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FOUR TIMES A WINNER

 

FOUR TIMES A WINNER

 

After nearly 30 years and four models later, Micra continues to set the city car standard. But, the latest Micra was created from scratch with the intention of setting a new benchmark for European city cars and with the specific objective of simplifying city driving.

 

"New Micra is based on Nissan's new global V-Platform, but has been designed to perform in the most demanding of all motoring environments - European cities." 

Vincent Cobee, Programme Director V-Platform, Nissan Motor Co Ltd

 

 At a glance

  •  All-new light weight platform
  •  All-new exterior and interior design
  •  All-new three-cylinder petrol engines, including...

... ultra low emission (95g/km) supercharged and direct injection version

  •  All-new ultra compact CVT option
  •  Spacious inside, compact outside
  •  Crammed with advanced features

         

Overview

The all-new Micra - the fourth generation to wear the name - represents an entirely new chapter in the history of Nissan's multi-award winning compact city car.

 

"The new Micra is a vitally important car for Nissan as the company grows. It is clearly the right car for the right time. From the very beginning, we identified that new Micra must combine agility and strong performance with exceptional fuel economy and class leading CO2 emissions to be sure of meeting the expectations of European customers" said Andy Palmer, Senior Vice President, Global Product Planning, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

 

"New Micra incorporates a number of new technologies, advanced new engines and an entirely new platform that will be used by a number of other models from both Nissan and Alliance partner Renault."

 

The European city car segment is one of the most hotly contested segments in any market in the world. For this reason, Micra was conceived, from its design, engineering, powertrain and equipment levels, to make European city driving as stress-free as possible, but also to remain accessible.

 

A pair of brand new three-cylinder petrol engines displacing 1.2-litres power new Micra. The entry-level version is a normally aspirated entry-level 59kW (80PS) unit which produces an impressively low 115 g/km of CO2. But even this is overshadowed by the second version. This is a direct injection gasoline engine with a supercharger to boost power to 72kW (98PS). CO2 emissions, meanwhile, tumble to just 95 g/km. Such is the efficiency of these new petrol engines that new Micra will not be offered with a diesel option. The supercharged version will be introduced in Europe from spring 2011. Such low CO2 figures are normally only achieved by diesel powered cars, which command a price premium, so new Micra will deliver low emissions, but without the usual price penalty.

 

The model line-up is simple with just one five-door body style, two engine options and two transmission choices - either a five-speed manual or a highly advanced compact Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

 

Grades follow traditional Nissan practice with Visia followed by Acenta and then Tekna. All models have power steering, air conditioning, electric front windows and the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) as standard - unusual in the city car segment.

 

Acenta adds an enhanced sound system, automatic air conditioning and a cruise control among other features, while the range-topping Tekna introduces technology seldom seen in bigger cars let alone a compact city car. As well as Nissan Connect, a combined satellite navigation and entertainment system, Tekna versions offer Parking Slot Measurement as standard.

 

PSM automatically measures potential parking spaces advising drivers whether the Micra will fit or not. It's a perfect feature for a city car.

 

"With more than 5.65 million sales over nearly 30 years, Micra is a clear favourite with customers. New Micra will appeal to loyal Micra buyers, of course, but its stylish looks, improved quality and dynamic abilities will also appeal to new customers," said Vincent Cobee. "The importance of a sub-100 g CO2 figure cannot be underestimated.

 

 "We have developed an attractive car for Europe which is light but robust and which provides very competitive roominess and features, as well as top-class fuel efficiency and low emissions. The Micra is a car that is designed to make day-to-day driving in a typical European city as simple and easy as possible."

 

FRESH YET FAMILIAR 

By retaining the rounded profile of the outgoing Micra but updating and adapting the overall look, Nissan's designers have created a car that combines a genuine freshness with a friendly familiarity

 

"The car has to charm a global audience. Its design has to appeal to as many people as possible around the world.... men and women, young and old. We are sure it does just that."

Makoto Yamane, Associate Product Chief Designer, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd

 

 

 

Exterior design

New Micra will be sold in no fewer than 160 countries. It must appeal equally to families in Shanghai, sophisticated singles in Paris, urban trendsetters in Tokyo and more.

 

As Design Director for the Nissan brand, Koji Nagano, explains: "First, the car must target a very broad spectrum of people worldwide and so it must satisfy a multitude of needs in one package.

