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If at first you don’t succeed…

If at first you don’t succeed…

Of all the aspects of the original version of this MK4 Micra, the one that probably needed the least work was the way it went down the road. It was always good fun to drive and its light weight gave it some pretty nimble reflexes. The latest model doesn’t change a whole lot here, instead tuning the details. The big draw remains the DIG-S engine and this is really the model you need to be targeting. The heart of the Micra DIG-S is a direct-injection engine teamed with a supercharger – hence the car’s name: Direct Injection Gasoline-Supercharger.

Although it has clearly been designed to cap emissions and fuel consumption, the lightweight, low-friction 1,198cc three-cylinder unit produces the power expected from a conventional 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. With 96bhp on tap, it’ll get to 60mph in less than 11 seconds and feels quicker. A five-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, but there’s also the option of a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic which makes town driving easier.

You can also buy the Micra with an 78bhp 1.2-litre normally aspirated engine, should you wish to save around £1,500 model for model. There’s no diesel option. Whichever version you choose, you’ll find the suspension designed to be particularly compact at the rear, minimising intrusion into the boot area and Nissan has endowed the Micra with an unusually tight 4.5m turning radius. Also enhancing the ease with which this Nissan can be manoeuvred are electrically assisted power steering, a large glass area and the fact that the nose of the car is visible from the cabin.

The Micra’s most obvious changes are to the exterior. The entire “face” has changed, with a redesigned grille re-establishing a stronger link to Nissan’s corporate look with the familiar circular badge “held” within a chromed extended V-shaped motif. The bonnet, wings, headlamps and front bumper are also changed. And where fitted, the front fog lamps have been given a bit more prominence with chrome edging. The rear features a resculpted bumper, LED tail lamps and a panel at the bottom of the tailgate. The fresher look is complemented by different 15in and 16in alloy wheel designs. The colour palette now includes pearl metallic Pacific Blue (a predominantly turquoise shade) and metallic Platinum Sage. These join the eight existing colours.

The interior has come in for a rethink, too, with the instrument graphics ahead of the driver improved for greater clarity, while there’s a totally new centre console with restyled air vents.

Prices haven’t changed much, which means you’ll pay somewhere in the £10,000 to £15,000 bracket.

Possibly the most intriguing thing about the Micra DIG-S is how pragmatic it is. Nissan has demonstrated that you don’t need to go to the expense of shelling out for a hybrid or even for a modern turbodiesel engine. That a petrol engine with fairly sprightly performance can be this clean and economical is worthy of congratulation. To put a little meat on those bones, the DIG-S will manage 95g/km, which means a free road fund licence. Should you specify the CVT gearbox, emissions rise to 117g/km, so despite this transmission giving your left leg a rest in city traffic, it’s unlikely to attract a big take-up.

Fuel economy is similarly excellent, with a manual Visia model returning 68.9mpg. This is interesting because, when you wind the clock back to 2000, a 1.3-litre petrol Micra could return a fuel consumption figure of 46mpg, which means that, when salary inflation is taken into account, running a Micra DIG-S is actually cheaper than running a Micra back at the turn of the century. And in case you were wondering, the DIG-S engine is also a good deal cleaner and more economical than the normally aspirated 1.2-litre unit. What more incentive do you need?

The big question that hangs over this car is whether or not these changes are enough. Buyer behaviour can be a tough thing to change and it would take a very special car to divert customers from their Fiestas and Corsas. What this latest Micra does represent is a big step forward compared to its predecessor. That was a car which was fun to drive, economical and reliable, but which possessed next to no polish, no slickness and no reassurance that you’d bought a supermini able to duke it out with the class best.

A heavily revised interior helps in that regard and the exterior styling changes do much to reinforce the perception of quality. The Micra’s chances aren’t going to be transformed overnight, but this is now a car you could realistically recommend to somebody who doesn’t want to follow the crowd. I think Nissan would call that a result.