Nissan Micra N-Sport, take the long way home

In Car Reviews, Nissan by Kieran Bicknell

The humble Nissan Micra; Long known as the first car of choice for newly-passed teenagers or a cheap runabout for your grandma, the Nissan Micra N-sport edition is the latest in a line of models offered, to move the Micra away from these stereotypes and towards the modern supermini and sporty-hatch markets.

Does it succeed where previous generations have perhaps failed?

Initial impressions are undoubtedly positive; The styling has come on leaps and bound since the previous generation with their rounded, bug-eyed appearance. In their place, the fifth generation of Micra boasts angular lines and a more aggressively-styled appearance which lends itself perfectly to an uprated sports model such as this. The 10mm suspension drop and 17” alloys with faux-carbon fibre inserts present on the N-sport specification add to this more purposeful look, while carbon-fibre effect mirror caps, a chrome exhaust finisher and a body-coloured tailgate spoiler tie together the new lines. These are all points that are sure to increase the appeal of the Micra – in particular the N-sport – for younger, more aesthetically-conscious customers. However, I have to say the use of fake carbon-fibre stickers is a bit of a tacky choice, in comparison with the refined style of the rest of the car.

Inside the cabin, I have to say I’m thoroughly impressed; The appearance of the interior is far beyond anything I was expecting at this price point, out-doing offerings from sister company Renault by a country mile. The liberal application of alcantara to both the seats and the dash surface bolsters the feeling of quality and sportiness inside the car. At the same time, the centre console is dominated by the 7” touch-screen infotainment system which has integrated support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. I have to say the touch screen is fantastic, very responsive and clear. CarPlay is a lovely touch and responds almost instantaneously to inputs on both your phone and the screen itself. Audio quality is perfectly fine, though I feel Nissan have missed a trick here by not including the Bose pack (complete with headrest speakers). It is available as an option with the N-sport specification level, and this is something that would surely appeal to younger generations and those who enjoy their music while driving.

The use of white stitching on the seats and white surrounds for the vents adds a pop of contrast to an otherwise fairly dark interior, particularly in the rear of the car due to the small windows. There are a couple of minor issues; however – the door cards have virtually no padding which leads to it being an uncomfortable place to rest your arm while driving, while the seating position does seem unusually high for a supermini. However, neither of these is a deal-breaker in context to the quality of the rest of the interior.

Get the N-Sport onto a twisty B road, and the soul of this car suddenly comes alive. While performance is not anything to shout home about in a straight line (returning an average 0-60 time of around 9.9s), the N-sport devours flowing corners and gradient changes with vigour, giving plenty of enjoyment behind the wheel on a winding back road. This is a car that requires momentum and forward-thinking, being sure you’re in the right gear for the next corner, nailing the apex wherever possible and keeping progress swift – it rewards this planning with a sense of enthusiasm for these twists and turns – and once you’re all done, it becomes a small, agile city car once again, perfectly civilised and very comfortable indeed.

Steering feel is good and has a satisfying weight to it compared to the over-boosted offerings that are so common within today’s marketplace while providing plenty of feedback to the driver when pushed. Lane departure warnings are delivered by a series of pulsing vibrations through the steering wheel which can catch you off guard and become quite annoying on narrow roads where you may need to straddle the centre line, although this can be turned off easily should you wish. The gearing strikes a fine balance between usability and fun. At the same time, the addition of 6th in this trim level makes motorway cruising a doddle. However, the ‘box is rather tight and I found myself struggling to get into third gear at times.

I have to say the little 1.0l DIG-T 117 engine exceeded my expectations, offering plenty of ‘pep’ to match the N-sports target market and stylised bodywork, though the majority of the power does seem to be in the middle of the range, around 2-5K; It will happily rev out, though there is not much in the way of engine noise or additional power at the top end to encourage you to do so.

The only minor disappointment for the N-sport driving experience is the road noise – whether this is down to running a 17” wheel setup with relatively low-profile tyres (205/45) is unclear, but you can hear every little stone that is flicked up into the wheel arches, while poor road surfaces result in some vibration noise being transferred into the cabin. While this is not a problem on short journeys or a more spirited drive, it may prove frustrating on longer, more laid-back trips.

The car tested was a standard N-sport model with optional Echo Grey paint, for £575 on top of the base price of the N-sport, bringing the on-road price of this particular car to £19,580. The trim level of N-sport certainly offers a lot over the Acenta in terms of styling, while the upgraded chassis and quicker steering rack (2.8 turns lock-to-lock compared with three turns for the standard rack) contribute to the unique charm of the N-sport over the other models in the range.

While exploring the configurator on Nissans’ website, however, I couldn’t help but smirk at some of the optional extras available; A removable tow bar is available for £404, which seems an odd choice for a car such as this. Even more bizarre perhaps are the ski carriers available for £192 – I can’t say that this would be my choice of vehicle to take to the alps for ski season – though the winner for strangest optional extra has to the be custom coat hanger which appears to slot into the back of the front seats, available for a mere £53 each(!)

There were however some extras which I can certainly see the appeal in. A 2-bike carrier is available for £66, ideal for those who live within the city where the Micra fits right in with its’ supermini design, yet enjoy the outdoor lifestyle at the weekend and need to be able to transport their bicycles with ease. At the same time, the interior ambient lighting pack at £153 would bring some additional contrast and light to the otherwise rather dark cabin.

The N-sport sits into insurance group 11 for the DIG-T 117 engine (the equivalent ST-Line Fiestas sit around groups 10-12 for reference), so insurance for younger generations shouldn’t be too costly. Lower powered versions of the N sport sit in insurance group 8; So if its the styling you’re after but not too fussed about the power then insurance is even cheaper, making them ideal for style-conscious young drivers. This does, however, mean sacrificing the lowered suspension and chassis tweaks that are exclusive to the top-range powertrain.

The Micra N-Sport is a car that will surprise you; Strip away any pre-conceived notions or stereotypes that you have about the Micra and just drive it!

I judge a car by how much time I want to spend with it, and with the N-sport I found myself taking the longest, most winding route home possible while driving to exploit its trick chassis and spritely charm fully. In answer to my earlier question – Is this the car that Nissan has managed to shake the stereotype with? – I’d certainly like to say so, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Car reviewed: Nissan Micra N-Sport DIG-T 117, on the road price £19.010 0-62mph 9.9secs Top speed 121mph Engine 999cc 3 cylinder unleaded Euro 6.2 Fuel Economy Combined 47.9mpg CO2 emissions 114g/km Max Power 117PS@5250rpm Torque 200Nm@1750rpm Transmission 6-speed manual

Kieran Bicknell

Motoring writer

Kieran Bicknell offers his fresh take on car reviews by making the most of his dynamic, yet detailed approach to writing. Having graduated from university with a BA (Hons) in Photography and spending a number of years as a freelance automotive photographer. Kieran is now putting his knowledge and writing skills to use, with the ability to supply both written articles and imagery. Kieran feels at home in anything from small superminis to the latest SUVs, and relishes the opportunity to drive, photograph and write about anything with four wheels.

“When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.” – Elon Musk

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