 

"The second challenge was designing to a class-leading quality level inside and out. Just because a car is compact it doesn't mean customers will accept lower standards of quality - we know our customers expect nothing but the best. Our job was to raise the bar on quality while achieving our third goal... creating a compact car that boasts a special touch of design flair."

 

While many of Micra's peers from 15 years ago have grown to the extent that they are now in a sub-segment higher, new Micra has stayed true to its true city car heritage and is virtually the same size as the outgoing model. It's a decision that makes perfect sense for a European compact city car. Overall, new Micra is slightly longer, marginally wider and a fraction lower.

 

Height: 1525mm

Width: 1675mm

Length: 3780mm

Wheelbase: 2450mm

Boot capacity (VDA): 265-605 cu m

 

From a design perspective, the key feature that defines Micra's character is its profile and, in particular, the arched side window graphic. Central to its heritage and loved in Europe and Japan, that feature has been retained on the new car and, if anything, is accentuated by a more prominent rear spoiler integrated into the roof. 

 

The overall shape, however, is bolder than its predecessor with a strong rounded waistline and distinctive crease above the sills. Front and rear treatments, though, are totally different.

 

But, the new design has not compromised on Micra's acclaimed all-round visibility, something which is key to easy, stress-free driving in the city. As with previous generations of Micra, from the driver's seat there is a commanding view of the road and extremities, enabling maneouvres with confidence in tight spaces.

 

According to Makoto Yamane, Associate Product Chief Designer: "Micra's face is stylish and has an air of sophistication... but at the same time it is approachable, like a friend you can rely on."

 

The sculptured, three-dimensional look includes a dominant grille that defines the car's on road presence. The two-part grille is divided by the front bumper. Above the line sits a slim opening split by a chrome bar on Acenta and Tekna models and topped by an indentation housing the Nissan badge. Below the bumper, a deeper opening extends to virtually the full width of the car and houses the front number plate. On Tekna models, the grille has a distinctive chrome surround. The look is complemented by softly rounded one-piece headlamps.

 

As on its predecessor, raised front wings help the driver to ‘place' the car on the road more accurately, while the low waistline also provides excellent visibility to either side.

 

At the rear, the deep tailgate is flanked by one-piece tail light assemblies while the bumper features a neat cutaway for the number plate. A central high mounted stop lamp is integrated into the roof spoiler.

 

Aerodynamics played an important role in defining the overall shape of new Micra. The roof, for example, has been embedded with boomerang-shaped grooves which help reduce resonance in the cabin, especially at higher speeds at the same time as reducing overall weight by up to 2kgs. The sleek roof design, complete with the pronounced rear spoiler, combine to minimise drag to help economy and reduce emissions.

 

Beneath the car, the underbody has been designed to improve airflow and maximise downforce enhancing high-speed stability. Micra's coefficient of drag is a commendable 0.33.

 

All these features help to deliver a stylish vehicle of obvious quality to the global marketplace.

 

"That's exactly what we have achieved," says Yamane-san. "This design makes it a more practical car with great all-round visibility. By lowering the centre of gravity and positioning the wheels at the extreme corners of the car we have been able to stretch the wheelbase and increase the track for a bolder stance and greater stability."

 

"A crucial part of the car's enhanced road presence comes from its pronounced waistline and strong rounded contours that generate a feeling of robustness. The styling is organic - it fits you perfectly and delivers stress-free driving."

 

Interior design

Aiming to create the same sense of style inside the Micra as can be found outside, the design team adopted a ‘connected cocoon' approach. One example is the dashboard design - a twin bubble theme - which matches the circular instrument binnacle with a similarly shaped glovebox ahead of the passenger. This double-layered glovebox is complemented by a large upper storage area while other small storage pockets are located throughout the car, including the centre console and doors.

 

Easy to read instruments are housed in three circular dials while the heating and ventilation, audio and other controls are logically placed and easy to operate.

 

A proportion of European customers may be downsizing into a city car if their kids have left home, for example, but they don't want to feel that they must accept a compromise on interior space.

 

The clever engineering solutions provided by the V-platform means that the slightly longer wheelbase has increased interior space compared with the previous generation Micra, improving ingress and egress for all occupants. The long roof line, meanwhile, ensures that Micra offers ample rear headroom, so that new Micra's overall interior roominess is hard to reconcile with its compact exterior dimensions.

 

Throughout the design process, weight saving was a key consideration and was met by reducing the number of parts at the same time as improving quality. New Micra has, on average, 18 per cent fewer components than similarly sized cars: its dashboard alone comprises 28 parts instead of more than 50.

