The 2016 Nissan Micra is Canada’s least expensive car, but no one would ever guess you’re a stingy cheapskate just by looking at it, and they certainly couldn’t imagine anything so quick off the line and so nimble through the corners could cost a mere $9,988.
The Micra comes standard with style as well as driving dynamics that set it apart from compact cars costing thousands more. I tested one in base S trim with a 5-speed manual transmission last year and couldn’t stop raving about it, so this time around I was truly looking forward to spending a week in the top-tier SR model. Would it be anywhere near as good with its optional 4-speed automatic transmission? In a word, no, but it was still plenty enjoyable.
Fortunately, Nissan doesn’t “reward” Micra buyers who want more features by forcing a standard autobox into the mix like it does with the Versa Note, so therefore you’re free to increase your daily dose of good times while leaving a cool $1,000 in your wallet. Alternatively, if you’d rather let the autobox do the shifting on your behalf during jam-packed commutes, you can equip the mid-grade SV and this SR with a 4-speed unit. There’s no manual mode or paddle shifters, so don’t go thinking you can play Xavier Coupal at the track.
Micra out on the track
The Micra where? You read that right. If you think I’m pulling your proverbial leg about the Micra being a blast to drive, try to wrap your brain around the fact that this little cheapo ride is the shining star of its own spec racing series, the Nissan Micra Cup.
Together with Mr. Coupal, Stefan Rzadzinski, Jacques Bélanger, Kevin King, Valérie Limoges, and another 17 drivers you’ve never heard of, the Micra fights it out on some of Canada’s best racetracks. And yes, that last driver is a woman, currently fifth in the championship (there are two more ladies duking it out with the guys, as well).
Nicer than you might think
The 2016 Nissan Micra SR I recently spent a week in was way too nice to body-slam around Ontario’s Calabogie or Quebec’s Mont Tremblant racing circuits, its pristine outer panels finished in a beautiful blue-green hue dubbed Caspian Sea that adds a whopping $135 extra to the bill (there’s not a lot of surface area to cover). The car would have looked just as good in its other two metallic paints or the no-cost white, black or red alternatives.
There aren’t any extra options after stepping up to the SR, leaving an accessories catalog to flip through if personalizing your ride is high on your priority list (the contrasting mirror housings, door handles, body mouldings, and wheel caps look pretty sweet).
My Nissan Micra was loaded, which means chrome is tastefully splashed onto the grille and lower engine vent while additional brightwork adorns the front fog lights that also get added. Bodyside mouldings push out the rocker panels, a rooftop spoiler extends the rear profile, and a hot-looking set of machine-finished 16” alloys with black-painted pockets round out each corner. All that for $15,988 plus freight and dealer fees, $16,988 with the automatic transmission or $17,123 as tested with the metallic paint.
Lots of features
Hold on a minute; you actually get a lot more than exterior upgrades with the Micra SR. The cabin is improved with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, the seats are covered in great-looking upholstery boasting black woven bolsters with contrast blue stitching along with nice crisscross-patterned centre panels that get duplicated on the door inserts. The features menu continues to grow with a 4.3” colour infotainment touchscreen that integrates a reverse camera and an iPod interface connectable via a USB port.
All of this gets built on a mid-grade SV trim that includes body-coloured door handles, power locks with remote entry, power windows, cruise control, illuminated steering wheel controls, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, a 6-way manual driver’s seat, and a rear cargo cover. Some base S model highlights that get grandfathered up to the SV and SR include chrome interior door handles, variable intermittent wipers, a rear wiper washer, a tilt-adjustable steering column (with no telescoping capability), a trip computer, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with speed-sensitive volume, rear cup holders on the backside of the front console, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand cargo room from 408 to 819 litres.
I’m not sure which trim adds the metallic surface treatment to the steering wheel spokes, the same down each side of the centre stack and around the shifter, or the glossy metallic black centre stack interface panel, but it all makes for nice bling. Don’t expect to find any premium soft-touch plastics, but the materials used in the Micra are mostly matte-finish instead of shiny and they appear as if they’ll stand up to abuse.
Small, but still safe
I can’t quote you NHTSA or IIHS crash test ratings or any other U.S.-sourced safety details because the 2016 Nissan Micra isn’t sold south of the 49th. Donald and Hillary wannabes are still stuck with the Versa Sedan yawn-fest that Nissan Canada smartly replaced with the Micra last year (can you imagine a racing series in that thing?).
Nevertheless, the Micra’s standard safety kit includes the usual passive and active elements such as body crumple zones, pipe-style steel side-door guard beams, a full assortment of airbags, traction control and stability control, and ABS-enhanced brakes (with drums instead of discs in the rear, however).
Fun to drive
You hardly need 4-wheel discs to produce short stops in a 1,091kg (2,405lb) subcompact, mind you. This number refers to the porky pig in this city car’s family; the base manual version weighs just 1,044 kg (2,302 lbs). Both are sprite enough to make the standard 1.6L DOHC 4-cylinder engine feel like it’s rocket-powered despite producing only 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque.
Like I said in the beginning, the 2016 Nissan Micra SR is a blast to drive. Even the automatic transmission hardly dampened my enthusiasm thanks to four forward gears that shifted with nice, positive increments. Likewise, handling is sharp with surprisingly little body lean even when pressing through tight corners at a quicker than recommended pace. Just as shocking is the Micra’s compliant ride over rougher pavement.
Space for five
The upright driving position is comfortable with excellent visibility all around, while there’s more than enough room for all but extremely large folks. The rear seats are equally comfortable, albeit abbreviated as far as leg and foot room goes, which is par for the course in the microcar segment.
Let me be clear: The Nissan Micra is considerably larger than the two-seat smart fortwo and the now-discontinued Scion iQ. It’s sized along the lines of the Fiat 500, yet capable of sitting three abreast in the back and a lot more comfortable for two (the 500’s fashionable rear headrests are totally impractical), not to mention way more affordable than the sassy Italian.
The Micra is wonderfully inexpensive to live with after the initial purchase, too. My week full of enthusiastic driving only needed a $20 bill to fill the 41L tank, and that’s at $1.20/L. I worked out the numbers and found my average mileage was just 7.7L/100km, which is pretty close to the 8.6 city and 6.6 highway Nissan claims. I’m sure I could’ve eked out a much better result, but where would be the fun in that?
Listen, you can buck up for a boring compact car that’ll shuffle you off to the office and home each day as well as transport you to the family cottage or ski hill on long weekends, or you can spend a lot less for a fabulous little hatchback that’ll put a smile on your face every time you step inside. That’s life with a Nissan Micra. I couldn’t recommend it any higher.