With the levels of traffic rising, patience waning and the volume of gearshifts per journey drastically increasing, it’s little wonder that automatics are getting more and more popular. The first to go all automatic were the luxury cars, and now the trend is slowly filtering down to compact cars as well.
The latest entrant to join the premium automatic hatchback brigade is this, the facelifted Nissan Micra. But it’s not just the auto that’s new. Nissan’s given the Micra a new look, thrown in a lot more kit and made a few changes to improve the weaknesses of the earlier model. But is this reconfigured Nissan good enough to take on the rather strong competition? We drove it in the temple town of Madurai to see just how improved it is.
First however, a quick look at the changes under the skin. The automatic variant will only be available with a 1.2-litre petrol engine. The gearbox, as you may well expect from Nissan, is not an ordinary automatic but a continuously variable transmission (CVT); essentially the same as the one in the Nissan Sunny but tweaked to suit this car. Engineers have made software changes to the ECU tuning to help it adapt to its new role in the lighter car. Nissan is very keen to point out that this X-Tronic CVT is very fuel efficient, and claim a five percent improvement, even over a conventional five-speed manual. Normally, a traditional torque convertor-based automatic is considerably less efficient than a manual. Other changes under the skin include improved sound insulation and tweaked suspension settings to improve the dynamics of the car.
The facelift is quite substantial too – we think those pulled-back headlamps, the bigger grill with its signature chrome bar and the deeper, more aggressive chin seriously improve the new Micra’s appeal. The old Micra was a bit feminine, with its soft, rounded front-end but that clearly is no longer an issue. The new headlamps have also brought in some sheet-metal changes – the front fenders are new as is the bonnet. You also get new alloy wheels, while the rear gets LED tail-lamps, a new rear bumper and a plastic add-on for the tail gate lip.
Slide into the new front seats (the seat cushions have been reshaped to provide more bolstering) and you’ll notice there are quite a few changes on the inside as well. The glossy black centre console, for example, looks far better than the current Micra’s dull sea of grey. Though the overall look and feel is the same, there are plenty of silver highlights all over the dashboard and doorpads. The feature count has also risen quite a bit. In addition to the keyless entry and go and climate control, the new Micra gets Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Aux-in ports and a reversing camera.
Thumb the start button and the 1.2-litre three cylinder motor settles into a well-damped idle. Initial responses are quite positive and the torque from the motor makes it feel quick enough for city use. Nissan’s 1.2 always felt torquey, punchy and quick, and here too, at city speeds, the combination of the engine and CVT gearbox works well. Refinement at these speeds is good and the light steering and controls make it quite suitable as a city runabout.
However, ask for more power and the rubberband effect of the CVT gearbox pretty much eliminates the direct link between the throttle and engine responsiveness, and that takes away from the driving experience. The motor still pulls well after 3500rpm, and then it does feel a bit quicker. But even then, it is not exciting to drive on an open road. The motor also gets pretty thrummy when spun faster – it is a three-cylinder unit after all. There’s no getting around it, the driving experience is quite dull. And while Nissan has tweaked the suspension, get on a poorly maintained road and the ride is still a bit stiff, the car crashing over sharp bumps in the road.
The Micra will be available in three trims – XL, XV and XV premium. The CVT will be available only in XV trim while the manual petrol and diesel will be available in all three variants. The XV premium trim comes with more safety kit in the form of four airbags as well. Nissan says the new Micra will be in showrooms towards the end of this month.
Overall, the new Micra works well as a city car. The more aggressive looks make it more muscular and masculine-looking, the updated interiors look more appealing and Nissan has taken the trouble to really load the car up with a list of desirable features. Comfort levels in the cabin have been improved as well. The Micra has always been a spacious and airy car and now, with the new seats, there’s an improvement in this area too. The new automatic gearbox, 76bhp engine and light controls work well in the city as well. It may not be as fun to drive as the new Polo, and may not be nearly as nice at higher speeds, but if you are looking at it purely as a city car, there’s a lot to like here.