 

There are no fewer than four different interior colour schemes designs to complement a bold exterior palette. Black is available across all three grades, grey on Visia and Acenta with dramatic ivory and plum interior colour schemes available on Tekna models only.

 

Exterior colours embrace traditional colours such as red, grey, black, white and silver with three highly individual shades: Spring Green, Tangerine and Nightshade.

 

 ADDING LIGHTNESS 

A brand new platform that's both light and structurally rigid is key to Micra's combination of agility, roominess, efficiency and low emissions. 

 

"The V-Platform is a vital ingredient in Nissan's future... and for that reason during its development we ensured that it exceeded all our performance targets. While new Micra is based on the global V-Platform, it has been designed to meet the needs of the most demanding customers in the world: European city dwellers," Pierre Loing, Nissan's European Vice President for Product Planning,

 

Platform

Underpinning the new Micra is an equally new platform and one which, in time, will feature widely across Nissan's global range. Not for nothing as it been christened the V-Platform, where V stands for Versatile.

 

Micra is its first outing, but Nissan has already announced that it will also form the basis for a new saloon and an MPV in due course.

 

The key elements of the V-Platform are strength and lightness. Even though it is slightly larger than the outgoing Micra - the wheelbase has grown by 20mm to 2450mm for example - the platform has been engineered to deliver optimum rigidity for excellent handling characteristics coupled with a refined ride, but at the lowest possible weight for enhanced performance, strong fuel efficiency and low emissions. These seemingly contradictory requirements had to be reconciled to achieve new Micra's stated aim of meeting the expectations of customers who drive - and park - everyday in European cities, famed for their heavy traffic, limited parking opportunities, poor road surfaces and increased fiscal pressure on emissions.

 

Weight savings on the platform have been mirrored by judicious weight cuts elsewhere: the 41 litre fuel tank, for example, is 2.2kgs lighter than that in the outgoing Micra; the exhaust system no longer has a central silencer, reducing weight by 3.2kgs and the front suspension system is lighter by 9kgs.

 

Similarly the seats are lighter, the dashboard uses fewer parts and the engines smaller. Even the roof panel is lighter by 2kgs. Overall new Micra boasts a kerb weight starting at just 915 kgs, 35 kgs less than its predecessor.

 

The K12 Micra was well respected for its handling and ride compromise and Nissan's engineers felt that was an obvious place to start when creating its successor. New Micra, therefore, has a similar suspension layout with an independent front end by MacPherson struts with coil springs and a compact torsion beam rear axle designed to minimise intrusion into the luggage area.

 

Both suspension systems are mounted on sub frames to help isolate road noise, vibration and harshness and there's an anti-roll bar at either end. And, the Micra's suspension, steering and brake set-ups have tuned by Nissan's European engineers to meet the needs of customers whose day-to-day driving will be at higher average speeds and on smoother roads than those in other regions where Micra will be sold.

 

But because the V platform is more rigid than before, the suspension can work more efficiently to provide more accurate steering with greater feel and precision while there's less dive under braking and pitch under acceleration. Particular attention has been paid to bump absorption - thanks to the adoption of long stroke suspension travel - Micra rides exceptionally well over even the most challenging of road surfaces.

 

Best of all, Micra's characteristic agility and responsiveness have all been preserved, indeed enhanced by the chassis' light weight, to provide a genuine dynamic driving experience.

 

Electric power steering is standard on all models, and helps provide Micra with a class-leading turning circle of just 4.65m for the ultimate manoeuvrability in tight city streets.

 

The car is designed to absorb the forces of a frontal impact, thanks to the sophisticated crumple zone at the front of the car, while maintaining the integrity of the cabin thanks to a highly reinforced body shell.

 

Standard safety equipment includes the braking system which features discs at the front and drums behind, with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist. Micra also has dual front airbags, curtain and side airbags, as well as pretensioner seatbelts. Active safety is reinforced with the fitment of Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) across all grades, which intervenes to cut power and even brakes individual wheels when sensors detect that stability or grip is critical.

 

Nissan's commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its products and activities can be clearly seen in the fact that 98 per cent of the materials used in Micra's construction are recyclable - a factor which is likely to be increasingly important as legislators throughout the world consider steps to protect the environment.

 

PETROL POWER 

Two highly advanced petrol engines deliver such a strong combination of performance with excellent economy and low emissions that there's no requirement for a diesel option.

