2015 Nissan Micra. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Mark Stevenson
The best cheap car tends to be one that’s used, where someone else has taken the depreciation hit on all the checked-off options. But, if you really want something brand spanking new, Nissan might have something that fits your wants on a budget.
Since 2010, the fourth-generation Micra has been available in other global markets. Powered by a range of 1.2L to 1.6L engines, in three- and four-cylinder formats, the diminutive Nissan provides adequate motivation for those desiring a metropolitan runabout. In Canada, we get only the 1.6L four-cylinder motor, producing 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque, the same as the Nissan Versa Note.
Speaking of the Versa, the Micra is the less-expensive replacement for the ghastly Versa Sedan, which always looked like some kind of sea mammal coming up for air. Even with its jellybean design and barebones approach to vehicular transportation, the Versa Sedan sells in decent numbers in the US. Here in Canada, not so much.
We are a nation of hatchback lovers, allowing Nissan to sell two overlapping subcompact five-door cars on the same lot. In reality, the cars don’t overlap much on price at all, with 92 percent of Versa Note transactions cashing in above the top MSRP for Micra.
And while Canada is getting this car without the need to send units to our big brother to the south, the Micra is squarely aimed at the Quebec market. Nissan expects to sell more than half of all units in la belle province.
That said, Nissan’s aims for the Micra in Canada are clear: to become the new “value flagship” and bring customers into the brand. Hopefully in five years time they’ll return and go up to a Sentra, Altima, or something else. And they’ll do it by providing a product “tailored by Canadians, for Canadians,” offering car buyers what they truly want in a subcompact hatch.
Yes, the Micra is a global product, but the version we get in Canada has some significant differences versus models available in other countries. For starters, front and rear stabilizer bars are equipped as standard, as are rear seat heater ducts. After all, customers in Thailand or Australia don’t need to worry about kids freezing their toes off after hockey practice.
The first leg of our media drive was in the top trim SR model with five-speed manual transmission, available with an impressive amount of equipment for a car under $16,000. Back-up camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, power and heated mirrors, chrome accents, and rear spoiler with LED brake light all arrive at this level, along with fog lights, sport cloth fabric seating, and USB connection for your tunes.
2015 Nissan Micra dashboard, HVAC controls, shifter. Click image to enlarge
As we navigated our way (badly, mind you) through the surface streets of Montreal, the manual transmission provided very easy operation as far as manuals go. Throws were light and not too far, while clutch action was firm without being heavy. It reminded me a lot of the five-speed box available in the Ford Fiesta, one of my favourite economy row-your-own setups.
The SR-trimmed model took us out to the highways around Montreal where the four-door compact never really felt out of place. Merging into traffic was easy with the five-speed manual and ride quality was what one would expect for a car with such a short wheelbase.
2015 Nissan Micra seating & trunk. Click image to enlarge
However, highway speeds with the manual transmission do cause some higher revs. Cruising at 100 km/h makes the engine turn around 3,000 rpm. Add another 10 km/h and the revs go up to 3,250 rpm. While the engine doesn’t necessarily drone, there is some noise. Thankfully, it’s all muffled by the sound of air passing by the side windows anyway.
So, the highway isn’t the best environment for Nissan’s newest runabout. We did get to enjoy some rural country roads, though, and the little Micra took on the Quebec patchwork with ease. The suspension is not firm but you never feel disconnected. And, unlike the Mirage, going cheap doesn’t come with listing body roll that would put Canadian Navy ships to shame.
Interior accommodations were spartan though very similar to the Versa Note (switchgear) and Mazda2 (everything else). Instead of the funky interior trim of the Chevrolet Spark, Micra owners are given the basics in a very easy to use arrangement, great for when you’re adjusting temperature, selecting a new radio station, and yelling at another driver in Montreal traffic simultaneously.