Review and road test of the Nissan Micra (2013 - 2016)
By Jonathan Crouch
With slicker styling, a much-improved interior, more equipment and better value for money, Nissan's heavily revised fourth generation Micra supermini turned over a new leaf in 2013. As before, it was impressively space efficient and offered the option of a clever supercharged 1.2-litre petrol engine that was not only eager but also both frugal and green. It may be sensible rather than sporty, but this very affordable contender delivers in exactly the areas a small car should. Let's check it out as a used car buy.
5DR HATCH (1.2 12V, 1.2 DIG-S PETROL)
Think of a small Nissan and you tend to think of this one, the Micra. It's represented the brand in the supermini segment since the early Eighties, with this fourth generation version taking over the mantle at the end of 2010 before significant improvements in the middle of 2013 brought us the revised model we're going to look at here.
The fact that changes were introduced so early in the product cycle underlined how vital it's always been for the brand to get this car right. This is, after all, a very significant model in Nissan's history, in second generation form the very first Japanese design to win the coveted European Car of the Year award, a recognition of its status as the first Far Eastern supermini purpose-built for Western tastes. To make absolutely sure, Nissan decided to build the MK2 model in Britain and style both that second generation version and its successor with a daring flair that perfectly suited the ever-more image-conscious small car market. These were cars perfectly in tune with their times - which in a way, this one was too.
It stood as a perfect example of the power of global economics. That was the only way to explain how Nissan managed to make the fourth generation Micra cheaper to British buyers, despite switching its production from Sunderland to India. By 2013, the improved MK3 Micra we're going to look at here was being used as part of Nissan's two-tier approach in the small car segment, taking on budget-minded Korean superminis from brands like Hyundai, Kia and Chevrolet. This freed up the larger Note model to attack more expensive European small contenders in the Fiesta and Polo sector.
If you're going to buy a MK4 Micra, this post-2013-era version is the one to have. By this point, quality issues from the Indian factiory had been sorted out and nicer cabin materials were being used in the space-efficient interior. Plus a clever supercharged engine option gave pokey power with diesel economy. This model sold until a revolutionary fifth generation Micra was launched early in 2017.
What You Get
Second and third generation Micras were the Fiat 500s of their day, cute, fashionable and loved by the trendy town-based female audience they were aimed at. It's difficult to imagine how and why Nissan could have surrendered that profitable market to its competitors but that's essentially what the original post-2010 MK4 model Micra did, with forgettable looks that lacked the originality this car was originally supposed to represent. Hence, by 2013, the need so soon in the life of this generation model for the stylists to sort things out and put things right. Aesthetically, there was only so much that could be done mid-way through the product cycle but given the inevitable constraints, Nissan's pen people didn't do a bad job of instilling a bit of character back into this car.
Fortunately, they had a fundamentally good basic design to work with. Before it became de rigeur for small cars to be small and extremely space-efficient, Nissan was designing the Micra that way and like its predecessors, this one has a short upright shape, arched side windows and a strongly rounded waistline.
As for the changes, well, most of the effort of course went into the bit people most readily notice - the front end. The bonnet, the wings, the headlamps and the front bumper were all redesigned and the front foglamps got a different shape and a chrome surround. The most obvious update though, was the corporate grille which on this revised model, cradled Nissan's familiar circular badge within a chromed extended V-shaped motif. It wasn't really especially pretty but it was certainly much more distinctive. There were changes at the rear too. Move past the smarter alloy wheels you'll find on plusher variants and, if you're familiar with this car's direct predecessor, you'll spot a redesigned bumper, restyled tail lamps and a trim panel at the bonnet of the tailgate to create a smoother look between boot and bumper. There were even changes to the look of the roof, where two semi-circular creases aimed to add a little visual drama.
But what about the inside? This five-door-only design was after all, one of the smaller cars in its segment in its lifetime. So is it also cramped? Fortunately not. With an average customer age for this model that from new was as high as 54, Nissan's designers knew that getting in and out needed to be an easy process: thanks to wide doors and carefully chosen seat heights, it is. Once inside, there's no doubt that you're in a small car but thanks to the clever wheel-at-each-corner stance and the stretched wheelbase of the so-called V-Platform this car sits upon, the designers were able to make maximum use of every inch of space. The result is that there isn't noticeably less room for four adults than you'd get in any other supermini, a feeling perhaps enhanced by the airy, glassy cabin, with shoulder room in particular rather better than you might expect.