 

"The new three-cylinder petrol engine powering the new Micra is a highly advanced units, producing exceptionally low emissions and good economy which is absolutely key for European consumers. And, the Micra also boasts an extremely advanced, compact CVT transmission, which is ideal for easy, effortless city driving."

Pierre Loing, Nissan's European Vice President for Product Planning

 

Engines

Micra's drivetrain choice is simplicity itself: in Europe the car will be offered with two engine and two transmission options. The car will be petrol only, with power coming from an all-new three-cylinder 1.2-litre engine available in two states of tune and mated to either a five-speed manual or a new developed Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

 

The decision to offer only petrol engines and not diesels is the result of detailed market and customer analysis, showing that European small car buyers must pay a significant premium for low levels of CO2 - usually by buying a diesel variant. Nissan decided that the ideal solution was an advanced petrol engine, balancing power, torque, consumption and emissions which would be offered as part of a simple powertrain line up, meaning customers no longer have to pay a premium to drive a city car with lower CO2 - this option would be standard..

 

At launch, the lead-in 59kW (80PS) version will produce just 115 g/km of CO2.

 

Good though these figures are, even they are overshadowed by the second version of the engine. This highly advanced direct injection unit uses a supercharger to boost power to 72kW (98PS) and torque to 142Nm, and to cut CO2 emissions to 95g/km - it's an exceptional achievement for a petrol engine. The introduction of this engine in Europe will follow in Spring 2011.

 

Both engines comply with Nissan's Pure Drive philosophy, the discreet blue and silver badge signifying an engine that emits less than 130 g/km.

 

"Producing just 115 g/km of CO2, the standard engine is among the cleanest engines in the world. But by producing well under 100 g/km allied to strong economy and spirited performance, the supercharged direct injection version will set a new benchmark for modern engine technology when it arrives in early 2011."

 

"It is with this overall performance in mind that we took the decision, quite early in the development of the new Micra, to eschew diesel engines for Europe and to offer two motors which were developed with European needs in mind. Our new petrol units produce diesel-like economy and emissions with petrol performance and refinement... and they are cheaper to buy than an equivalent diesel and notably lighter. Put simply, they offer the best of all worlds," said Pierre Loing.

 

As the designation implies, the HR12DE units are closely related to the respected four-cylinder HR16 petrol engine found in Note, Juke and Qashqai.

 

Both engines displace 1,198cc and are lightweight, compact and highly efficient 12-valve units. Careful design has ensured that inherent imbalances expected from a three-cylinder engine have been overcome: idle vibration, for example, has been eradicated by the inclusion of an offset counter weight on the crank pulley generating an oval motion which cancels out the vertical vibration caused by piston travel. As a result, the HD12 unit has NVH levels expected from a four-cylinder unit.

 

As well as benefiting from being lighter and more compact for easier packaging, with fewer moving parts the three-cylinder unit lowers internal friction and improves thermal efficiency. Low friction techniques include circular bore pistons, the adoption of a hydrogen-free diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating for the piston rings and a variable displacement oil pump. Together these elements help to reduce friction by up to 30 per cent, compared with conventional four-cylinder engines with similar performance levels.

 

Other technologies designed to maximise fuel efficiency include valve timing control (VTC) with eco-mode, exhaust gas recirculation for improved combustion, low friction water and oil pumps, high tumble pistons and a high compression ratio.

 

The normally aspirated HR12DE version produces power and torque figures of 59kW (80PS) at 6,000 rpm and 110Nm at 4,000 rpm for a maximum speed of 170km/h and 0-100km/h in 13.7 seconds. Combined consumption is 5.0l/100kms (CVT: 5.4l/km) while CO2 emissions are 115 g/km for the manual version and 125 g/km for the CVT model.

 

Power and torque figures for the supercharged version will be 72kW (98PS) and 142Nm, while CO2 emissions will be 95 g/km for the manual version and 118 g/km for the CVT model (figures subject to homologation).

 

These figures represent an average 25 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing 1.2-litre Micra while emissions are a remarkable 75 per cent lower than levels emitted just five years ago.

 

 

 

Transmissions

The standard transmission in both versions is a precise five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels but new Micra will also be available with a highly sophisticated CVT. This brand new transmission adopts a number of advanced technologies - it's the world's first CVT with a sub-planetary gear system for example - for the ultimate in smooth efficiency.

