Speaking Micra

A chance sighting prompts something approaching a defence.

Image: Driven to Write

Since we created Driven to Write three years ago, I have undergone something of a re-education about cars and particularly when it comes to their design. Even though we might actually only rub shoulders about once a year, I often feel as though I have a virtual Herriott at my ear, urging me to look at that innocuous looking tin box over there with fresh eyes. Going about my business yesterday, I happened past a stationary 2016 Micra. Not a car to which I’d normally give more than the most cursory of glances, but given some of the damning responses to the example featured earlier in the week, I felt I ought to give it a second glance.

Now, like most of you, I viewed the current (K13) model as something of a retrograde step when it was introduced in 2010; a cynical attempt to wring out a model intended for a less ‘sophisticated’ audience upon the European market. In some ways I suppose one couldn’t blame Nissan for trying, given the cut-throat competition within the sector and the likely margins on these supermini class vehicles. After all, not everyone necessarily wants to make a style statement en-route to the Drimoleague branch of Centra for a pint of milk and a family pack of Taytos.

Image: Driven to Write

The problem of course was that it smacked not only of cynicism but of retrenchment. The previous generation (K12) had been such a standout design. A noticeably larger car than its predecessors, it underpinned a range of Renault and Nissan models including the Clio and Modus in addition to Nissan’s, Note and Cube, to name but several. Its styling, while referencing the soft form silhouette of its predecessor, was a good deal more angular and space-age in execution, particularly the large and cartoonishly feminine headlamp treatment.

Admired and detested in equal measure, the K12 was perhaps best remembered for the David Lynch-directed pan-European launch commercials, which contained some of the most toe-curling manglish in advertising history. “Do you Speak Micra?” was the question posed by the Paris based TBWA/G1 agency – [who are now probably called something like Umlaut or Mauve – come to think of it, they probably don’t have a name, just a ‘visual signature’].

Anyway, where was I? So yes, as an unsuspecting Micra drives through a desolate cityscape – [is there any other kind in adland?] – a pair of giant blue lips [blue being a calming, non-threatening colour] utter the following ‘Micra-language’ terms, such as Spafe (spontaneous : safe), Smig (small : big), Thractical (thrilling : practical), and Luxurable (luxurious : affordable). It was, as I’m confident you’ll agree, Complocks – [complete : bollocks]

The K13 Micra has been with us since 2010, and while it spared us the teeth-grinding ad-execution of its forebear, it also left a good many somewhat underwhelmed. Yet looking at this 2016 example today, I saw a neat, well proportioned, refreshingly compact and friendly looking little car. Yes it lacks some of the stylistic flair of its predecessors, but to be frank it better adheres to the Micra template than its larger in every dimension K12 forebear – after all, the hint is (or was) in the name. The K13 hasn’t been a tremendous sales success for Nissan however. In 2003, the previous model peaked at 171,453 sales across Europe, while the incumbent has been averaging less than half that figure, last year posting sales of 60,212. That’s White Hen territory.

This year sees a new model, based on a shared platform with the current Renault Clio, making it the least micra Micra yet. It now shares few visual cues with its forebears and were it not for the marketing collateral of the Micra imprint, should by rights have been renamed. To my eyes, it’s a needlessly aggressive looking amalgam of current Nissan styling features, including the now obligatory [automotive styling cliché alert] faux-glazed three quarter pillar treatment. While bound to sell in far greater volumes than the car it (sort of) replaces, it decisively breaks with a tradition that stretches back to the 1982 original.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’ll miss the outgoing car, which I believe was a fairly decent thing to drive. Neat, compact, non-aggressive designs such as this are fast dying out; for heaven’s sake even Kia Picanto’s now look absolutely furious. Someone really ought to stand up for the meek – problem is, I don’t speak Micra.

