2017 Nissan Micra SR Road Test

Just in case you’re not already aware, there’s no better new car for your money than the Nissan Micra. For just $9,988 plus freight
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Cute little Micra delivers a lot of car for very little money. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
and fees, which makes it the least expensive new car in Canada, the 2017 Micra represents the best value in the entire auto industry.

What’s more, it’s so much fun to drive that Nissan Canada developed a spec racing series dubbed Nissan Micra Cup to tout its performance prowess, a smart way to change common perceptions about life with an entry-level sub-subcompact economy car.

In case you’re wondering, the Micra Cup racing-spec car is no more formidable off the line than the just noted stock machine, its DOHC, 16-valve, 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine providing an identical 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque to the
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Top-line SR trim comes with a body kit and stylish 16-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
front wheels, which is sports car territory when factoring in the model’s scant 1,044-kilo (2,302-lb) curb weight.

To put that last claim into perspective, the pre-owned 1985 Toyota MR2 mid-engine sports car that I managed to talk my boss into giving me for a daily driver after a particularly good sales month (I sold cars for a Toyota dealer in the late ’80s) tipped the scales at a nearly identical 1,035 kilograms (2,282 lbs) and made 112 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque from its AE86 Corolla-sourced 1.6-litre four. That was downright quick for its era, and while I won’t directly compare Toyota’s brilliant little “Twin Cam” and its sonorous 7,500-rpm redline to the Micra’s more utilitarian 6,600 maximum spin, both cars utilize standard five-speed manuals and optional four-speed automatics.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
Shapely projector headlamps provide ample light for nighttime driving. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
than being forced to respond to all the MR2 faithful’s hate mail pointing out the obvious benefits of a short-throw manual gearbox, lower centre of gravity, mid-engine rear-wheel drive chassis layout, etcetera ad nauseum, let’s just agree that owning a modern-day subcompact with a similar power-to-weight ratio to a revered classic sports car can result in plenty of smiles at the wheel, whether you have the talent of current 2017 Micra Cup season leader Olivier Bédard, or simply want to enjoy a spirited drive while commuting back and forth to work, the university campus, or running errands.

In truth, while more refined and filled with modern convenience and safety equipment, today’s Micra has more in common with Toyota Canada’s superb little 2004–2005
2017 Nissan Micra SR
A sporty grille and front fascia, cool fog lamps, and a sweet set of rims set the Micra SR apart from other city cars. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Echo Hatchback, which was also a tall, two-box, front-drive subcompact, albeit with an even smaller displacement 1.5-litre four making 108 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, and once again a featherlight curb weight of 944 kg (2,081 lbs). It was a cute looking little runabout as well, especially in sportier RS trim, a car I’d love to pick up with its base manual gearbox in good condition. Being that the base Echo Hatch started at $12,995 back in its day, and the pricier RS still fetches $4,000 to $5,000 now, this 13-year newer Micra seems all the more appealing.

As you can probably tell from the photos, the 2017 Micra SR currently in our garage sells for considerably more than the base S model Nissan uses to woo us down to its dealerships. While the Micra S starts at $9,988, it moves directly up to $13,648 when adding the aforementioned automatic, an upgrade that also bundles
2017 Nissan Micra SR
A look down onto the roof shows that Nissan has taken the Micra’s styling to new heights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in air-conditioning and steering wheel-mounted switchgear complete with cruise controls (the base model’s “naked” steering wheel looks a bit odd in a new 2017 model).

I should also mention these features come alongside a standard menu that includes tilt steering, a trip computer, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, AM/FM/CD audio with speed-sensitive volume control and an aux jack, fabric seat trim, split-folding rear seatbacks, vented front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control, all the expected airbags, plus more.

Second-rung SV trim, available from $14,048, makes those last items standard no matter
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Small but mighty, at least this is what Micra means to us. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the chosen transmission, while also adding illuminated audio and Bluetooth phone controls to the left spoke of the steering wheel, powered windows and locks, the latter featuring remote keyless entry with a panic alarm, body-colour power-adjustable heated side mirrors, body-colour door handles, two more driver’s seat adjustments for a total of six, a flip-down driver’s seat armrest, upgraded cloth upholstery, chrome interior door handles, two more stereo speakers totaling four, etcetera.