 

It also boasts the world's highest transmission ratio - 7.3:1 - allowing the transmission to deliver an enviable combination of good low speed response with strong high speed economy.

 

The adoption of a sub-planetary gear allows the use of smaller pulleys which means there's a greater distance between the pulleys and the oil surface in the transmission. This results in a reduction in the amount of oil ‘stirred' by moving parts which, in turn, means less friction.

 

Smaller components including an ultra flat torque convertor results in a unit that's 10 per cent more compact and some 13 per cent lighter than previous systems.

 

 

Initial range availability is as follows:
 

Engine

Power

Fuel

CO2

Drive

Transmission

1.2

59kW

Petrol

115

Front

5-speed manual

1.2

59kW

Petrol

125

Front

CVT

1.2 DIG*

72kW

Petrol

95

Front

5-speed manual

1.2 DIG*

72kW

Petrol

118

Front

CVT


*sales begin in spring 2011

 

 

EQUIPPED FOR THE CITY 

From fully integrated satellite navigation to a clever parking aid, Micra brings big car features to the small car market

 

"Micra is a small car on the outside, but a big car at heart... especially when it comes to considering some of its standard features. By adopting innovative technology which will bring real benefits and added convenience - in many cases as standard - Micra will make city driving as painless and enjoyable as possible."

Vincent Wijnen, Nissan's European Vice President for Marketing.

 

 

Equipment and model lines

Just like its predecessors new Micra is generously equipped as standard as well as introducing a number of innovative items of equipment which are designed to make city driving less demanding - and none more so than an advanced parking aid.

 

While such items have undoubted showroom appeal, they have only found their way onto Micra's specification lists because they will all make the typical European Micra owner's day-to-day life in the city simpler and easier.

 

Micra follows Nissan's now familiar model grade line-up starting with Visia and then moving through Acenta before arriving at the top Tekna version.

 

Externally the versions differ in subtle ways: Visia has 14 inch steel wheels, and black doors handles and mirrors while Acenta has 15 inch steel wheels, a black B-pillar between front end rear doors, body coloured handles and mirrors and a chrome flash on the grille. Tekna variants can be identified by the chrome surround on the lower air intakes, front fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels.

 

All Micra models have a full complement of active and passive safety equipment with ESP standard across the entire range. Every Micra has front, side and curtain airbags, head restraints in the rear and anti-lock brakes. Automatic speed sensitive door locking is also standard.

 

Also standard are power steering with a tilt adjustable column, remote central locking, a trip computer and electric front windows.

 

Practical features include a neat bag holder incorporated into the front passenger seat to prevent luggage rolling around the cabin when the car is on the move. The seat squab is hinged in the middle allowing the rearmost section to be folded over onto the front leaving a well into which handbags or shopping bags can be lowered.

 

Acenta, likely to be the biggest seller, adds automatic air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, electric door mirrors, a front armrest and height adjustable driver's seat. The steering wheel and gearshift knob are leather covered while the in-car entertainment system is upgraded to include a CD player with Aux-in facility and four loudspeakers. It also includes Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phone use.

 

Tekna models introduce Nissan Connect to the Micra, a fully integrated entertainment and information package incorporating touch screen satellite navigation via a five inch colour screen, Bluetooth for mobile phone connectivity and audio streaming from a suitable device, Aux-in and USB slots, plus a six loudspeaker system.

 

The navigation system uses clear street mapping rather than the more basic turn-by-turn guides of cheaper systems and can be programmed in any of nine languages including Russian. The maps, which can easily be updated via an SD card, cover Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia.

 

By integrating information from positioning sensors and vehicle speed, the system does not suffer from loss of signal when driven through a tunnel or when ‘hidden' by high rise city buildings.

 

The system also incorporates TMC (Traffic Message Channel) which uses a second radio tuner to receive traffic flow information and news of incidents on major routes. By processing this real time traffic data, the system can suggest alternative quicker routes as appropriate, thus saving time and cutting emissions.

 

Standard on Tekna, Nissan Connect is available as an option on Acenta versions.

 

Also standard are automatic headlights and wipers, electrically folding mirrors linked to the optional Intelligent Key system - still a rare feature in the city car segment - with a smart push button engine start and stop function, and a comprehensive matrix information dashboard display. As well as providing information on fuel consumption, driving range, outside temperature and so on, it can also be programmed so that the Micra wishes its owner a happy birthday on the appropriate date.

