REVIEW: 2015 NISSAN MICRA SV-Who says cheap can’t be good?

REVIEW: 2015 NISSAN MICRA SV-Who says cheap can’t be good?
After a 22-year hiatus, Nissan's little subcompact hatch returns to Canada, with the lowest sticker price in our market.
Lesley Wimbush
By Lesley Wimbush
Posted on August 11th, 2014
1 Comments

2015 Nissan Micra SV

PRICE: $14,698
ENGINE: 1.6 litre 4 cylinder
POWER/TORQUE: 109 hp/107 lb. ft. of torque
FUEL CONSUMPTION (REGULAR): 8.6L/100 km highway, 6.6L/city.
COMPETITION: Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Spark, Mitsubishi Mirage, Mazda2
WHAT’S BEST: A lot of value for the money
WHAT’S WORST: No available navigation system
WHAT’S INTERESTING: The Nissan Micra will not be sold in the United States

Cheerful little car returns to Canada with lowest price in the market

It’s not very often that a car reviewer merits being featured on a national news program. But that’s exactly what happened recently when John Pearley Huffman of the New York Times wrote a scathing — and hilarious — piece on the Mitsubishi Mirage.

His subsequent appearance on CNBC to discuss both the review and the car unleashed a maelstrom of differing opinions across the world of social media. Why was this news?

Was it, as CNBC implied, that auto writers have become inherently dishonest due to the nature of their close relationships with automakers? Or has the industry evolved to the point that really bad cars have become few and far between?

“Some industry pundits like to claim that nowadays, there’s no such thing as a bad car,” said Consumer Report’s Tom Mutchler. “We really beg to differ.”

Calling the Mirage the “worst handling car” they’d driven in years, CR referred to the car’s handling as almost “scary” on twisty roads.

Some lambasted Huffman for his elitist attitude, declaring it demeaning towards the Mirage’s targeted segment that may not have the luxury of choice.

Others, myself included, disagreed. If anything, it’s more insulting to suggest folks on a budget don’t deserve better, that the Mirage is nothing less than what a cheap car should be. Who says cheap has to be depressing?

Case in point: the 2015 Nissan Micra.

After a 22-year hiatus, Nissan’s little subcompact hatch returns to Canada with the lowest sticker price in our market.

With a base price of $9,998, the Micra may be the most inexpensive new car Canadians can buy — but don’t call it cheap. Although it costs about the same as a decent used car, the Micra offers big value for its low price.

The bottom line buy-in refers, of course, to a base S model stripper with manual transmission, roll-down windows, and no air. Much like every daily beater I’ve ever driven.

My test model, a mid-range SV likely to be the top-selling trim level, features power locks and windows, a four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, Bluetooth and a cute little 4.3-inch display screen with backup camera for $14,698.

There’s an available sporty SR model, boasting 16-inch machined alloy rims, side skirts and a jaunty rear spoiler — but it only adds some show and not an ounce of go. Optioned with the automatic transmission, it’s $16,748.

Strangely, not even the range-topping model is available with navigation nor leather upholstery. Heck, even the dreary Mirage offers navigation.

Although it resembles a shrunken Versa, and indeed shares its platform, the Micra’s design works better on this pert little scaled-down hatchback. So compact does the Micra appear, that the second set of doors are almost overlooked — yet add greatly to its utility and ease of entry.

Interior of the 2015 Nissan Micra

As expected in a vehicle of this segment, the Micra’s interior is fashioned from plenty of hard plastics and durable cloth.

Plain and simple, though it may be, the cabin’s a fairly cheery place.

There’s a continued circular theme — from large round knobs, air vents and even the door handles — like random happy faces scattered throughout the interior. In a practical segment, plastics aren’t an automatic demerit point, they’re rugged and resist scratches better than soft-touch materials and clean up easier than fine leather.

I really liked the steering wheel. Thick and grippy, it boasted the thumb indents of a genuine driver’s car.

It’s not of course. The Micra, at least not in this incarnation, will never be mistaken for a hot hatch. At its Montreal unveiling this past spring, I jokingly asked Nissan’s senior product planning manager, Tim Franklin, if there were plans for a Nismo edition.

“Never say never,” he said.

However, for the time being we’ll just have to settle for the 109 hp and 107 lb.-ft. of torque produced by the 1.6L four-cylinder found across the model range. That output may sound paltry to hot-hatch fans — but it’s a lot more than the similarly priced Mirage’s 74 hp output. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Conspicuously absent is the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that dominates most of Nissan’s current portfolio — which would probably improve fuel economy, but also add cost in a segment where saving dollars is paramount.

Unlike European Micras (whose production continued during the years it was unavailable here), the Canadian vehicles receive front and rear sway bars and are tuned to have quicker steering ratios. On top of a nicely sprung suspension, this bolls down to a little car that really handles itself well in chaotic urban traffic.

The steering is a bit on the numb side, but not disconcertingly so. Despite the powertrain’s modest output, the Micra has no trouble getting up to speed on the highway and though the engine does get a bit buzzy when pushed hard, it’s by no means obnoxious. Both hands on the wheel at high speeds though — it does tend to meander a bit on windy days.

As far as being fun to drive, the Micra strikes one off my list of daily beater requirements by being so darn cheerful you can forgive its rubbery steering and abundance of plastic. Turning radius is fantastic, which I discovered while threading my way through some of Toronto’s back alleyways in search of graffiti.

Seats are firm but really comfortable and there’s plenty of leg and headroom for such a pipsqueak of a car. With rear seats folded flat, there’s 408 litres of cargo space, which puts it ahead of competitors Mazda2, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris. It’s certainly enough to suit my needs, easily swallowing my dirt and horse-sweat encrusted riding gear or bicycle. Strike another off my list of non-negotiables.

Official fuel ratings are 8.6L/100 km city, 6.6L highway and 7.7L combined. I actually managed 6.5L on the highway and around 8.3 on average during a week’s combined driving.

Overall, the Micra proves that saving money needn’t be a penance. But more importantly, it puts the cheerful back in cheap n’ cheerful.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Lesley Wimbush was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

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