revved hard – another reason to short-shift between gears.

As for fuel consumption, Nissan’s claim of 5.1 litres/100km for the combined cycle seems optimistic. I never got close to that figure during the course of the test, and it would require an extremely light foot to dip below 6 litres/100km.

The new Nissan Micra is a big step up from its predecessor. In purely visual terms, it’s easily the most eye-catching contender in its segment, while it also shines as far as handling and composure are concerned.

Cabin packaging and execution are first class, while slightly eccentric elements such as the soft-touch dash add welcome character. However, the Micra lags behind the best in this segment as far as low-down pep and refinement are concerned.

Most of all, the new Micra is proof that Nissan can come up with a strong, innovative passenger car design that is able to stand its ground against the best. If that’s a sign of things to come, this might be the most important car Nissan has launched in a very long time. DM

PROS

Innovative, distinctive design. Quality interior. Sure-footed road manners.

CONS

Low-down turbo lag hampers initial progress. Could be more refined.

VITAL STATS

Nissan Micra 66kW Turbo Acenta
Engine In-line 3-cylinder, 898cc, turbo
Power 66kW @ 5,500rpm
Torque 140Nm @ 2,250rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 72,61 kW/ton
Gearbox Five-speed manual, FWD
Wheels/tyres 16-inch alloy, 195/55 R16 tyres
0-100 km/h 12.1sec
Top speed 170km/h
Fuel tank capacity 41 litres
Consumption (claimed) 5.1 litres/100km
Range (claimed) 804km
CO2 emissions 115 g/km
Retail price R257,400
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