Johannesburg - Extending the production life of a model series is by no means a new thing, although it’s something that our country certainly perfected with those colourful Mondrian-inspired red, yellow and blue CitiGolfs of the ‘80s and the many editions that followed, not to mention all the jazzed up Tazzes, 323s and Unos that tried to emulate it in subsequent years.

Although the Nissan Micra Active you see here is built in India, and hails from a more recent era, it is in essence, and much like today’s VW Polo Vivo, a jazzed up version of an older product - in this case the third-generation Micra that was first launched here in 2011. 

It has already been replaced by a bigger, more advanced and somewhat sexier Clio-based fourth-generation Micra in many overseas markets, and that new one is due here too next year, but given that it’s going to be a lot more expensive, the Micra Active is looking set to soldier on as a more affordable alternative.

That said, with its base price of R159 900, the Micra Active is facing some tough competition.

At this pricing juncture, it’s not much of a stretch to the baseline Toyota Etios (+R5000) and Renault Sandero (+10 000), both of which offer more space and power, while the cheapest decently-engined-and-equipped Kia Picanto, the 61kW 1.2 Street, is hard to beat as a fresher-feeling and ultimately more modern temptation at R165 995.

However, Nissan is hoping to lure buyers in this neck of the woods with generous specification and the best after sales deal in the segment. To that end the Micra Active comes standard with a service plan that’s valid for three years or 90 000km, whereas the Etios and Sandero only have a two-year/30 000km plan and the Picanto offers no free services. 

The Nissan’s service plan will be particularly appealing to those covering around 30 000km a year, though its appeal fades in lower-distance scenarios, and there’s still plenty of mechanical back-up after that with the standard six-year/150 000km warranty, versus Toyota’s 3yr/100K, Renault’s 5yr/150K and Kia’s 5yr/unlimited kilometre peace of mind booster.

As far as features go the little Nissan ticks as many boxes as you could expect at this level, with standard amenities including aircon, remote central locking, audio system with Bluetooth, front electric windows, dual front airbags and ABS. If you buy one before the end of the year, Nissan will also throw in a touch-screen infotainment system with TomTom navigation.

This command centre has some eye-catching graphics, but the ergonomics are a bit iffy. The audio screen, for instance, has a huge digital ‘analogue needle’ that adds a bit of flair, but it’s finicky to use and because the stored radio station names have been downsized to accommodate it, flicking between stations requires more concentration (and potential distraction) than it should. Same goes for the phone pairing screen, where the main menu graphics are too small.

The Micra’s cabin has undergone a minor nip and tuck, with the previous circular central air vents making way for square units that lend a more mature vibe, and the seats are upholstered in a tasteful new patterned black cloth trim.

The Micra makes good use of its compact dimensions and cabin space is generous by class standards, those in the back even getting some room to stretch, and the boot swallows a reasonable 265 litres worth of luggage.

The Micra Active also ushers in a facelift that was introduced abroad some years back, the biggest changes taking place upfront, where it gets a variation of Nissan’s ‘V-Motion’ grille. For an extra R8500 you can also make it look faster with the Trend Setter Package, which includes a body kit and black alloy wheels. There is no go-faster option on the engine menu however.

The Micra Active is powered by the familiar 1.2-litre three-cylinder normally aspirated engine, which produces a rather humble 56kW and 104Nm. There’s enough power to amble around town quite comfortably, but the Nissan does feel a bit out of its depth on fast-paced highways and when presented with steep hills.

Perhaps more importantly though, it is rather economical, with our test car averaging 6.5 litres per 100km over a few days of purely urban driving, some of it in heavy traffic.

The ride quality is also very ‘urban friendly’ given the state of many of our roads nowadays. It’s softly sprung as many Indian-built cars are these days with good reason, and the little Nissan soaks up undulations and glides over speed bumps without transmitting much shock into the cabin.

VERDICT

With its comfy ride, generous features list and class-leading service plan, there is definitely a rational argument to be made for the Nissan Micra Active, but if performance is a priority then you might want to consider one of its rivals instead.

FACTS

Nissan Micra Active 1.2 Visia 

Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cyl, petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 56kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 104Nm @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):13.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed):166km/h
Urban fuel use (tested):6.5 litres per 100km
Price: R159 900
Warranty: 6-year/150 000km
Service plan: 3-year/90 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Nissan Micra Active 1.2 Visia56kW/104NmR159 900
Toyota Etios Hatch 1.5 Xi 66kW/132Nm R165 500
Kia Picanto 1.2 Street 61kW/122NmR165 995
Renault Sandero 0.9T Expression66kW/135NmR169 900

IOL Motoring