 

Another example of how Nissan has pioneered the fitment of relevant technology on new Micra is the innovative and easy to use Parking Slot Measurement (PSM) system. It is standard on Tekna and optional on Acenta grades.

 

Reflecting Micra's likely role as a city car, PSM helps a driver establish whether a parking space is big enough for the car. As the driver eases alongside a space he or she activates PSM via a push button on the dash and then selects the appropriate turn signal to tell the system which side of the car it should be checking.

 

Assuming the car's speed is below 25 km/h, sensors then scan the space telling the driver whether it's suitable or not via a dashboard display. The display will suggest it's ‘OK' if the space is more than 100cms longer than the car, ‘DIFFICULT' if it's between 60 to 99cms longer than the car, and ‘NOT ADVISED' if it's less than 60cms. It's then up to the driver to decide whether to park or not...

 

Those tolerance levels can be adjusted to reflect the driver confidence and skill - Amateur, Normal and Expert - while the sensors are accurate enough to spot small obstacles such as bollards, traffic cones and so forth. When PSM is specified it comes complete with traditional reversing sensors which operate whenever reverse is selected and give both audible and visual warnings. Micra is the only car in its class to offer PSM.

 

Among the options, one of the most popular will undoubtedly be a glass roof covering the entire front half of the car virtually from the leading edge of the windscreen back to the B-pillars and extending virtually the entire width of the car. Transforming the interior of Micra by bathing it in natural light, the roof also features an integrated inner curtain for when the sun gets too hot for comfort.

 

"Micra is a small car that thinks big, but has been conceived to feature innovations which ease the stress and increase the enjoyment of daily town driving. Items such as the glass roof are usually only found on premium B-segment cars, while you'll have to move to much bigger and more expensive cars to find advanced technology like PSM."

 

"But, as ever with Nissan, none of the features found either as standard or an option on Micra can be considered frivolous. Every technical advance - be it PSM or automatic lights, Connect or Bluetooth connectivity - is featured on Micra because it helps its driver," said Vincent Wijnen.

 

MICRA'S FAB FOUR 

Micra is the foundation stone on which the modern day Nissan has been built. With almost 30 years of heritage - and more than 5.65 million examples ­- behind it, the newest Micra is the fourth generation to wear the name.

 

"Micra is a very significant car in Nissan's history, not least because it was the first Japanese car to win the International Car of the Year award. Its popularity covered all bases: young and old, novice and experienced drivers, male and female alike. The new Micra has a tough act to follow.

 

"But we are confident it will be a success in Europe as it retains the key elements that make it stand out from the crowd: pioneering use of innovative technology to make life simpler and easier, comfort and refinement, interior spaciousness despite compact exterior dimensions and all at a competitive price position."

Vincent Wijnen, Nissan's European Vice President for Marketing. 

 

Micra Mk 1: 1982 to 1992

Hugely popular in Europe, the Far East and Australasia, Micra has earned its loyal following thanks to a combination of qualities: it's easy to drive and easy on the eye, inexpensive to own and always dependable. Indeed that legendary reliability is one reason why examples of all three previous generations of Micra remain so plentiful on our streets.

 

The Micra story began late in 1982 when Nissan in Japan introduced a replacement for the long serving Datsun Cherry. Initially available only as a three-door model, the March - as it has always been known in Japan - appeared to be a thoroughly conventional front-wheel drive small hatchback.

 

Beneath the simple styling lay hidden depths. At its heart was an advanced, all aluminium overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine which, although displacing only 1.0-litres, set performance standards for the class. Despite its modest power output of 40kW (55bhp) its light weight and free-revving nature were a revelation to a generation of small car owners bought up on a diet of cast-iron overhead valve units long past their sell-by date.

 

Sales of that original model - known as K10 - started in Europe in 1983 where the car was badged Micra. It sold happily for three years before a revised model - easily identifiable by its larger rear lamp clusters and minor detail alterations - was introduced. But there was to be bigger news in early 1989 when a five-door version made its bow. Both new five-door and original three-door versions also benefited from a new look grille, new headlamps, deeper bumpers and other minor styling changes.

 

The most significant changes, however, could be found under the bonnet. Here a 1.2-litre version of the light alloy MA series engine was made available which, thanks in part to the adoption of electronic control for the single carburettor, saw power rise to 59bhp.

 

In power terms at least, this was as good as the standard K10 got in Europe. In Japan, the Nissan March enjoyed a quite different story. In 1985, three years after its launch, the first March Turbo arrived to a startled Japanese audience. But the best was yet to come...