Sales data: carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Speaking Micra”

    1. I read your blog. I have no idea what type of job would entail Micras and Bentaygas – it must be fun.
      The Micra – its appearance is neat and pleasant. The way I understand it, the “issues” related to the materials and drive quality. Regarding drive quality, the views of people who routinely test supercars are to be held suspect when they deal with family mainroad cars like this. If you’ve experienced nought to sixty in 4 seconds or routinely sat in a £175,000 car then I doubt your views on a 12k runabout have much merit. Car reviewers should be strictly segregated so that they testers of ordinary cars never get to test elite vehicles. And elite testers should routinely drive Foci, Astræ and Golves so they keep some perspective.

      Eoin: it must be awful having a virtual Herriott rambling about cars incessantly. I had no idea. The only payoff is you will be overjoyed to see a 1993 Toyota Camry the next time one is parked up near you.

    2. Gave up my “proper” job last year and now do part time work delivering cars and vans. Great fun! I agree with you about car reviewers, many of them test every car as if it’s a sports car.

    3. carswithasideofcouscous: I read your blog and subscribed. I’m guessing you’re from my neck of the woods, Leicestershire/Nottinghamshire?

  1. I see what you mean Eoin, but are we in danger of giving credit to the Micra it doesn’t deserve? In the same vein that I’m now beginning to view George W Bush as a compassionate statesman of almost Mandela saintliness.

    At the time it was certainly a cynical move. By the way, I’d forgotten the cringe-making Micra ads. Even more, I had forgotten that David Lynch made them. I now view the return of Twin Peaks with even less enthusiasm.

  2. Nissan were either cynical or clever with the K13 Micra. The clever bit was turning the K12 lines at Washington to production of the higher-margin Puke. That seems to have gone well, as they had every right to expect, having replaced the Almera with the hugely successful Cashcow.

    However, bringing in a Micra replacement designed for south and south east Asian markets, and built in a Renault factory in Madras hasn’t been the smartest of moves. A ‘source close to the matter’ reports that rectification of the Indian-built cars to a saleable state at Washington took as long as producing an entire K12. That’s factory time, not person-hours, but was making a considerable dent in the profits Nissan hoped to make by manufacturing the car in a low-cost region.

    The Micra K13 fell so far short of expectations that the Scottish motor trade dictator, Arnoldae Clarkescu imported a sizeable quantity of Irish-spec Tiida saloons and hatchbacks, and had no problem shifting them at £8-9K. I doubt if any carmaker turns much profit from superminis, but they are an important gateway to brand loyalty. The other side of the coin is that a bad supermini can eat badly into the reputation of a “trusted brand”.

    Times have changed, and the French-built, Clio-related K14 looks a shrewd move, as long as the quality is right. Toyota don’t seem to have any problems with the Valenciennes Yaris.

  3. You failed to mention one of my absolute favourite concocted words from that ad campaign.

    Compacious.

    Compact yet spacious. Brilliant.

  4. Whilst I too enjoy Richard’s ability to find merit in the mundane, the outgoing K13 Micra really is far, far too mundane. The frog-eyed K12 at least had the benefit of visibility, plus the interior was a very nice place to be.

    1. Chris. I think you made the same mistake as I did. I started reading the piece without looking at the byline. I just assumed that only Richard could be as wilful as to start defending the K13 Micra. Then a couple of paragraphs in I realised that Eoin was the author. My God it’s contagious. Please, if you find me starting to show symptoms too, put me out of my misery.

    2. I was referring to Eoin’s “virtual Herriott”. Enough articles about the Astra F can skew one’s perceptions of even the most prosaic cars. But in the case of the K13 Micra, not quite enough.

  5. This will probably do nothing for my credibility – what’s left of it anyway – but I see echoes of Bertone/Giugiaro’s Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint in the tail lamp treatment of the K13 Micra. Intentional? Who knows, but it may be one reason the little thing endears itself to me. But overall, I like its quiet demeanour – you could get up to a lot with one of these without anyone noticing.

    Richard: The virtual Herriott isn’t too bad really. He’s easily distracted. And having spent the previous three months in Cork, there’s plenty there to distract him, Camrys included.

    1. You forget, I’ve just spent the last three months a couple of kilometres from the scene of an alleged Marian apparition during the 1980’s. We Irish, it seems, see the blessed virgin in everything – possibly even in parked Nissan Micras…

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