Against other subcompact peers, the Micra is one of the stronger players.
In Canada’s car-buying market, there are always buyers looking for the cheapest way to get into a new car. Buying new gives the perk of a warranty, and sometimes has more competitive finance rates for those who can’t buy with cash up front. In any case, the 2019 Nissan Micra S is exclusive to Canada and represents the second cheapest option in the country at its base price of $10,488 before taxes and fees. While the Nissan used to hold the title for lowest base price, the Chevrolet Spark is currently winning this battle at $9,995.
For your slightly more than ten large, there isn’t a whole lot of standard features, but that’s kind of the point. Without moving up into the upper trim levels, there’s no air conditioning, power door locks, power windows, or painted side mirrors and door handles. You do, however, get a five-speed manual transmission, a rear window defroster, intermittent windshield wipers, a mirror on the passenger front sun visor (unlit), and a 60/40 folding rear seat.
Nowadays, anti-lock braking (ABS), stability control systems, and a rear-view backup camera are all federally mandated for all new cars sold in the country, so it goes without saying that the base Micra S gets these items. The backup camera itself is likely the reason why it had to give up the cheapest-car crown after 2018, and gets paired with a 7-inch touch screen display infotainment system. There’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (the Chevrolet Spark gets these plus 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability), but there is an auxiliary audio port and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming functionality.
Powering all Micras sold in Canada is one engine option – a 1.6-litre inline four making 109 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 107 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400RPM. This “HR16DE” codenamed engine is one of the better parts of the little Nissan, and operates with enough authority to be impressive given the price. Noise, vibration, and harshness are about the same as other more expensive car choices out there, and the 1,044 kilogram (2,302 pound) curb weight means that the 109 horsepower is just barely adequate.
The S trim level only gets one transmission choice, as well. The five-speed manual transmission is a no-nonsense unit, and while it doesn’t give any pretenses of sportiness, those who insist on rowing their own gears won’t have too much to complain about. One main gripe is the drive by wire throttle system that is one of the most laggy setups tested to date; when launching from a stop, it takes nearly a half second of throttle application before any sort of forward motion happens, and when letting off to shift, the engine free-revs because throttle is still being applied for a moment despite the clutch being depressed. Combined with some pretty serious rev hang (where RPMs fall at a very slow rate in between shifts), smooth driving while going through the gears can be a real challenge.
Even so, drivers can work around the drivability quirks, and the Micra’s behaviour can likely be attributed to ever-tightening emissions regulations and the need for lower-cost engineered solutions for compliance. By avoiding the transient airflow and fueling requirements of a fast opening or closing throttle, Nissan is able to more tightly control the combustion process on their own terms, making for more favourable output from the tailpipe, even if it means a little more frustration for motorists.
With the light curb weight, the 2019 Micra S tries to make the most of its small engine in terms of fuel economy, but short gearing and older engine technology mean that the nominal city rating is somewhat high at 8.7L/100KM. Highway consumption does better at 6.8L/100KM, and through a week of mixed driving, observed economy registered at 7.1L/100KM. Tank capacity is 41 litres, which means that getting fewer than 500 kilometres between fill-ups is to be expected.
Many might expect the Nissan Micra to be a complete tinny mess on the road, but that wasn’t exactly the case after spending some time behind the wheel. Like the engine – noise, vibration, and harshness are certainly there, but are better controlled than the price point would suggest. Although the stubby 2,450 millimetre (96.5 inch) wheelbase makes things a bit darty at highway speeds, it does make for a killer turning circle of 9.2 metres or 30.2 feet, which is perfect for an urban setting in which maneuverability is a boon. The electrically assisted power steering is light and offers little in the way of feedback, but the low curb weight means fast turn-in response, anyway. All in all, aside from the throttle response quirks, it’s a pretty soundly driving car.
Inside, the cost cutting on the based Micra S trim becomes more evident. The S doesn’t even get the luxury of plastic sill plates on the rear cargo area, and within the last year or two, the interior door handles have gone from a chrome finish to a sad unpainted black. For 2019, steering wheel controls have been added, which are a good bonus. Cargo volume behind upright rear seats is minimal at 408 litres (14.4 cubic feet), but grows to 819 litres (28.9 cubic feet) when they’re folded. The rest of the interior, as cheap as it is, has consistent and tight fit and finish, without squeaks and rattles, and the ergonomics aren’t too shabby, either.
A quick peek underneath the Micra’s surface reveals very light duty components on the suspension, chassis, and body – though it should be noted that all new cars in this segment will be like this. This should be fine during the warranty period, but may present challenges in the long run. Our prediction is that the Micra will be a great reliable car for five to seven years and up to a couple hundred thousand kilometres, but most components will wear out simultaneously by that time. It’s a classic case of getting what you pay for – you’re not getting a whole lot here, but if that’s all you need and want, more power to you.
As far as your bottom line is concerned, a 2019 Nissan Micra S with manual transmission, locks, and windows is about as easy as it gets. The $10,488 low price of entry comes with many cost-conscious cutbacks, and adding any sort of extras such as air conditioning, cruise control, or keyless entry shoot the price past $15,000 in a hurry. Against its other subcompact, low-cost peers, the Micra is one of the stronger players. The Chevrolet Spark is definitely a choice to be cross-shopped, and the Mitsubishi Mirage should really be looked at for its warranty and not much else. Long story short, the Micra is near the top of the bottom of the new-car pile.