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Nissan Micra

It's an eco-bargain, so don't expect luxury...

The new Micra has come in for some rather sharp criticism from motoring pundits - not all of it justified, in my opinion. A car has to be seen for what it is. The Micra is not a car for driving enthusiasts and, if judged in that light, it will disappoint. But there's plenty of really good stuff to say about the little city runabout. Here's some of it.

First and foremost, it offers 'eco-motoring' at a price that few other manufacturers, if any, can match. The entry-level Micra costs just £9250, and for that you get 56.5mpg combined and 115g/km of CO2. In other words, it's a bargain. Secondly, the new Micra addresses the big grumble we had in our household over the old model. It was just too cramped for a tall, or wide, driver. "I need one for each foot," muttered my husband in the old days. Now, there's more shoulder room, while a 61mm increase in length helps to make space for size-twelve feet. There's more room in the back, too. Just as importantly, however, Nissan has avoided the common trend of upsizing till a 'supermini' grows to the volume of a mid-sized hatch. Micra remains a genuine city car, and is all the more special for that.

Less happily, Nissan has tried to make its enormously popular and successful Micra appeal to a larger, worldwide audience. They decided, for example, that it was too cute to appeal to real men, so they made its face more 'masculine' and pushed the wheels further out to the side, in an attempt - I suppose - to be butch. Sadly, this meant the Micra lost its quirky charm, without gaining much in return. When Nissan is the company behind outrageous Cube, and the funky, chunky Juke, why must the new Micra look so bland?

Then there's the quality of the fittings. Or rather, the lack of it. You can't expect too much when you're paying £9250 for a new car, but our test car was the top-of-the-range Tekna, with a £12,350 price tag. I can't deny the standard Tekna equipment is superb: cruise control, Nissan Connect, a panoramic glass roof, parking sensors and even parking slot measurement. But gizmos don't make up for a general lack of quality, and a car that's a bargain at £9250 makes far less sense when it's three grand more - and you still have rather tacky plastics at your fingertips.

Do away with that panoramic glass top, however, and there's a clever trick in the standard roof - an embossed boomerang shape that adds to the styling, but that's not its main purpose. Cleverly, the shape stiffens up the roof, meaning less 'body boom' at high speeds, without additional weight. Meanwhile, there's no 3-door version planned: all Micras have five doors and 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engines. A supercharged model with 95g/km CO2 is planned for later this year but, says Nissan, a diesel wouldn't be worth it in such a small, light, economical car.

There is, however, the option of a CVT gearbox, in place of the 5-speed manual, although I have no idea why anyone would want it, given that it gives worse fuel economy, worse emissions, and costs you more in the first place... but drivers who spend 90% of their time in stop-start city traffic might find it a blessing. You have my sympathy. Saddest of all, however, for the UK market, is the fact that the Nissan Micra is no longer made at the Sunderland plant. Cars destined for Britain will be built in India: one of four overseas plants where the little city car will be made.
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