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Driven: Micra redefined and refined

Micra makeover: Nissan’s global light-car contender benefits from a series of improvements

Nissan’s cut-price cheapie goes to finishing school with impressive results

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Nissan logo13 Sep 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

THE car credited with kick-starting the sub-$13K baby boom three years ago is growing up.

Announced in June but only just publically unveiled for the first time at Nissan’s 360 event in California as well as the Frankfurt motor show, the facelifted K13 Micra gains a host of developments designed to improve refinement as well as overall owner satisfaction.

But the bad news for local light car buyers is that there’s at least a year’s wait, with Nissan Australia committed to a backlog of the cheap and cheerful current model until then.

Visually both ends of the car have undergone a metamorphosis, with the nose gaining the company’s new signature ‘V’ bonnet and double arch headlight treatment. Along with the reshaped bonnet, front mudguards and bumpers, they conspire to add a bit of visual aggression to the Micra’s front-end.

Nissan says the tail-lights, bumpers and ‘infill panel beneath the tailgate’ are also new, while upper-spec models gain restyled wheels, although more than a cursory glance is required to truly spot the differences.

Inside, however, things really have changed, with a number of changes designed to dispel the previous version’s Bi-Lo look and feel.

For starters, the instrument markings are said to be easier on the eye. The air vents have been reshaped. There’s a higher-quality appearance to the door armrests and seat facings. A 12-volt socket and USB slot are now included to recharge mobile phones. Most models have a more integrated-looking audio system. And a larger and better-functioning screen with improved navigation is available.

The upmarket cohesiveness found in the Volkswagen Polo is still AWOL, but the Micra represents even better value for money (if most of the improvements filter through to the Oz-bound Indian models).

One option that might make it on higher-spec Oz-bound Micras is a new parking aid system that alerts the driver whether the vehicle can fit within a confined parking spot.

Another is the updated 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol powerplant fitted to the latest model.

Bringing a new idle-stop system to proceedings that can cut consumption by up to four per cent, this direct-injection DIG-S produces 72kW of power yet can also deliver a diesel-rivalling 4.1 litres per 100km, for carbon dioxide emissions of 95 grams per kilometre.

This engine is a bit of a revelation for a Micra unit, since it maintains the low-speed spiritedness of the non-turbo unit (see below), but with a useful kick in the mid-ranges, to make the smallest Nissan sold in Australia one of the livelier littlies on the landscape.

Armed with a smooth-shifting five-speed manual gearbox, the DIG-S technology puts the Nissan in a higher performance/refinement grade, especially during higher-speed scenarios that sometimes call for rapid-performance boosts.

On the dynamics front, always a capable handler, the Micra continues the tradition with keen steering, a planted chassis and tight turning circle. It’s long been one of the better light cars to chuck around, and the same also applies to the K13 Series II.

Note, too, that the 1.2-turbo DIG-S’ idle-stop technology will impress for its non-intrusive operation.

Nissan Australia is remaining mum as to whether we’ll see the turbo-three-pot screamer, and it certainly won’t be under $15K, but if the Japanese brand can manage to add it to the local Micra range, then we reckon buyers ought to consider its many advantages.

Regular non-turbo versions of the 1.2-litre engine fitted to the standard Micras lack the economy/performance-enhancing tech, but it can still rustle up a respectable 59kW (up 3kW) whether Australians will see the continuously variable transmission (CVT) offered to European buyers is as-yet unknown.

Unfortunately, only the turbo version was available to sample, so we’ll have to wait until the newcomer comes on stream next year before we can tell you how the everyday base models drive and feel.

From a refinement point of view, Nissan has worked hard to improve the Micra’s ambience, fitting better-quality materials and clearer instruments and dials.

Now while that’s all good, it is unlikely to give Volkswagen’s local product planners sleepless nights, since the Micra is only playing catch-up. Yes, everything is positioned exactly where you‘d expect them to be, but the Nissan still suffers from an over-abundance of bargain-basement plastics and materials.

Nonetheless, it’s all a big step forward for Nissan’s baby-bunch representative.

Since the Micra S2 is still so far away, pricing is nowhere near finalised, while the company is reluctant to model specification.

One thing is for sure, however: Nissan has clearly improved the Micra where it has needed it, without (hopefully) compromising the series’ low entry cost that has helped make it one of our preferred sub-$14K babies.

We hope Nissan remembers to keep the base model ask at today’s value-focussed levels. You can do a whole lot worse than choosing a K13 as one of your future urban runabouts.

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