Even the 255-litre boot is a respectable size, about the same size as a Fiesta and 52-litres than, say, that of a rival Suzuki Swift. As a result, it's able to accommodate a load like three aircraft hand luggage cases, with another on top. Entry-level variants rather meanly did without a boot light and lacked a split-fold in the rear bench but both things were of course provided in plusher variants. Push the backrest forward and there's 1,132-litres to play with - which is quite a lot for this class of car and another reason why this Nissan shouldn't be thought of as a direct rival to smaller citycars like Volkswagen's up!
At the wheel where you sit quite high in front of a sharply-raked windscreen, it's pretty easy to get comfortable despite the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel and, on base models, height adjustment for the driver's seat. Couple that with excellent all-round visibility aided by a nose you can actually see from the driver's seat (not a common thing in many of today's small cars) and here's a supermini you feel you could slot in anywhere. It's also as practical to live with as well as to use, with plenty of cabin storage space, including a double-layered glovebox to complement the usual receptacles in the centre console and the doors.
The shape of that glovebox is a major part of the so-called 'twin-bubble' cabin design theme, shaped to match a circular binnacle housing instruments that in this revised MK4 model got clearer graphics. More important though, were the more significant cabin changes, most of which were aimed at upgrading the atmosphere from that of a Romanian thrift store, that being the feeling you were left with after a spell inside the very first 2010-era version of this MK4 model. These additions included a trendy black gloss-trimmed centre console, a new gearstick splashed with silver and air vents that were restyled. Materials quality from the Indian factory was better too, with smarter seat and door pad fabrics and a higher quality textured finish for the door armrests.
Original buyers who opted for the NissanConnect navigation and communication system also got a dash of hi-tech too. Revised MK4 Micra models fitted with this media system got it displayed on a bigger 5.8-inch screen and buyers found that the set-up could do a lot more, finding them the most efficient route, scoring the green-friendliness of their driving and offering them Google 'Send-To-Car' technology so that they could plan routes on their PCs prior to leaving home before forwarding the instructions on to their Micra. Google's Point of Interest search system was also included, as well as access to things like weather forecasts, local fuel prices and flight information.
What to Look For
Most owners of revised fourth generation Micras seem to be pretty satisfied with their cars but inevitably, we did come across a few issues. One owner felt that the car got through front tyres more quickly than it should have, the person in question having to replace a set of front tyres at around 25,000 miles. There were also reports of owners having to prematurely replace front offside and front nearside wheel bearings, while one buyer had to pay for a new clutch and slave cylinder not long into his ownership period. Another found she had to pay for new wiper blades every year and thought the car's tracking needed o be corrected more frequently than was normal.
Another owner we found had had to replace the battery under warranty and had a drop link in the suspension fail. We also came across an owner who discovered a small patch of rust on the top rear corner of the car under the tailgate. Other than these things, simply check for the usual small hatch problems - kerbed alloys and interior trim scratches caused by unruly kids.
(approx based on a 2013 Micra 1.2 12v ex VAT) An air filter will be priced in the £8 to £16 bracket, an oil filter will sit in the £3 to £6 bracket and a radiator will be around £165 to £180 (though go for a pricier brand and you could pay as much as £370 for one). A water pump will be around £25. The brake discs we came across cost around £146. Brake pads are in the £14 to £37 bracket. Wiper blades cost in the £7 to £12 bracket. A headlamp will cost in the £104 to £115 bracket, though you could pay up to around £180 for a pricier brand. A wing mirror will cost around £17, though you could pay in the £57 to £90 bracket for a pricier brand.
On the Road
It's now become quite common for auto makers to switch from four to three cylinder engines in their small cars in their quest for greater efficiency. The downside of that is that a three cylinder layout is fundamentally unbalanced - and usually feels it from the moment you set off and your ears begin to adjust to what in many cases is a bit of a din. But not here. In fact, after an initial drive in this Micra, so smooth and melodious was the tone from beneath the bonnet that I had to check the spec sheet to reassure myself that there were actually three cylinders beating there.
