Car reviews - Nissan - Micra - SLX 5-dr hatch
Styling, performance, economy, comfort, sassy cabin design, versatile and roomy body, fun handling
Room for improvement
Parts can be costly
20 Jun 2003
OF the major Japanese manufacturers to set up operations in Australia, Nissan is the only one to have ceased making cars in Australia.
While Toyota and Mitsubishi continued to prosper, successfully developing exports as well as selling to the local market, Nissan reverted to importing.
The last Australian-made Nissan products, the Pulsar and Pintara/ Corsair, rolled off the Clayton production line in the early 1990s.
The Nissan company has always been involved in the small car segment, the Datsun 1000 and 120Y proving worthy rivals to the Toyota Corolla in the early days of the Japanese invasion, and more recently the Pulsar earning its share of the market.
Like its rival the Corolla, the Pulsar is now more a small-medium contender and a new small car, the Micra, has slotted into the entry-level class.
The Micra is a mini-sized car, designed in England for the world market.
It is very much a European car despite its Japanese parentage - evidenced by it winning the coveted European Car of the Year award - and is built at Sunderland in northern England.
Until being dropped from the Australian market in December, 1997, it competed in the small-car segment with the Holden Barina, Ford Festiva, Daihatsu Charade, Suzuki Swift and Cino, Mazda 121 and Toyota Starlet.
The Micra came as a three or five-door hatchback with three specification levels ranging from the base three-door LX, the SLX (five doors) and the upmarket three-door Super S.
The LX has manual transmission and no power steering, although air-conditioning is optional. The SLX has body-coloured bumpers, different interior trim and wheel covers, optional power steering and CVT automatic transmission. The Super S has body upgrades, alloy wheels and ABS.
The power unit for the Micra is a willing four-cylinder, fuel- injected, twin overhead cam, 16-valve unit of 1275cc, coincidentally the same capacity as the last of the Mini Copper S models so much loved in the UK and Japan.
The transversely-mounted engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox or optional constantly variable automatic transmission (CVT) which gives no-step acceleration and deceleration - there are no detectable gear changes and the engine remains working in its most efficient speed range.
Suspension is by struts and coil springs at the front with transverse link and beam axle with struts and coils at the rear, and five link location.
Power-assisted rack and pinion steering is standard and the brakes are discs at the front and drums at the rear, power- assisted. Tyres are 155/70 on 13-inch rims.
Interior room of the Micra is surprisingly good, considering its compact exterior dimensions. There is plenty of leg room for tall people in the front and the rear offers reasonable space for two. Headroom is good although shoulder room is cramped.
The control layout is clear and neat but the reversed stalk controls for indicators and wipers show the Micra's European breeding.
Boot space is reasonable with good access through the hatch opening.
Build quality of the Micra is excellent and fuel economy is a high point. The Micra should return about 6.0L/100km in normal city driving and the 42-litre fuel tank will allow a highway range of up to 900km.
The CVT transmission is claimed to return economy almost equal to the manual transmission version due to its efficiency.
Standard features include power steering, tilt steering wheel adjustment and a radio/cassette player. Central locking became standard in August, 1996.
The Micra performs well due to its advanced twin cam engine. Acceleration is brisk and the car will run quietly and happily on the highway at the legal limit with the engine turning at only 3000rpm.
The manual transmission shift is quick and precise and the ride is good, matched to predictable handling.
With the CVT automatic there is some engine "flare" when kicking down to accelerate, but response is excellent.
The Micra is a well built, solid car with an outstanding powertrain and excellent road performance.
It offers economical motoring in a well finished package and compares well with its rivals in the mini class.
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