Nissan’s smallest entry is an honest subcompact, and would make for a perfect first car.
It’s amazing how much of a difference a few materials, a transmission, the addition of some gadgets, and some sharper wheels can make. No, I’m not talking about a luxury vehicle – quite the contrary! Recently I drove the Nissan Micra S (reviewed here), which is Canada’s cheapest car. With its bold sticker price of $9,988, it undercuts the Chevrolet Spark LS (reviewed here) by just seven dollars. The reality is though that most Canadians need options, and conveniences like an automatic transmission and air conditioning. Our friends at Nissan sent over the keys to a 2016 Nissan Micra SR, fully loaded and getting very close to doubling the sticker price on the base model, for a road test.
The SR is the top trim available in the Micra, and it’s obvious at first sight that this car is far better equipped than the base S. Boasting sporty body effects, larger 16″ wheels and a snazzy decklid spoiler, the SR looks a lot more premium than its base sibling. It still has the same honest, down-to-earth styling that makes the Micra so appealing in the first place. The little five-door hatchback isn’t ugly by any means, but it’s not as aggressively styled as the Spark (reviewed here) and looks a lot more humble. I like this a lot, because most Micra buyers are like me and want their economical, efficient vehicle to be understated and not scream “look at me” every time it’s out on the road.
On the inside, the Micra SR is full of changes, and almost feels like a different car from the S. Gone is the five-speed manual transmission, replaced by a four-speed automatic. There are no fancy paddle shifters or manual mode, and it’s curious that Nissan has decided against their Xtronic CVT here even though it’s still available on the larger Versa Note (reviewed here). The automatic shifts adequately, but the manual is the one to opt for if you’re looking for that zippy little runabout feel. I recently tested the Spark LT, and had a similar impression on its transmission.
Nissan rates the automatic transmission Micra for 8.6L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway, which is only marginally worse than the manual – the fifth gear on the stick helps keep the revs down on the highway. The Micra is a bit worse than expected in the city because the engine has the tedious task of getting the subcompact up to speed. Over the course of our test, I managed to keep it around 7.2L/100km, feathering the throttle most of the time. I expect the typical Micra customer to average about 7.6-7.9L/100km in typical driving.
Trim levels for the Micra are pretty straightforward – Nissan packages it so that minimal additional packages are available, and all three trims are decently equipped for their price points. The base model is obviously quite simple, with no fancy power options or even air conditioning, and starts at $9,988. Most buyers will opt for the Micra SV, which costs $13,848 and adds Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, and air conditioning (!). The SV is also the cheapest way to get an automatic transmission.
Considering the fact that the SR rides on larger wheels and lower profile tires than the base model, ride quality isn’t all that different. It’s notably steadier, with less wallowing around, almost giving the little car a sporty feel. Large manhole covers and potholes are the bane of the car’s existence, because the small wheelbase causes the whole chassis to rattle – the driver and passengers feel imperfections immediately, and it’s a bit harsh. I would recommend opting for a softer, cushier tire when the factory set wears out, as good rubber will go a long way towards improving the Micra’s road manners.
Our top-trim test vehicle was loaded – the most “premium” Micra that can be had in Canada right now. For $16,988, the Micra SR adds 16” machined aluminum wheels, side skirts, rear decklid spoiler, fog lights, USB connectivity, an iPod interface, and a reverse camera. The seats are still cloth, and there’s not much in the way of luxury, but the Micra SR is a far cry from the cheapest car in Canada that it shares quite a bit with. There are still a few plastics on the interior, but the door handles are finished in chrome, and the stereo knobs are also lined with chrome. Nissan has put in a larger screen with a full colour display, rather than the single-line monochromatic screen on the base model.
The Micra’s main rivals are the Chevrolet Spark and the Mitsubishi Mirage (reviewed here). The Mirage is a bit of a penalty box, but the Spark is all-new for the 2016 model year. It offers a considerable amount of technology for the price, and its driving dynamics are almost as good as the Micra’s. Where the Spark’s argument begins to fall apart is in the price tag – the LT model I reviewed was nearly $20,000, almost $3,000 more than the Micra. This is a significant price difference, and the Chevrolet’s 4G-LTE technology is neat, but doesn’t make up for three grand.
Nissan’s smallest entry is an honest economy subcompact, and would make for a perfect first car for almost anybody. It’s powerful enough to handle a highway commute with minimal complaints, there are enough creature comforts offered to keep up with cars one segment higher, and the cheeky styling is endearing. The 2016 Nissan Micra SR is a great choice for students as a university/college runner, or even a city commuter for the urban lifestyle. Perhaps the SR is a bit expensive for what it is, considering you can get into a base model Mazda3 G (reviewed here) for similar money, but the more affordable SV or S models would be a smart choice in the segment.