 

In 1989, Nissan launched the March Superturbo, its cult status helped by a production run limited to 10,000 units. Homologated for racing, the Superturbo was powered by a remarkable compound charged 930cc version of the 8-valve MA engine. With a turbocharger and a supercharger running sequentially, the Superturbo produced a healthy 110bhp. It took just 7.7 seconds to sprint from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) and had a frenetic top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph).

 

Available with either a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, a viscous limited slip differential and, depending on the version, with luxuries such as air conditioning and electric mirrors, the Superturbo and the March R, its more civilised brother, started a trend for ever more unusual versions of the K10: all, officially at least, were only ever available in Japan.

 

Using the March/Micra platform as a base, Nissan produced a stream of highly distinctive limited edition models such as the rounded Be-1 (launched at the 1985 Tokyo Motor Show) and the utilitarian-looking Pao (1987). Nissan even used the Micra as the base for a small van. With rounded styling inspired by the common garden snail, Nissan wittily called the result S-Cargo.

 

Perhaps the best known in Europe, though, is the canvas-topped Figaro, which was shown at the 1989 Tokyo Show and which went on sale two years later. Just 20,000 retro-look Figaros were made and the model was so popular that Nissan sold the car by lottery, a winning ticket being equivalent to a placed order.

 

Back in Europe, the K10 was still making new friends thanks in no small part to its unbreakable reliability: in 2006, the British motoring magazine Auto Express discovered that of the 340,000 K10 Micras sold in the UK between 1983-1992, almost 30 per cent - some 96,000 - were still on the road, a remarkable figure for a car that by then had been out of production for 14 years.

 

Micra Mk 2: 1992 to 2002

After ten years at the top, it was time for a new generation Micra. Production of the K11 Micra, available in three- and five-door versions from the outset, started in Japan early in 1992, but the model wasn't launched in Europe until near the end of the year.

 

Where the K10 had been conservative in its styling, the K11 was positively funky. Because it has become such a familiar sight on our streets, it's hard to imagine the reaction the K11 Micra received when it first arrived in Europe, but its friendly rounded styling immediately made it popular with a younger audience.

 

K11 was significant for many other reasons, too. The car's technical specification changed dramatically, with a pair of newly developed and high advanced all-alloy DOHC 16-valve engines displacing 1.0- and 1.3-litres leading the way. Both engines were fuel injected and developed 55 bhp and 75 bhp respectively to offer commensurate performance gains over K10.

 

The model also grew up in terms of equipment and, most notably, safety. Available either as standard or optionally were a host of features seldom found on bigger cars at the time and virtually never in the city car sector. Standard features included side door beams and pre-tensioning seatbelts with load limiters, while anti-lock brakes, airbags, electric windows, central locking and even climate control became available during its ten year life span.

 

This combination of quality and value, performance and equipment, driveability and sheer joie de vivre won over more than just customers. A group of highly influential motoring journalists liked the car so much they voted it Car of the Year 1993, the Micra becoming the first car with a Japanese badge to win this significant award. The ‘badge' distinction is important for the K11 was not a traditional Japanese car in one important respect... it was built in Europe.

 

Nissan had started making cars in Europe in 1984 when CKD kits of the Bluebird were assembled at a new facility in the north of England by Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK (NMUK). Local content increased over time so that when the Bluebird replacement - Primera - was built at the Tyne and Wear plant it was of 100 per cent European manufacture.

 

Such was the quality of the end product and such was the productivity of the Sunderland workers that in 1992 it was agreed that a second line be added to the facility for production of the new Micra.

 

K11 appealed to an even wider audience than K10. It was just as easy to drive and just as dependable, but the greater performance and more fashionable looks attracted younger buyers. In cities, Micra started to enjoy a cult appeal among young women, while a burgeoning motor sport career introduced the model to car enthusiasts of both sexes... and to the tuners who felt that 75 bhp was just the start: these days, there are plenty of fearsome K11 Micras running around with turbocharged 2.0-litre Primera engines shoehorned into the engine bay.

 

Life for this second generation Micra followed a now familiar pattern. A minor face-lift appeared in 1996 with more major changes arriving two years later, in 1998. While the sheet metal remained largely untouched, the look of the car was altered thanks to clever restyling of the nose and tail and the addition of unusual wave pattern side rubbing strips on the doors.