Put beside these two models the top-line Micra SR seems ultra-luxe, thanks to unique sport headlights and taillights, fog lamps, chrome around those fogs as well as the front fascia’s lower grille, side sill extensions, a rear rooftop spoiler, a chromed exhaust tip, and machine-finished 16-inch alloys with black painted pockets on 185/55 all-season rubber (instead of 15-inch steel wheels with covers encircled
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Big doors open provide easy entry to a spacious cabin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
by 185/60 all-seasons) on the outside, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a leather-wrapped shift knob (on manual transmission models), sport fabric seat and door insert upholstery, a 4.3-inch colour display audio system with an integrated rearview parking monitor, a USB port, and more for $16,188 plus freight and fees.

My $17,188 tester, which included $1,000 for the automatic transmission, also added $135 for Gun Metallic grey paint while boasting a $460 Colour Studio Trend package from the accessories catalogue featuring coloured mirror caps, door handles, and side sport stripes (glossy black the chosen "colour" in this instance), boosting the as-tested price to $17,783. Despite the Micra’s fabulous base price, I’d be tempted to choose this very trim and accessories package upgrade because it
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Comfortable upright seating and a leather-wrapped steering wheel make for a great driver’s cockpit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
looks so great and drives so well, minus the autobox for improved performance and a lower price.

If the Micra has a weakness it’s with the types of systems not expected to be good in such entry-level cars, particularly its infotainment that’s not only smaller in size but somewhat behind today’s best when it comes to functionality. My test started off with the usual need to connect my phone via Bluetooth, and the only way to do so was via voice commands. These systems don’t work well at the best of times, but this one was made more complicated by first requiring me to name my phone, and when it didn’t accept the name I chose it automatically quit and made me start all over again. I had to attempt the feat four times before it accepted-for some reason Fred wasn’t good enough. I finally went with Asus, and lo and behold it understood.

The rest of the infotainment system is button actuated, or in another words it’s not a touchscreen. At least they’re attractive looking
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Clear no-nonsense primary gauges with large dials work in most lighting conditions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
chromed buttons and dials, the entire interface nicely designed and well laid out, other than a strangely placed aux plug right next to the station memory presets instead of next to the USB plug and 12-volt charger down on the lower console. This wasn’t an issue for me, having already battled through Bluetooth to wirelessly connect my phone, but for those still using old iPods it will result in some dangling wires down below where the shift lever resides. On the positive the head unit includes an iPod menu, a handy feature for Apple gadget fans.

Audio quality is certainly good enough for this class, and better than anything I ever enjoyed in a car as a kid. I say this because the Micra is the type of safe, dependable
2017 Nissan Micra SR
A nicely organized centre stack lays out ancillary controls well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
vehicle you might purchase to get your young adult child to school and back, so suffice to say you won’t need to worry about them losing their hearing by playing the stereo too loud.

Buttons on the steering wheel let you control simple audio features without taking eyes from the road, while others can answer the phone and implement cruise control. If your kids complain about any lack of features you can annoy them with stories about not even having air conditioning in the car you learned to drive in, or at least that was the case with my mom’s fairly basic ’76 Chevy Malibu coupe. Refreshingly the Micra’s upgraded HVAC system wafted out fresh gusts of nice cold air when called upon.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The display radio provides everything but a touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
little Nissan is put together well too, and features some appealing interior trim detailing. For instance, the previously noted leather-wrapped steering wheel is nicely stitched for a sporty upscale feel, while the spokes get satin-silver paint on and around the controls. That same metallic treatment straddles each side of the otherwise piano black lacquered centre stack, and trims out the shift knob and shifter surround as well. As mentioned earlier, nice bright metal highlights the infotainment, audio and HVAC switchgear, while the door handles are chromed as well.

The door inserts feature an attractive blue and black patterned fabric over comfortable
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Big HVAC knobs work well with winter gloves. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
padding, but oddly there’s no such softening of the hard plastic armrests, except for a handy flip-down upholstered armrest on the right side of the driver’s seat that can be lifted away if you’d rather have more movement, which I found necessary when previously driving a Micra test car equipped with its five-speed manual gearbox.

The stylish material on the doors matched up nicely with the seat insert upholstery, and Nissan even went so far as to contrast-stitch the bolsters in the same light blue for a surprisingly upscale look. Likewise, the carpeted floor mats received specially embroidered Micra badging, helping driver and guests to feel slightly more pampered than they may have initially expected.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The four-speed auto is fine, but the five-speed manual is more fun. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
seats are quite comfortable and fairly supportive for the Micra’s size and price class, speaking of which the little Nissan offers plenty of headroom. I had at least five inches left over above my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, while the same distance separated my shoulder from the B-pillar and about four inches remained next to my hips. Larger folk sitting next to each other might be a bit too close for comfort, but narrow quarters are par for the course in this class. A nice bonus aiding both comfort around the neck and safety are seatbelt shoulder harnesses that can be moved up or down from the pillar position.

