Tested: Upgraded 84kW Nissan Micra is a pleasant surprise
Johannesburg - What the country will look like once we're allowed to again venture out from our lockdown positions I don't think anyone truly knows, but that it will be radically different there is no doubt.
The same goes for the motor industry which, like most sectors, has been decimated with many factories standing idle, dealerships closed and budgets slashed to the bone.
It's not helped that the economy, previously on the precipice, has now been given a size 12 boot kick in the back and sees it tumbling down with little or nothing to stop it hitting rock bottom.
I'm not economist by any means but with salary cuts, retrenchments and said economy I can't see the middle vehicle segment recovering soon to its already declining sales pre-Covid-19.
Given that the trend was already in the process of buying "down" I reckon the B segment will be showing a significant upswing when we're again allowed to purchase non-essential items like garden hose fittings, vegetable seed and cars.
One of the more pleasant offerings in this crowded segment is Nissan's upgraded Micra that has been included to expand the existing line up.
The three new variants are powered by an upgraded 1-litre turbopetrol engine, and are available in three trims: Acenta Plus, Tekna and Tekna Plus.
I had the range-topping Tekna Plus which boasted an impressive array of standard features such as LED headlamps, keyless entry, leather upholstery, 360 degree parking cameras, blind spot monitoring and the jewel in the crown - a Bose Personal sound system. It has an amplifier under the driver's seat, wide-range speakers in the front doors, tweeters in the dashboard and headrest speakers (unfortunately only) on the driver's side. I was mightily impressed and played a variety of genres just for fun and my son, who is way more of a classical music nut than his father could hope to be, actually asked me to turn it down while he was sitting in the driver's seat.
As mentioned, the new versions are powered by a 1.0 litre three cylinder turbocharged petrol engine producing 84kW and 180Nm of torque, with an additional 20Nm available via an overboost feature powering the front wheels.
Three cylinder engines are becoming more common as technology improves and to give you an idea of how they have, the first car I bought with my danger pay after serving time with PW and sons in the 80s had 55kW and 122Nm from a carburettor-fed four cylinder 1.6 litre engine.
The little three pod motor needs a bit of a heavy right foot to get going in order to negate the turbo lag at Gauteng altitudes but once it gets going the six speed manual gearbox easily maintains cruising speeds although there's a lot of gear changing when loaded going up inclines, so I'm hoping that rumours of an auto box being considered are true.
Thrashing the gears through some bends and tight turns reveals a willing engine that doesn't mind heading towards the red line once you get used to the unique sound of the three cylinders. It's not designed to go hard into and out of corners but if you do, it holds the line quite impressively, aided by the fact that it's 10mm lower than its lesser specced 66kW siblings, although steering feedback is a bit too light for my liking.
Cabin quality rates high among the best in the category. The two tone leather feels premium as do the plastic bits while the fit and finish is comparable to what the Germans produce.
Overall this Nissan Micra is a very welcome addition to the segment and as I alluded to earlier, in a post Covid-19 world it's very likely that this could become one of the most contested segments for market share and it brings with it a genuine alternative to the usual offerings.