The new Nissan Micra sparkled its silver sparkle in the driveway. Sliding into the passenger seat, my mother — in Johannesburg visiting the grandson — marvelled at how classy and just-a-little-sporty the new Micra is. Gone are the soft corners and in are jutting, muscular edges.
I get in to drive. Getting comfy in the seat takes a little muscle. No electronics here if you want the seat to recline — just that good old fashioned wheel on the side of the seat that you have to contort your arm to reach (which means you risk giving yourself a wrist sprain moving your seat).
Once that’s done and you’re set to drive, you notice the open space, front and back, plenty of legroom for passengers and that bulky baby seat.
The interior is posh and includes a wide touch screen to navigate between your cellphone and your music streaming. Standard bluetooth stuff these days but very useful to have. This usefulness extends to the touch buttons on the steering wheel, which is good news in the city because it means there are no valuables in sight.
And as a mother with a new childminder, I need to be accessible all the time and can’t afford to miss one call. With a large screen I can easily connect to my phone in the boot without taking my eyes off the road.
The wider pressure on Nissan, and other car manufacturers, to be more thoughtful about the environment is reflected in the dashboard.
There’s the standard speedometer, rev counter and then some little green nudges like a measure of CO2 emissions — showing how much you’ve saved — and gear up and gear down indicators to help with more efficient driving.
There are other power saving plusses. As someone who has to perpetually hunt for a kind soul with jumper cables to kickstart my battery — after I’ve jumped out in a rush and left the headlamps on — the Micra’s automatic headlights are a saviour.
Air conditioning is standard these days and there’s no observable power lag when you turn it on.
The multi-function steering wheel comes with a cruise control system, perfect for those long drives. But there are problems with how this car drives. As much as the Micra has been touted as a contender in the hatchback category, it does not have the kick when you depress the accelerator, and the drive takes a bit of getting used to.
The gear shift is not as smooth as one would expect of such a small car and it gets quite loud when you push it over its rev range.
Driving in the city starts to become bothersome, with a lot of gear changing between robots. The ratio does work when you get out on the open road and set the cruise control at 120km/h. Then, the ride is much smoother and even when you have to decrease speed the car does not force you to change down to lower gears.
Not that you want to spend too much time on the open road or on a long trip. The beauty of the interior does not equate to comfort and luxury after a few hours — this is definitely a car better suited for trips around a city.
Nonetheless, once you understand that the Micra has one of the smallest engines — about 900cc — and is rated at 5.1-litres/100km with CO2 emissions of 115g/km you might want to give it a bit of a break.
The idle-stop system will also reduce the fuel consumption and level of CO2 emissions — and get you brownie points from colleagues who ride their bicycles to work in pursuit of saving the planet.
Being a planet warrior, though, also requires one to cook baby food at home and carry numerous bags. Baby seat, baby on hip, bags in hand and trying to open the Micra’s rear doors to dispose of all this does not work. The door handles on the windows are too high for an ecowarrior mommy. So it has practicality problems if you’re more than a single person, or a couple who just want a car to cruise around town.
But if you are that single person, or that couple, then this car, with its R250 000 price tag, has a good balance of zip and sophistication.