There is no greater marketing advantage in the automotive industry than being able to give a vehicle the coveted “lowest priced vehicle on the market” title.
|Engine: 1.6 L four-cylinder, 109 hp, 107 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 MPG city, 36 MPG highway (manual)
Price: $9,998 base, $16,748 fully loaded (all prices Canadian)
Nissan lays claim to this honor in America thanks to the Versa sedan than can be had for the tidy sum of $12,800 after destination charges.
But in Canada, Nissan is blowing the Versa out of the water with the 2015 Micra. On sale now, it starts under the all-important $10,000 mark at a price of $9,998 before destination charges. What’s more, that figure is in Canadian dollars, or just a hair over $9,000 USD.
Currently, there are no plans to bring this small hatchback to the U.S. To find out whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I travelled to Montreal, Canada to check out the Micra. Is this car as cheap as its price tag suggests, or is America missing out on a great automotive bargain?
The five-door Micra is built on Nissan’s V-platform which also underpins the Versa Note hatchback. At a length of 150.7-inches (3,827 mm), it’s 13 inches shorter than the Versa Note, three inches shorter than the Toyota Yaris, six inches longer than the Chevrolet Spark and two inches longer than the Mitsubishi Mirage.
The Mirage will be the Micra’s main competitor and unlike the Mitsubishi, this car actually looks new. It features Nissan’s V grille and a choice of 15 or 16 inch wheels. Nissan chose these slightly larger wheel sizes to make it easier for owners in snowy regions to find winter tires that fit the car.
The car weighs between roughly 2,300 and 2,400 lbs. (1,091 kg), which is about 300 lbs. more than the Mirage. But thanks to a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine producing 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque, this more than makes up for the weight penalty. Whereas the Mirage always feels woefully underpowered on the highway and country roads, the Micra actually feels rather responsive. Power is ample for a car this size and passing maneuvers can be made with confidence, although it is noisy both under acceleration and at idle.
Paired up to the 1.6-liter is a choice of five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic transmission. That’s right, the Micra bucks Nissan’s love affair with continuously variable transmissions and goes with pre-set gearing. With the Micra already sold in 160 countries, many of which are utilizing the four-speed auto, the decision to keep the transmission around makes sense to allow the low entry price.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Nissan Micra Video, First Look
The automatic is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s hesitation when gearing up or down and during deceleration there is a noticeable whine emitting from behind the firewall. Otherwise, the transmission produces smooth shifts and is for the most part transparent. As well, unlike many four-speeds of yesteryear, this gearbox keeps highway RPMs livable as at 60 MPH the engine is turning just over 2,500 RPM.
Despite this, fuel economy still isn’t great. The five-speed manual is rated at the same 36 MPG (6.8 L/100 km) on the highway and 27 MPG (8.6 L/100 km) in the city as the manual Versa Note. The four-speed automatic receives the same highway rating, but suffers a little in the city. During my brief city-biased drive, I saw an average of 30.1 MPG (7.8 L/100 km) from the automatic.
Being a small entry-level car, I didn’t have high expectations for the Micra’s ride. But Nissan spent time working on the suspension and it pays off. Around the broken streets of Montreal, the car absorbs bumps like a car twice its size; a possible carryover from the Micra being developed for parts of the world with rougher roads.
The car is equipped with incredibly light steering and a turning radius Nissan actually reduced when bringing the car over to the Canadian market. This makes it quite maneuverable in the city, while thankfully lacking the darty feeling some small hatchbacks suffer from on the highway.
At its base $9,998 price, the Micra is virtually featureless. Modern luxuries like air condition, power windows, cruise control and some painted trim pieces are all absent on the base “S” trim with the manual transmission. Add the automatic transmission and all of these options return, but the price jumps to $13,298 CAD.
Step up to the $13,698 SV model with the manual transmission and things like heated mirrors, a height adjustable seat, a cargo cover, Bluetooth and keyless entry are added. If that’s not enough, a USB jack, display audio system and rearview camera can still be added on. The top of the line SR model takes things a step further and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and sportier seats for the price of $15,748 CAD (add a $1,000 for the automatic).
Front seat space is generous; neither I nor Adam – AutoGuide.com’s fearless cameraman – wanted for headroom despite the fact that we’re both over six feet tall. The dash and center stack are made of cheap plastic, but the overall fit and finish is acceptable for an entry-level offering. With the SV model, the driver receives a seat mounted right-hand arm rest, but the passenger does not. The door mounted armrests lack any padding and begin to wear on elbows after a while.
The back seat offers the same 33.9 inches of rear legroom as the Mirage, but feels more spacious inside. Headroom, like the front seats, is ample and as an added feature for the Canadian market, Nissan has added rear heating ducts to this car to keep passengers in the back warm. If no one is sitting back there, the 60/40 folding rear seats can be put down to expand the cargo from 14.4 cubic feet to nearly 29.
A better car than the Mitsubishi Mirage, a more practical choice than the Chevrolet Spark and cheaper to purchase than either, the Micra is destined to shake up the Canadian small car market. As mentioned though, this car is not coming to America; for now. But, if the car is a success in Canada, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this little hatchback arriving in U.S. dealers in the future. If that happens and the price is similar to what it is Canada, it could be one hell of an automotive bargain.