//Richard Case 00966583

2016 Nissan Micra SR Road Test

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.


Canada's best-priced car is big on style and performance 

The Nissan Micra is Canada's least expensive car, but no one would ever guess you're as smart as you are with your money just by looking at it, and they certainly couldn't imagine anything so quick off the line and handy through the corners costing a mere $9,988.

The Micra comes standard with style, and its driving dynamics set it apart from compacts costing thousands more. I tested one in base S trim with its sole five-speed manual transmission last year and couldn't stop raving about it, so this time around I was truly looking forward to spending a week in the top-tier SR, but would it be anywhere near as fun with its optional automatic?

As expected the auto isn't quite as engaging for performance purists, but it's still plenty enjoyable. Fortunately for those who prefer mixing their own gears, Nissan doesn't force Micra buyers who want more features to upgrade their transmission choice, so therefore you're free to increase your daily dose of good times while leaving a cool $1,000 in your wallet, or if you'd rather let the autobox do the shifting on your behalf during jam-packed commutes you can equip the mid-grade SV or this SR with the more convenient option. There's no manual mode or paddle shifters so don't go thinking you can play Xavier Coupal at the track, but of course the current Micra Cup champion and prestigious Gilles Villeneuve Trophy winner takes care of his own cog swapping.


 

Out on the track

Micra what? You heard me right. If you think I'm pulling your proverbial leg about the Micra being a blast to drive, consider for a moment that this little automotive bargain is the shining star of its own spec racing series and, together with Mr. Coupal, Stefan Rzadzinski, Jacques Bélanger, Kevin King, Valérie Limoges and another 17 drivers you've likely never heard of, has admirably fought it out on some of Canada's best racetracks this year (check out MicraCup.com, and yes, that last driver is a woman, having achieved fifth in the championship; there are two other women that duked it out with the guys this year as well). Last year's champion, Olivier Bédard, took home the Gilles Villeneuve Trophy after the series' inaugural 2015 season, but unfortunately for him achieved the runner up position this year. Of note, previous trophy winners have included Patrick Carpentier in 1994 and Alex Tagliani in 2006, both having moved on to successful Champ Car, IndyCar, and NASCAR series careers.

 

 

Nicer than you might think

The car I recently spent a week in was way too nice to body-slam around Ontario's Calabogie or Quebec's Mont Tremblant racing circuits, its pristine outer panels finished in a beautiful blue-green hue dubbed Caspian Sea that adds a nominal $135 extra to the bill (there's not a lot of surface area to cover), but it would've looked just as good in its other two metallics or three no-cost white, black or red alternatives. There aren't any extra options after stepping up to the SR, leaving an accessories catalog to flip through if personalizing your ride is high on your priority list (the contrast colour mirror housings, door handles, body mouldings and wheel caps look pretty sweet).

As it is my Micra was loaded, which means chrome is tastefully splashed onto the grille and lower engine vent while additional brightwork adorns front fogs that also get added, bodyside mouldings push out the rockers and a rooftop spoiler extends the rear profile, plus a hot looking set of machine-finished 16-inch alloys with black painted pockets round out each corner. All that for $15,988 plus freight and dealer fees, $16,988 with the automatic or $17,123 as tested with metallic paint.


 

Lots of features

But hold on a minute. You actually get a lot more than exterior upgrades with the SR. The cabin is improved with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, the seats covered in great looking upholstery boasting black woven bolsters with contrast blue stitching along with nice crisscross-patterned centre panels that get duplicated on the door inserts, while the features menu continues to grow with a 4.3-inch colour infotainment touchscreen that integrates a reverse camera plus an iPod interface connectable via a USB port.

All of this gets built on mid-grade SV trim that includes body-colour exterior door handles, power locks with remote entry, power windows, cruise, illuminated steering wheel controls, Bluetooth hands-free, air conditioning, a six-way manual driver's seat (instead of four), and a rear cargo cover, while some base S model highlights that get grandfathered up to the SV and SR include chrome interior door handles, variable intermittent wipers, a rear wiper washer, a tilt steering column (with no telescoping capability), a trip computer, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with speed sensitive volume, radio data system and an aux jack, carpeted floor mats, rear cupholders on the backside of the front console, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand an already sizable 408-litre cargo compartment to 819 litres when folded.

I'm not sure which trim adds the metallic surface treatment to the steering wheel spokes, the same down each side of the centre stack and around the shifter, or the glossy metallic black centre stack interface panel, but it all blings things up effectively so I was glad for the nice detailing. Lastly, the Micra's interior surfaces are mostly matte-finish instead of shiny and appear as if they'll stand up to abuse. 

Small but still safe

I can't quote you NHTSA or IIHS crash test ratings or any other U.S.-sourced safety details because the Micra isn't sold south of the 49th, but nevertheless the Micra's standard safety kit includes the usual passive and active elements such as zone body construction, pipe-style steel side-door guard beams, a full assortment of airbags, traction control and stability control, plus ABS-enhanced brakes.


 

Fun to drive

Short stops come easily in a 1,091-kilo subcompact, and this number refers to the heaviest in this city car's family. The base manual weighs just 1,044 kg, both sprite enough to make the standard DOHC, 16-valve, 1.6-litre four-cylinder feel like it's rocket powered despite only boosted by 109 horsepower and a 107 lb-ft of torque. Like I said in the beginning this car is a blast to drive, the automatic transmission providing nice positive increments for enthusiastic acceleration. Likewise the handling is sharp with surprisingly little lean even when pressing through tight corners at a quick pace, and just as shocking the Micra's ride quality is quite compliant, over rougher pavement too.

Space for five

The upright driving position is comfortable with excellent visibility all-round, while there's more than enough room for all but extremely large folks, and I'm not talking tall as its roofline towered above my admittedly medium five-foot-eight height. The rear seats were equally comfortable, as the Micra is considerably larger than many of its sub-subcompact competitors, thus allowing three abreast in back.

The Micra is wonderfully inexpensive to live with after initial purchase too, my week full of enthusiastic driving only needing a $20 bill to fill the 41-litre tank, and that's at $1.20 per litre. I worked out the numbers and found my average mileage was just 7.7 L/100km, which is pretty close to the 8.6 city, 6.6 highway and 7.6 combined Nissan claims (I calculated the combined number myself). I'm sure I could've eked out a much better result, but where would the fun be in that?

The verdict

So listen up. You can buck up for a boring little compact that'll shuffle you off to the office and home each day as well as transport you to the family cottage or ski hill on long weekends, or you can spend a lot less for a fabulous little hatchback that'll put a smile on your face whenever you jump inside. That's life with a Micra. I couldn't recommend it any higher.


Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
 
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
 
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.