Slide into the back and you’ll find even less space from side-to-side, especially next to the windows where I saw about two inches of air between my outside shoulder and hips to the door, but there were at least three inches left above my head
2017 Nissan Micra SR
The front seats provide plenty of comfort and a surprising amount of space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
and about the same for my knees. This should allow someone six feet or so tall to sit in back comfortably, even if they’re wearing big, clunky winter boots thanks to a surprisingly generous amount of foot space. Three adults across the rear bench seat might be a bit tight, mind you, but smaller adults and younger children will be fine. Again, such should be expected in this sub-subcompact city car segment, as should the rather spartan rear accommodations. At least the door handles remain chromed and a single cupholder resides on the backside of the front console, but that’s about it for niceties.  

As you might also expect the rear cargo compartment is abbreviated, but with room enough for groceries, a gym bag, or backpack full of textbooks it’s easy enough to live with. Max cargo volume actually measures 408 litres (14.4 cubic feet)
2017 Nissan Micra SR
Rear seating room is decent as far as city cars go, while the seats and headrests are more comfortable than some competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
with the seats up, or about the size of a large compact car’s trunk, plus 819 litres (28.9 cubic feet) when the 60/40-split seatbacks (that are really actually more along the lines of 33.3/66.6) are folded down, but there’s no removable/moveable shelf to make the load floor flat like Nissan’s larger Versa Note. Instead you get a deep loading area behind the rear seats along with a raised portion atop the folded seatbacks, which is functional if not ideal. Simple latches atop those seatbacks allow you to drop them forward without necessitating a walk around to the side doors, but don’t forget to remove the headrests first or they’ll get stuck partway down. Alternatively, sliding the front seats forward beforehand allowed the rear headrests to tuck below when pushing them back into place, but either way the car’s smaller size requires a bit less convenience than larger models like the Versa Note.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
A wide opening allows easy access to a nicely sized cargo area. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
of mention, my test car didn’t include a cargo cover to protect valuables from prying eyes, but I could see there was a place for one so maybe someone at Nissan forgot to send it along. I checked Nissan’s retail site and couldn’t find one mentioned in the standard or optional features, nor amongst the dealer-added accessories catalogue. Fortunately for my test, the space between the rear seatbacks and hatch is so narrow it’s difficult to see inside anyway.

Once back in the driver’s seat and focused on the road ahead, my mind was cleared of any missing hardware and seat lowering convenience issues, the Micra’s tiny proportions and featherlight curb weight transforming an otherwise plebeian powertrain into a little road rocket. Of course, the four-speed automatic isn’t as rewarding as the five-speed manual tested previously, but it nevertheless moves the little car along quickly and is smooth enough about its business.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
The load floor is deep, ideal for stowing a lot of life’s gear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
a joy around town and surprisingly stable at highway speeds, the Micra comes alive when straights start to bend, its lack of mass and comparatively large 185/55R16 all-season tires providing ample grip for nimble response to arm-twisting input, while the vehicle speed sensitive electric power steering even providing reasonably good feedback.

The front suspension is independent with struts and a stabilizer bar, whereas Nissan incorporates the usual torsion beam setup in back with a stabilizer bar as well, yet it’s the brand’s long experience tuning performance cars that makes this humble hardware work wonders in the Micra. It’s really a pleasure for powering through tight fast-paced curves and undulating backroads, living up to Nissan’s legendary motorsport heritage.

2017 Nissan Micra SR
There’s no flat load floor when the seats are lowered, but the Micra should be roomy enough for most peoples’ needs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
don’t be afraid to get too aggressive with its seemingly rudimentary front disc, rear drum brakes either, as they’re more than capable of bringing this waifish car to a halt quickly, even if loaded up with passengers and gear, while the aforementioned active safety hardware aids the process further in wet weather, helping to make the Micra as safe as cars in this class get.

Truly, if I needed a practical runabout I’d consider the Micra for my own use, let alone my driving-aged kids. There’s something wonderfully appealing to this pure, honest, basic hatchback, the least expensive version even requiring a little muscle to roll down the windows. Although, like I said earlier, I’d be tempted to go with this tarted up SR trimmed model with its noted accessories, racing stripes and all.

Depending on your stage in life, the Micra is either a great gateway vehicle into new car ownership or a wonderful throwback to simpler times when plenty of cars could be purchased for less than $10k. It’s a boon to Canada’s car market no matter how we try to classify it, and I hope it continues being available for a very long time.
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