Small : Far Away

It’s never too late to learn Micra – in all its forms.

Micra squared. (c) DTW

For a car that isn’t really in the business of setting people’s hearts aflutter, the Nissan Micra does garner a decent wordcount upon our pages. Now of course we can rationalise this on the basis that DTW is (perhaps to a fault), undogmatic in its judgements. [This, I accept, is a matter of debate]

But nonetheless, it’s indisputable that the entry-level Nissan is, in pretty much all of its iterations, a thoroughly decent and fit for purpose compact motor vehicle, if not one you might necessarily choose for the sheer love of the open road. But to condemn the Micra on this basis (especially these days), is to ignore the fact that it sits well within the class norms in just about any metric one cares to fling its way – after all, Nissan is far too astute a business to offer anything less.

Having said that, the Japanese carmaker in its wisdom elected to take an admittedly cost-effective, if commercially unsuccessful route to market with the previous generation K13 generation model, a car which elicited little but derision from most critics, despite its essential competence.

The current K14 iteration arrived to market in 2016, and while its predecessor was a repurposed ‘developing markets’ offering, the current model has reverted to a level of perceived sophistication which ensures its position smack in the heartland of the Euro B-segment. Built at Renault’s Flins-sur-Seine production plant, the K14 is to all intents and purposes a reskin of the outgoing Renault Clio, a matter which is made clear when one views both models in close proximity – (as I did by chance earlier this week).

Both cars are characterised by design themes which major upon varying degrees of expression – Renault’s being softer, more organic, relying upon the viewer’s perception to underline its design sophistication. On the other hand the Nissan appears more geometric, more strident in its graphical message to the punter.

‘It may say Micra on the boot, but I’m so much more than that’, the Nissan appears to suggest. While its predecessor seemed a little self effacing, perhaps even a little staid, the current iteration comes across as pushy, a little too much the attention seeker.

Perhaps I’m nit-picking here. It’s a thoroughly competent piece of work, if maybe a little too design-by-numbers for its own good. But the big problem as I see with the Micra is now that it’s anything but. Having expanded out of all recognition, not to mention adopted an entirely different, more assertive persona, the Nissan, perhaps more so than any of its B-segment rivals has conclusively outgrown its name.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “Small : Far Away”

  1. The Nissan Micra was a significant car as it marked a decisive move into the European supermini mainstream for the company. Its predecessor as Nissan’s smallest car,the Cherry, had grown rather too large externally to compete directly with the Ford Fiesta, Fiat 127, Renault 5 and VW Polo.

    The original K10 model was a neat, if rather derivative and unsophisticated car. However, its K11 successor had a much bolder design and was highly regarded, winning the European Car of the Year award in 1993, the first Japanese car to do so. It was, unfortunately, blighted somewhat by a series of minor facelifts that merely proved the rightness of the original design and the difficulty of improving it meaningfully.

    The K12 was another successful car, although its domed roof design was rather more polarising. Things went awry with the K13, a pale imitation of its predecessor with an unmistakable whiff of emerging markets utilitarianism about it. Nissan was rightly lambasted for its cynicism in bringing this to Western European markets, hence the switch to Clio underpinnings for the current K14 model.

    Here’s the full line-up of the different generations, although the K11 is represented twice, by an original and facelifted model:

  2. Last two models are practically invisible at least in uk. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I saw the current edition (2016? 3years on market?). Massive failure vis-a-vis K12 (which I’d happily prefer to buy now, over almost any new small car on the market) and k10/k11.

  3. Good morning, Guy. I’m not surprised you haven’t noticed many K13 Micras. The K13 was, as you say, practically invisible because it looked so much like its predecessor, especially in profile, but lacking the quirky charm:

    One review I read remarked that the K13 actually looked more like a predecessor to the K12, given how dull it looked in comparison

    1. True. It’s Nissan’s equivalent of the Mercedes-Benz W201 C-Class, which looked like the car the 190E replaced.

    1. Well it’s not a disaster but it certainly hasn’t made any inroads into the market has it? European sales generally about the same as the old White Hen (what an incredible chicken that is!), half the 500’s figures and about a third of the Clio, consistently over the last 10 years. Bearing in mind the rise of the SUV I would say it’s holding its own. I’ve seen several today in the flesh – they’re not bad, but you have to be looking for them. Enough said?

  4. The oddest thing about the current Micra is that there is no automatic transmission of any sort available. I didn’t believe it when I was told, bit I checked and it seems to be true.

    A bizarre omission, given that two-pedal option was very popular on previous generations.