 

Once again, the biggest news came under the bonnet, where a PSA-sourced 1.5-litre turbo diesel engine made its debut as part of the 1998 raft of changes.

 

Variations on the theme continued to appear in Japan. Nissan itself produced an estate version, called the Box, as well as a slew of retro-look versions with names such as Tango, Bolero, Juke, Rumba and Polka. Nissan also produced a cabriolet Micra, while a host of tuning companies used Micra as a base for a host of unlikely models with styling that aped classic British saloons from the 1960s.

 

The continued popularity of the K11 - it stayed in production for a full ten years, receiving a final face-lift and a new 1.4-litre engine in 2000 - was a life-saver for Nissan. By the end of the 1990s, Nissan was in financial trouble and had little in the way of resources to develop new models until a strategic alliance was formed with Renault.

 

Micra Mk 3: 2002 to 2010

That the alliance with Renault gave Nissan renewed confidence was obvious the moment the K12 was unveiled. Its radically rounded styling, prominent headlamps and big car features impressed the critics and car buying public alike. Based on a 70mm longer platform jointly developed with Renault, the K12 set the standard for the superminis that followed. The most notable aspect of the design was the cab forward styling which when allied to a comparatively tall and wide body created ample interior space.

 

Offered at launch with a range of four engines - 1.0 (available only briefly),
1.2 (later to be available in two states of tune, 65 and 80 bhp) and 88 bhp
1.4 petrol units plus a Renault-sourced 86 bhp1.5-litre turbo diesel - Micra also boasted a number of advanced features that are seldom found on rival city cars to this day.

 

As well as rain sensing wipers, and a sliding rear seat designed to offer a choice between greater rear legroom or a larger luggage area depending on requirements, K12 was one of the first cars on sale in Europe that didn't need a conventional key. Nissan's Intelligent Key could be left in a pocket or handbag and the car unlocked and started just by pressing a button and turning a knob.

 

Practical features included ample interior stowage - including a neat storage compartment underneath the front passenger seat - while clever touches included an on-board computer that could be programmed to wish its owner a happy birthday.

 

Such was the car's continued popularity that in mid-2004, barely 20 months after launch, NMUK had built 250,000 examples and were exporting the car to no fewer than 44 markets outside the UK.

 

A mid-term face-lift in 2005 saw a minor tidying of the car's ‘face' plus improved interior materials and more supportive seats. Outside, new strong bumpers were added to cope with the ‘parking by touch' tendencies of the typical Parisien driver.

 

But, also true to from, the biggest news was reserved for what could be found in the engine bay. At last the excellent handling characteristics of the little Micra could be better exploited by a more powerful variant, the 160 SR, powered by a new 110 bhp 1.6-litre engine and blessed with revised sports suspension.

 

And while Japan's appetite for odd-looking variations on the March theme continued with K12, Europe was finally offered a third body style to complement the three- and five-door hatchback styles. The Micra C+C was styled in Europe by the newly created Nissan Design Europe (NDE) and turned the hatch into a hardtop coupé/convertible.

 

Throughout its life in Europe, Micra's position as a distinctive and attractive city car for style-conscious buyers was reinforced by partnerships with iconic fashion brands such as Mandarina Duck in Spain and Lolita Lempicka in France, while it was one of the first small cars to fit an iPod connection when the 25th Anniversary model was introduced in 2008.

 

Built in Sunderland alongside the conventional car, the C+C - its complex roof folding mechanism was developed by Nissan engineers at the Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE) and engineered by experts Karmann - became the first European-built Micra to be sold in Japan.

 

Sunderland waved goodbye to Micra on 16th July 2010, almost 18 years after the first European-built example rolled off the line. Micra transformed Sunderland into a multi-model, high volume facility where nearly
1.4 million K11 and one million K12s (including 31,000 C+Cs) were built.

 

In total, Sunderland manufactured 2,368,704 Micras from 1992 to 2010, or to put it another way more than 40 per cent of all cars built at the plant since production began in 1986. Sunderland may have lost Micra, but it has gained Juke: production of Nissan's latest crossover started at the plant in August.

 

Micra Mk 4: 2010 to ?

And so Micra enters a new phase of its life. Production of European-bound Micras, with its all-new platform, all new design and all-new engines, has moved to India.

 

But Nissan's ambitious plan for the model, building it in no fewer than four different plants and making it available in more markets than ever before, mean Micra will continue to be the foundation stone of today's Nissan. Just as the original was almost three decades ago.

 


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