Long after the Suzukis, Hondas and Toyotas of the world established a foothold in India, Nissan, in a belated entry into the world's second-fastest growing car market, launched its small car Micra on Wednesday.
While Honda and Toyota are still to find the key to opening up the small car segment, Nissan seems to have got a few things right with a car that looks at ease as a confident challenger.
For a start, the Micra puts the spotlight back on the fun element in driving — something that has been surprisingly on the backburner for quite sometime. No company has ever attempted to launch a car in India with a sales and service back up as thin as Nissan's — a mere 15 operational dealerships today, and only twice the number planned by year-end.
But while that could be redressed over a matter of few years, we find out whether the product itself can stand the test of time.
The Micra will be an instant hit with those who are in love with all things retro. With curves galore, the large almond shaped headlamps and the twin grille give a cheery demeanour to the car. It looks a lot more compact than it actually is and the rear is equally impressive — though a lot less striking, largely because oval tail lamps have become the fad. This car belongs to the lineage of the Swift, which surprised with its radical design five years ago.
Anything boxy is detested — as reiterated in the twin bubble design interiors. The Micra is devoid of flashiness, but space is adequate and the seats comfortable. As is the case with many cars in this class, the Micra is largely a city car, and hence not quite designed to cope with long drives. Boot space, however, is above average and a welcome relief from the anaemic trend of the times.
Drive & handling
With a 3-cylinder engine powering the car, it is less refined and more noisy than the Swift or the Hyundai i10. But thankfully this does not make it under-powered, and the light steering is a sheer delight. With its short turning radius, the Micra is so much fun to drive — not just in straight lines but also to reverse and park.
The Micra is lighter than other cars in its class. Sadly, that does not make it more frugal. The ARAI figure for its economy stands at 18.06, comparable to the Swift, but we returned less than 15 kmpl in the test drive. Economy may not be the weak link, but it is not the Micra's strength either.
Value for money?
In pricing, the Micra almost mirrors the Swift, which without doubt is one of the successes of our times. Apart from the looks, the Micra does have some firsts in the class — standard driver-side air bags, keyless entry in the top-end variant... but Nissan's small sales and service network is the big question mark.
At Rs 3.98 lakh it may be a few thousand rupees too expensive, at that.