What on earth can a car under $10,000 be like?
The price is right, there's reasonable room for four, the car features a cheerful design, a peppy engine and reasonable handling, so what's the problem?
The British have a clever phrase for it, as they often do; they invented the language, after all.
"Cheap and cheerful."
I could hardly describe the Nissan Micra better myself.
Now, I don't exactly get paid by the word, but you, not to mention my editors, expect more than three of them in a road test, so here goes . . . .
The Micra nameplate returns to the Canadian market after an absence of 15 years. It's bolted to the nose of Mexico-built sub-compact four-door hatchback with a base MSRP under $10,000.
Under 10 grand!
Yes, it's true, even if $9,998 is only a toonie under 10 grand.
But that's not even the most surprising thing about this car.
Sure, for that price you don't get stuff we have become used to. No air-conditioning, no Bluetooth, no USB port, plain black as opposed to body-colour doorhandles and side-view mirrors.
Upgrades on all those fronts are available if you are prepared to blow that 10-grand limit, and check enough boxes on the order form, as someone had done with my test car. It was, in the range-topping SR trim, as all-singing-all-dancing as Micra gets.
But even the base S trim level gets ESC, ABS, front-, side- and side-curtain airbags, tilt steering column, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper and a split-folding rear seatback.
Not too many years ago, that was a pretty amazing equipment level for an entry-level sub-compact hatchback.
But that surprising thing about this car that I mentioned earlier?
Just that, at any trim level, the Micra is a pretty decent little car.
Little it certainly is, or at least it looks so. It is based on the same platform as the larger Versa Note hatch and the Versa sedan, which Micra effectively replaces in the Canadian market. Micra is shorter than either by 150 mm. in wheelbase and 330 mm. overall.
But efficient packaging and ample body height translate into reasonable room for four, although you might have to take advantage of that split-folding rear seat back to augment the smallish trunk.
"Perky" is the word that comes to mind about the styling. Probably won't win any awards, but again, cheerful.
Inside, the decor is on the sombre side, in the form of charcoal plastic and gray cloth upholstery. But the materials look to be well-above-$10K expectations, and it all seemed well screwed together.
Regular readers will know I prefer cloth upholstery; it's warmer in winter, cooler in summer and grippier all the time. The SR gets what Nissan calls "sport" seat trim, plus leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather shift boot.
I found the seats, four-way adjustable in the base S, six-way (i.e., including height adjustment) in SV and SR. Comfortable, and supportive enough for the sort of driving a Micra owner is likely to attempt.
There's even a fold-down arm rest for the driver in SV and SR.
The rear seat is too narrow for three adults despite the three belts, but two riders will work as long as Canadian Football League scouts have never sniffed around your house. The rear seat cushion is even high enough off the floor that your knees aren't up around your ears. That's down to the height of the body again.
The 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine feels peppy, and doesn't even get unbearably noisy as revs rise. With 109 horsepower, it won't cause your ears to bleed on full chat, but it gets out of its own way with surprising zeal.
The five-speed gearbox has one fewer ratio than some cars at or near this class, but five is still more than cars such as this had not so long ago.
At common, if technically illegal, highway speeds, that results in fairly elevated revs; at 120 km/h, it's spinning 3,600 r.p.m.
Mind you, that's still 400 fewer than Lady Leadfoot's Mazda Miata, so highway cruising isn't beyond the pale.
The gearbox, itself, is very light and slick, and the clutch take-up is, again, light and easy.
I haven't driven a Micra with the optional 4-speed automatic, which I expect the bulk of buyers will choose. Again, this is at least one fewer ratio than most in this class offer, although the competing Toyota Yaris makes do with a four-speed, too.
Being very well worked out, the MacStrut front/twist-beam rear suspension is probably the biggest surprise in the car. The ride is composed, and the light, quick, speed-variable steering makes the car more nimble than you might expect.
There's a high degree of body roll in hard cornering, and understeer (or plowing straight on) is the order of the day if you push it too hard. But that?s not out of the ordinary for a car like this, and the drivers it's intended for aren't likely to indulge in that sort of driving anyway.
The turning circle is nice and short, so parking in tight city quarters is a snap.
In all, a quite pleasant driving experience, more entertaining than you really have a right to expect in a car this inexpensive.
Which brings us back to the price.
All this mechanical goodness is the same regardless of which trim you choose. At under 10 grand, it is undeniably the best thing you can buy at anywhere near the price, given that the Mitsubishi Mirage is about the only other thing you can buy at anywhere near the price.
As you move up the chart though, you quickly run into things such as the aforementioned Toyota Yaris, plus the Chevy Spark, and a bit further on, the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2 and Honda Fit.
Here, the water is a little deeper, and, while the Micra still holds its own, the Micra you buy probably will end up costing you considerably more than that magic 10 grand.
I'll leave it to you to go over the features you want and the cost of admission thereto.
But I will suggest that if you are shopping at or near the bottom of the price chart, the new Nissan Micra will, haven't I said this before? be a pleasant surprise.
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