The bright green car you see before you is the latest Nissan Micra – known as the Nissan March in Japan and Thailand – and it’s a new supermini that will be sold in 160 countries worldwide and built in at least four different factories.
Underneath is Nissan’s all-new V-platform, and it’s a set of underpinnings that will not only provide the basis for the Micra/March supermini, but also a Micra saloon (arriving in 2011, but not coming to Europe) and an MPV replacement for the Note (that we’ll see in Europe come 2012). Nissan hopes to build one million V-based vehicles a year when all three models are on sale.
To begin with the March/Micra supermini will be built in four plants across the world: China, Mexico, India – which will supply the UK now that the more profitable Juke is being produced in Sunderland – and Thailand. And it’s to Thailand that CAR has just been to drive the new Micra in Thai-spec March guise. Read on for our first impressions of the new Nissan Micra (March).
Nissan must be pretty proud of this new Micra/March supermini, right?
That’s right, and Nissan is particularly proud of the lightweight platform. In the base spec that CAR tried, the March (Micra) weighed in at just 915kg – the lightest Seat Ibiza is 974kg. Thank dietary tweaks like the 27% lighter exhaust, 19% lighter fuel tank and 15% lighter suspension.
Another top technical highlight is the new 1.2-litre engine, and although the Thai-spec March will only be available with this three pot in naturally aspirated guise, Europe will get a version with direct injection and a supercharger.
A three-pot thrum and some supercharger whine? Sounds good…
Indeed, though that engine won’t be introduced to Europe until 2011 – when it does it will make 96bhp and, combined with a stop-start system, only produce 95g/km CO2. Without the stop-start system or direct injection, the N/A European version produces 79bhp and achieves 115g/km. And with a different compression ratio and different fuel, the Thai engine has a negligible 1bhp less and emits 120g/km CO2.
We just hope the European engine, especially in supercharged guise, will be better. We were hoping for something smooth and sweet spinning, but the new 1.2 actually feels rough and rather restrained, and despite the kerbweight the March is pretty slow in any gear.
Speaking of which, the engine is mated to either a five-speed manual (which is notchy, noisy and has a long throw) or a CVT, which is much better. The CVT ‘box is all new, a boon around town, and without any of the whine that usually accompanies such gearboxes.
What about the drive? Can it match the Ford Fiesta or VW Polo?
Before we deliver any sort of dynamic verdict, it’s worth remembering that the March we drove was a Thai-spec car – European Micras will have a completely different set-up. Nissan hasn’t confirmed the exact details, but we do know that the electric steering will be tuned to add more weight, and the suspension will be softer, with not just different damper tuning but different dampers altogether. The sidewalls of the tyres will also be softer, and the European cars will gain front and rear anti-roll bars (the Thai cars don’t have them).
But the March we drove seemed pretty suited to Thai roads, which are either very smooth, very smooth but full of massive potholes, or unsealed gravel and dirt tracks. On the latter the March coped with aplomb, riding very well and soaking up the worst the roads could provide. On the sealed stuff it’s good too (helped by the 14-inch wheels with 165/70 tyres), though mid-corner bumps and transverse ridges can upset the chassis. The steering is well weighted too, and won’t need much more heft for European spec.
Want a stellar drive? Then buy a Fiesta.
And inside the new Nissan Micra?
Lots of space but not a lot to desire. While the March/Micra’s chassis will be tweaked depending on the region, what you see inside this Thai spec car is essentially what we’ll get in Europe – only detail equipment changes will be the difference.
The dials are clear, the radio is attractive and easy to use, but there’s none of the flair of a Fiesta or restrained elegance of the Polo. Plus a lot of the plastics are hard and shiny. Here’s hoping that building the car outside of the UK helps to reduce the Micra’s price tag.
But if you want a supermini with lots of room this is it. The boot is huge, and my 6’5’’ frame can sit behind my 6’5’’, and with headroom to spare.
After our initial encounter it’s fair to say this Thai-spec Nissan March is pretty well suited to Thailand. As for the dynamic side, we’ll have to wait until we try a European-spec Micra later this year to see how the drive differs.
What will not change is the refinement or styling or interior quality, which means this isn’t a class beater and it can’t match the Fiesta or Polo on any count. It’s quite likeable as a lightweight runabout, but it doesn’t have the niche appeal of the outgoing car (which, admittedly didn’t help sales) but there’s nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. Here’s hoping that supercharged 1.2 is a cracker…