Modern Motoring: Reviewing the 2016 Nissan Micra, Canada's most affordable car

I remember a bit about my father’s first car, an early 1981 Datsun 210 in beige that only came with a driver’s side rearview mirror. I do remember going with him to buy a passenger side mirror a few days afterward. I remember the beige interior and taking a road trip somewhere in it. I remember my father very sternly saying “This car has turbo boost, just like KITT (I still have a fondness for Knight Rider) and to never, ever push the button. The “button,” as I learned a few years later, was the cigarette lighter.
I still didn’t push it. Ever. 
I remember it being parked proudly in front of 6 Keystone Drive in Brampton (where I grew up until Mississauga drew my parents in as of 1994) and I definitely remember the shutter windows, no A/C, manual everything except the transmission. The car was $6K on the road in 1981 dollars. I think he really liked that car (I was too far into my red tricycle for a method of transport to be car-crazed) and his second car was a 1987 Volvo 240 DL wagon, which was much bigger…I guess that’s what having three kids does to your vehicle choice.

For a week in the summer of 2016, I found myself in a new Nissan Micra S, Canada’s most affordable new car, and part of me thought of my father when I had to use the shutter windows, adjust the side mirrors manually and reach over and open the door for my passengers.

The “you get what you pay for” mantra is true in most cases but after a week in the Micra S, Nissan has managed to give you decent value for a four-figure vehicle. With a starting price of $9,988 for the five-speed manual version (which is what my tester was) you’re getting a stripped down, bare bones version of a modern automobile.

Windows, mirrors, lighting system and unlocking system are all manual. There’s no A/C and it’s a mini gymnastics routine to open all four shutter windows from the driver’s seat. There’s no Bluetooth or USB port, only an auxiliary input. There’s certainly no backup camera, and my white coloured car came with black door handles (a tell-tale sign for a base model car). 

There’s one engine for the Micra line up, which is a 1.6L, four-cylinder engine putting out 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft. of torque. For those who want an automatic gearbox, you’ll get four-speeds to work with. My manual version has long throws and struggles a bit to get up to highway speeds but only by a few seconds, even with making the engine scream. The brakes are front disc and rear drum with ABS. 

There’s a line from a Gin Blossoms song, Hey Jealousy, that says “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” And if you adopt that mentality, the Micra turns into a good subcompact offering that’s got some personality. This is a great car if you’re looking to move from A to B with simplicity, aren’t into the cosmetic side of things and are big into fuel economy. With ratings at 6.6 (highway) and 8.6 (city) for L/100 km in the manual version, the 41 L tank of regular fuel will move you nicely. The auto version sees the city rate move to 8.8 L/100 km.

The steering, handling, cornering and overall driving feel is far from exciting but again, keep in mind that you’re driving what equates to a Starbucks latte a day over a five year term.
The Micra S drives nicely for its class and no, you’re not going to roll over if you go too fast around a turn, despite its higher stance. Personally, I liked the drive as 80% of my 400 km test week was on city streets (and with the windows down); I found that this is a great car for moving around downtown cores. It’s also quite easy to park and maneuver. 

Surprisingly, for Canada’s most affordable car, driving around Mississauga for a week was somewhat enjoyable. It carried magazine boxes for me in the rear seats and trunk, it was easy to get into and out of, had an adequate amount of space from the driver’s seat and really, I found that there’s in fact a lot of value packed into the Micra.

The interior is loaded with hard plastic surfaces but that’s to be expected for this trim. The seats aren’t all that bad and similarly to the new Mazda CX-3, there’s no right arm rest. You do, however, get tilt steering, chrome door handles, an AM/FM/CD system and a modern trip computer that shows average fuel economy, current fuel economy, distance to empty. Cargo space with the rear seats up is 407L and 819.5L folded.

The one aspect I wish the Micra S had was standard Bluetooth. With nearly everyone having a smartphone these days and lots of chatter behind the wheel, Nissan should be matching the Chevrolet Spark (Canada’s second most affordable car) by making this technology standard across all trims. 

This Nissan Micra certainly isn’t for everyone. It is, however, an option worth considering if you want to delve into your first slice of automotive independence, or if you’re in the transitional years where you need a car but not all the bells and whistles. Would I buy a base Micra if I was 20 years younger? Probably, along with an aftermarket Bluetooth kit.

A strong number folks will choose the mid-trim SV with an automatic transmission (good on you, Nissan, for still offering a manual option…save the manuals!) as it starts at just under $14K.
And for the others, the top of the line SR trim is only about $2K more.

As is the case with everything in life, manage your expectations carefully and in the case of the 2016 Nissan Micra, you just may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

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