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First Oz drive: Light rivals in Nissan's Micra scope

Micra-economics: New Nissan light-car is priced from under $15,000.

Nissan throws down a gauntlet to rivals with its sensationally priced light-car

13 Dec 2007

NISSAN Australia managing director Shinya Hannya predicted last week that its all-new Micra “will change the balance of power in the light-car segment”.

The micro-car marks the Japanese brand’s return to a segment it helped restablish with the 1967 Datsun 1000 and then abandoned in 1997 after a half-hearted attempt with the previous-shape K11 Micra.

At $14,990, the 2007 K12 Micra – on sale in Australia from this week – is set to spark a reaction from rivals as a result of the Nissan’s provocatively low pricing.

With a five-door hatchback body, four-speed automatic gearbox, ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist, active front head restraints, twin front airbags, air-conditioning, remote central locking, four electric windows, powered mirrors, and CD audio with an MP3 player connector, Nissan is convinced that the Micra will turn the light-car segment – Australia’s fastest grower this year – on its ear.

“Micra delivers what the market wants,” claimed Nissan Australia’s marketing general manager Ross Booth. He backed this up with statistics revealing that abut 80 per cent of light-car buyers choose five doors over three or four, while three in five tick the box marked “automatic transmission”.

According to Nissan’s figures, the Micra’s three main auto five-door hatch rivals – the Mazda2 Neo 1.5, Toyota Yaris YR 1.3 and Hyundai Getz 1.4 – each cost $3160, $3000 and $2000 more respectively.

“And price is the main motivation in this segment,” Mr Booth said.

Nevertheless, Nissan is erring on caution’s side, with just 500 sales forecast each month.

Privately, the company will be disappointed not to achieve considerably more. One of the reasons why Nissan could bring the Micra in so cheaply has to do with the cost savings borne from not having a complex model line-up.

This partly explains why there is only a single model in the line-up for now.

Motivating the 965kg Micra is an all-aluminium 1.4-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing and a drive-by-wire electronic throttle that helps deliver 72kW of power at 5600rpm and 137Nm of torque at 3200rpm.

For now it is mated solely to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic gearbox. Manual and/or three-door model Micras are not expected until the next-generation car arrives “in two years at least”, according to Mr Hannya.

Those with long memories may recall that the previous Micra won plenty of admirers for offering an extremely efficient continuously variable transmission.

12 center imageNissan may refute this, but speculation at the time of the current K12 model’s release five years ago suggested that this gearbox disappeared from the larger-engined Micra variants in favour of a conventional torque-converter automatic for economic reasons at a time when the company’s resources were severely strained.

Nissan Australia has not released performance or CO2 emission figures, but the Micra’s combined average fuel consumption figure is 6.8L/100km. European 1.4-litre automatic models emit 163g/km of CO2.

Unlike Hyundai and Mazda, Nissan cannot offer electronic stability control, while the Micra lags behind most new cars by not including a rear lap/sash centre seatbelt – relying instead on a lap-only item.

According to Mr Booth, the Japanese factory could not supply either safety feature, even though the K12 Micra made in England can offer both.

The car also runs on 165/70 R14 tyres when some rivals use 15-inch wheels, although a 1700 “City Collection” package adds 15-inch alloy wheels, along with dual side and curtain airbags and six-stacker CD audio. The spare is a space-saver.

Not as compact as its name implies, the Micra is roughly the size of the Yaris, measuring 3725mm long, 1660mm wide and 1530mm high.

It sits on a 2430mm wheelbase. Luggage space is 251 litres, rising to 584 litres with the split/fold rear seats folded down.

Using the front-wheel drive Renault/Nissan Alliance B Platform that also underpins the latest Renault Clio III, Modus and Twingo II, as well as Nissan’s Tiida small car, the Micra conforms to the light-car norm.

Suspension-wise it employs MacPherson struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar up front and coil springs with a torsion beam axle at the rear.

An electrically assisted speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering system is responsible for the Micra’s second-to-Smart-only turning circle of 8.8 metres.

Nissan claims steering “feel” increases with velocity. Disc brakes are used up front while the back ones are drums.

Nissan has chosen a dark brown interior trim, offset by white instrument dials and climate-control dials.

Among the unexpected standard features are an armrest for both sides of the driver’s seat and an under-seat drawer.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Nissan is aiming for the younger, female demographic, although it claims that the Micra has previewed well with males, too.

Older buyers wooed by the tall styling and the high hip-point seating potential this brings may also fall prey, although Nissan maintains that the Korean-pricing point of this Japanese-built light-car will cast a wide demographic net.

The fact the previous Micra holds low-level cult status as a used car may also work in the new model’s favour. Overseas, the K12 Micra has been on sale since late 2002, and so reaches Australia in its twilight.

Nissan is preparing the fourth-generation model for a late 2009 debut.

One interesting fact to emerge is that Mr Hannya actually championed the boxy Cube (a cult car in Japan)instead of the Micra initially, but faced some opposition within Nissan Australia. Eventually, high prices put an end to the Cube’s chances.

“Personally I supported the Cube, but a lot of the guys did not agree,” Mr Hannya said.

Nissan Micra pricing:
1.4 (a) $14,990
1.4 City Collection (a) $16,690

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