Nissan's original Micra is now nearly a decade old, and while it is a familiar sight on Europe's roads, it has taken until now, and the launch of the next-generation version of the car, for it to appear here. You've probably driven one as a holiday rental already, so popular was it with the fleet buyers. But while plenty of other manufacturers have superminis in the market here, only now has Nissan decided to enter the fray. Was it worth the wait?
Nissan certainly thinks so. The super-mini market is fiercely competitive, but it plays a crucial role in establishing brand loyalty. Simply put, if you have happy memories of your first car, then you are more than likely to graduate to larger, more expensive and more profitable models that wear the same badge. Start off in a Micra, and there is a lifetime of Nissans in your future. And the all-new Nissan Micra is unashamedly targeted squarely at the ‘yoof' market — funky colours, USB connectivity, low cost (daddy will be pleased) and good safety features (happy mummy too). Add to that performance that is never going to trouble the boy racers and handling that is going to wash out into understeer long before you meet that palm tree, and you start to think maybe this is a much more clever package than you realised.
Start with the looks. It is a cheerful little car, certainly in the brighter colours (there are ten to choose from). Gone are the old signature high-set headlights (now exclusive to the Juke), in comes a much more modern and approachable face.
One of the first things Nissan showed us was just how many bits and pieces of body kit you can add to jazz up the appearance to suit your own ambitions. And there are a lot — grille inserts, spoilers, side skirts, fender finishers, coloured mirrors and more.
Only one body style is offered, a five-door hatchback. Interior space is surprisingly good, with decent headroom in the back thanks to the high rooflline.
Almost inevitably, the entry level version, available at an astonishing Dh44,500, is very basic, and you need to go up the trim levels before you get such niceties as height-adjustable driver's seat. You need that, because the steering wheel only adjusts for reach, and not rake.
All models do get the Nissan Smart Key entry system, which is nice, and gives you a Start button to push. Along with this you get power folding mirrors, which is a cute trick, but seems to be more of a talking point than a genuinely useful ability on such a compact car. What is welcome, however, is the standard fitment of two front airbags across all cars — no cost-cutting there.
So, what happens when you do push that Start button? Pretty much what you would expect. Only one engine is offered, a buzzy little 1.5-litre four-pot, which produces a useful 99bhp and about 135Nm of torque.
This goes to the front wheels through a standard four-speed automatic gearbox which works as you would expect. Our brand new demonstrator was a bit tight and clunky in action, but should loosen up and become much smoother in operation with a few kilometres under the wheels.
As previously suggested, power is adequate rather than abundant, but it is certainly quick enough for city driving. However, the new Micra is not about ultimate speed, and it is perfectly well suited to the cut and thrust of your local mall car park. Lightweight (electric) power steering is effective rather than communicative, but the Micra definitely goes where you point it. The ride is compliant enough to deal with potholes and speed bumps, but at the cost of significant body roll if you push it through a bend. Mind you, the skinny tyres will have started letting go long before there's any chance of you scraping the door handles, so high-speed cornering is probably best left off the agenda.
Back-seat passengers found things a little less comfortable, reporting a surprising amount of pitch and bounce from the torsion-beam suspension, but this was never a problem in the front. The shopping won't mind.
In fact, that shopping will be very well accommodated indeed. Not only do the split rear seats fold forward to give you a decent amount of space, uniquely in this class, they also tumble a second time to open up a quite substantial luggage load. Nissan has an eye on small-business users with this configuration, and it's not hard to imagine a catering company or suchlike loading up the back with all the necessary to make an honest buck.
The new Micra is pitched squarely into the middle of a very busy market with some strong established players. Others may offer sharper handling, or more equipment, or better performance, but how many can combine all three or match the Micra's price or Nissan's reputation for reliability and build quality is a moot point.
Avoid the base models, tick a few boxes on the options list, be bold with your choice of colour and the Micra makes a strong case for consideration.
How big a niche it is going to carve out for itself remains to be seen, but on first acquaintance, it is unlikely to be small.