Nissan may be a little known car maker in India, but thats about to change. Just wait till it launches the new Micra in India, for it will change the way you look at the company forever. We should know, weve been lucky enough to have been invited to take a short drive in Nissans new baby in Thailand. And we can tell you right away, its just the sort of car that will appeal to a considerable section of Indian car buyers.
In the flesh, the new Micra doesnt make much of a first impression. Some of that silvery tinge of excitement you get looking at a new car seems to be missing and the car looks quite familiar as well. The Nissan designers say they have stayed away from edgy styling because, according to their surveys, sharp lines and creases give a fragile image, which they wanted to avoid. Instead, Nissan has deliberately gone for a more rounded look that looks more robust. The smooth shape also helps deliver a good drag coefficient as well 0.32 is impressive.
However, the details that stick in your mind are the attractive, high-mounted light pods and the two-part grille. The arched profile of the cabin is something carried over from the Micras DNA, but there is a mishmash of lines at the rear, especially near the rear spoiler and the tail-lights. The Micra does come across as a cute and cheerful design which will surely appeal to women.
Step into the cabin and the oval and rounded theme abounds. You get a round speedometer, a round cluster of buttons on the central console, round vents and a round steering boss. The control stalks feel particularly solid and feel they could last forever.
The Micra is also pretty practical. There is good amount of space for odds and ends and the door pockets are of a decent size. However, the double glovebox which is standard in the European-spec cars is missing and the Indian version only gets a single and very tiny glove compartment.
Like all Nissans, there is no traditional key on this car. You get a keyless entry fob that allows you to yank the door open with it still sitting in your pocket, and the motor is fired with the help of a push button. The keyless start / stop feature is in fact a key feature! Its the first for a B-segment car.
The Micra is powered by a 1198ccc three-cylinder motor that makes 79bhp but unlike other three-cylinder motors sold in India, there is no balancer shaft used. There is some amount of vibration at idle, which can be felt through the steering but it smoothens out a bit as you rev it. However, the motor responds well to a jab on the accelerator and the Micra moves forward with no hesitation.
This motor has more power than the VW Polo, and you do feel the combined benefit of this and the very light 945kg kerb weight. Nissan says it has engineered the car with fewer parts to keep the weight down, and it sure seems to have helped. The car feels nice and sprightly and acceleration is impressive enough to satisfy most drivers. The motor pulls all the way to 6000rpm and acceleration in and around 5000rpm is particularly strong.
Straightline stability on the car is impressive as well. With a wheel at each corner and most of the weight contained between the wheels, the Micra drives more like a big car than a little one. There, however, isnt too much feel in the steering. The column-mounted electric steering feels a touch vague and lifeless which will disappoint enthusiasts. However, city commuters will be thrilled by the Micras very tight turning circle which was actually designed keeping Indian customers in mind.
Nissan has offered automatic climate control, a feature thats not common among hatchbacks. And its got electrically folding mirrors. Theres a mini on-board computer which gives real-time fuel consumption and distance-to-empty readouts. In fact, Nissan wants to make the feature-packed Micra one of its selling points.
However, features like steering-mounted audio controls are missing for the Indian model. According to company sources, Nissan is saving some of the other goodies like steering controls for the audio and Bluetooth for hands-free phone operation for a refresh that is being planned a year after launch.
Of course, all these features are reserved for the high-end model and in basic trim, you still get power steering and front power windows (manual at the rear). The air-con is standard but not climate control and alloys are replaced with bare-looking steel wheels.
The beige interior and generous glass make for a very airy cabin. The interior quality isnt brilliant but pretty good. The build quality is between the Swift and the Polo, which is still the benchmark for interior quality. The front seats are very comfortable and Nissan has consciously made the nose of the car visible from the cabin; this is apparently a common complaint from first-time drivers who will make up a fair percent of Micra buyers.
At the back, headroom and legroom are surprisingly generous. The only grouse we have with the rear seat is that its too low, flat and with little under-thigh support. Nissan needs to improve the seat squab before launching the car in India. The boot too is fairly generous but theres no split, the seat flips forward in one piece via a neat release latch.
It is clear that Nissan, known for its engineering and innovation skills, has the know-how to build very effective small cars. The new Micra may not look wildly exciting but behind its cheerful, cute lines lies solid engineering and innovation. How well Nissan tunes and adapts this car for Indian conditions remains to be seen but we are confident that the Micra will take to Indian roads like a duck to water.
What we dont know is how Nissan will price the car. The sense we get is that it will be in that narrow window between the Swift and the Polo. Some say that Nissan might even undercut the Swift to get market share. If Nissan prices the Micra right, it has a winner on its hands.