There are in this case - whichever flavour of 1.2-litre petrol power is chosen. There's no diesel option and there doesn't need to be because the top 98PS DIG-S variant is pretty much diesel-frugal, potentially returning nearly 70mpg and offering a sub-100g/km CO2 figure. That this Nissan can manage that while still delivering a perky engine capable of 62mph from rest in 11.3s on the way to 112mph is impressive. In the supermini segment in this era, only Ford's Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost 100PS model can match eager performance with green-minded economy in this way - and new versions of that car cost nearly 25% more.
So how did Nissan achieve this? Like most brands, this Japanese maker has long been trying to find an alternative approach to extracting plenty of power from a small engine whilst using minimal fuel. Other makers have turned to turbocharger to do this - the Fiesta's EcoBoost powerplant is a good example of that - where an air pump is powered by exhaust gases and used to force air into the engine rather than relying on that engine to suck it in. Nissan engineers looked at this too - but decided they had a better idea: supercharging, hence the 'DIG-S' badge on the bootlid which stands for 'Direct Injection Gasoline unit with a Supercharger'. With this engine beneath the bonnet, you also get an air pump that forces air into the engine under pressure but in this case, it's not driven by exhaust gases but by a connection to the engine itself.
At this point, we'd usually say that you don't have to understand how it works: just enjoy what it does. Except that in this case, you kind of do if you're to make this powerplant work for you. A supercharger is an inherently thirsty thing and if you're constantly thrashing this car about and making full use of that part of the engine, then running cost returns will be even more disappointing than they would normally be if you treated a supermini in this way. The clever thing here though is that at low speeds and under light acceleration, the supercharger is automatically disconnected and the engine's airflow bypasses it to avoid wasting energy. Which is when you get a potentially outstanding set of fuel and CO2 figures. As long as you understand that and keep the ultimate performance only for when you absolutely need it, you can really make this Micra DIG-S model work for you.
We'd certainly recommend you try and stretch to a DIG-S Micra: the premium over the baseline 80PS 1.2 12v variant isn't excessive and the advantage in performance and efficient is significant. After all, without supercharging technology, the ordinary 1.2 12v Micra model struggles to top 100mph, takes nearly 14s to get to 62mph and only just manages to crest 55mpg. Expect that running cost return to fall by about 10% (as to be fair it also does in the DIG-S model) if you specify the sprint-sapping CVT automatic gearbox as an alternative to the slick-shifting five-speed manual.
Around the twisty stuff, you probably won't be expecting this to be one of the sportier superminis you could have bought - and it isn't, with plenty of corner lean, though body control when you're pushing on has been helped by a platform that's stiffer and lighter than that of the previous generation model. Ride quality at higher speeds isn't anything to write home about, probably because the engineering emphasis throughout with this car has been firmly placed on enhancing its suitability for the kind of urban driving it will probably spend most of its life doing. So the electric power steering is light, the low speed ride very good and the London taxi-rivalling 9.3-metre turning circle truly excellent.
Couple that with excellent all-round visibility aided by a nose you can actually see from the driver's seat (not a common thing in many of today's small cars) and here's a supermini that you feel you could slot in anywhere, especially if you've got yourself a top model with Nissan's clever PSM Parking Space Measurement system, able to help you accurately identify a potential space if not actually steer you into it.
The Micra, Nissan thinks, should be small, easy to drive and very affordable, both to buy and to run. This improved post-2013 MK4 version ticks all those boxes and in some ways is a very refreshing change in a segment still prone to bring us cars that are ever- larger, sportier, more sophisticated and, inevitably, more expensive. This model takes precisely the opposite approach, simplified to appeal to buyers in more than 160 countries but still intentionally compact, yet deceptively practical. It is in fact one of the most space-efficient cars we can think of.
And, in terms of its supercharged 1.2-litre engine, one of the cleverest. Here's an engine you just don't hear about when so-called experts stand around talking about the best buys and the neatest technology in the supermini segment from the 2013 to 2016 era. Take it from us: they've missed a trick. It's affordable, melodious, efficient, perky and runs on more affordable fuel. You can't ask much more from an engine than that.
For all its attributes though, this Nissan will, in used form, probably continue to sell to the same core market that's always liked the thought of a Micra - cash-strapped parents, driving instructors and motorists of a certain age. Thanks to a bit more style to emphasise the substance in this design, it really deserves to find a wider audience than that - people looking for a bit more from a supermini but buyers still sticking with a very sensible set of priorities. Who'll appreciate a car designed that way too.
Nissan Micra (2013 - 2016) review by Jonathan Crouch