    1. Indeed, and particularly as Renault offer a Clio in automatic guise, albeit only mated to a diesel engine. That sounds rather perverse, as I would expect automatics to be more popular for lower mileage urban use, where diesel engines make little sense.

    2. Hello Robert – apologies, I duplicated your comment – yours hadn’t arrived when I was writing. As Daniel says, an auto would make more sense for urban use. I also suspect that it’d appeal to Nissan’s older demographic.

  5. Hello Adrian – I’ll start looking and see how many I see. There’s no auto gearbox option available, which is a bit odd. I don’t think it would make a vast difference to sales volumes, though.

    1. The current model does appear to be something of a commodity car – the majority of examples I see round these parts seem to be rental cars.

    2. Thank goodness I’ve been vindicated on my autobox contention.

      The first two Micra generations were used – at least in London – as inconspicuous runabouts by banks, accountancy and law firms for things too bulky or valuable to be trusted to motorcycle despatch riders. Automatic was the usual choice. I encountered an example on a dealer’s yard in the mid ’90s – low spec K11 auto in white, less than three years old, with 138,000 miles behind it.

      The age of electronic communications has probably rendered such cars – and their drivers – redundant. If the demand still exists, the Yaris Hybrid fits the bill perfectly.

  6. Än interesting history of a mostly overlooked car… I remember some snippets of it, for example the fact that the first models ran on rather unusual 12″ wheels when the standard for this class was 13″.
    The K11 iteration was often described as an updated version of the original Mini design – a few years prior to the actual New Mini. I think it’s not completely unjustified, there is something about the lower body rounding, especially at the back, viewed from the side. I agree with Daniel, it was best in its purest, original form, before they put on these ridiculous split rubbing strips which had a void exactly where you’d have needed them most.
    The K12 was advertised by the claim “simpelligent” in German speaking countries – maybe also in other regions, as the word works in several languages. While I like the K12’s design, it was also completed by a steel top convertible that was rather ungainly as most cars of this type.

    1. The K11 also had engine capacities of 998cc and 1275cc. That couldn’t have just been coincidence.

  7. Robertas,
    your remark about the cc is spot on. It was an attempt to recreate a modern version of Issigonis revolutionary invention.

    Come to think of it, the K11 is probably the last where, truly and squarely, all its components were engineered fully for the model in question, and not for ‘sharing’ with other models. Everything was filigranically
    engineered to fit the narrow spaces between the (relatively roomy) cabin
    and the limited confines of its outer dimensions.

    It is still a subject that is being taught in automotive design circles, as it embodies a vital, essential quality that’s nowadays totally missing from the ‘small’ cars’ segment – being engineered from the skin downwards, and with
    a stubborn dedication to a genuinely Micro-scopic footprint.

    Apart from the Ford Ka, there was not really such a contender in this context,
    within the non-Kei market.

    The K11’s total dedication to perfect sizing & engineering to suit, shares dividends also towards the driving pleasure – a good, slightly modified
    K11 can be a very sweet drivers’ tool, just as well.

    All the A-segm.offerings that came after the K11, were debilitated solely
    by the reg-driven increase in safety, which in turn negated the very
    essence of a truly small, urban vehicle – turning the
    into unfit for purpose, 95%-of-B-segm. sized and bulky products,
    with a very questionable value for money.

    The technical requirements for Euro 6 / 6+ emissions were the final nail in the coffin for proper : it was impossible (without resorting
    to huge development investments, impossible to return with A-segm.margins/ volume) to create a small engine that would comply, whilst being good
    on fuel economy, characterful & zippy – and still have a mechanical life expectancy of at least 80-90 thou.Kilometers.

    This led to the increasingly sharing drivetrains with B- / C- segm., or using vastly antiquated powertrains, that, within the, in the meantime absurdly increased weight, could never perform with a brio
    that’s expected of a small fun urban runabout.

    We will probably never again see a small car that was engineered
    in an authentic, proper way, with 99% dedicated componentry,
    as the K11 was.

    They are massively underappreciated for what they truly represent.

    As for the K14 “Clicra”, I agree that it’s a rather pompous, ‘look-at-me’ version of the Clio 4. It’s one of the most vulgar examples of brand-engineering reskin. It relies on sharp angularity, thus offering a somewhat perverted, violent version of LvDA’s brilliant, smooth-edged original (which, btw., has richness of radii and transitions that’s unseen in a B-segm. before). The K14 will appeal to many, as the buyers’ tastes are nowadays everything but.
    Will be bought by poorly dressed, ‘scroll-for-style’ people.

    And it’s definitely not deserving to carry the iconic ‘Micra’ name.

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