Nissan Micra has everything to get noticed in the overcrowded small car market

In Nissan's eyes, the Micra is huge. It is the Japanese company's first attempt at the mass market in India. Nissan knows this only too well and has left no stone unturned to make it exactly what the ‘junta' wants.

But before the Micra can go macro, it has to take on the might of several other popular small cars in the market. Does it have what it takes? That's what we're here to find out.

Slide into the nicely-sculpted driver's seat and you are greeted by the same organic shapes you see on the outside. There's that slightly oversized steering (which adjusts for rake), a circular climate control pod and a round theme that continues on the audio system controls.

Overall, it is inoffensive, one that is designed to appeal to most and be practical. The plastic quality is decent but we thought the armrest on the doorpads was too hard for comfort and the two-tone grey scheme of the dashboard a bit too sober.

Despite its compact dimensions, the Micra's cabin is surprisingly spacious. The first bit that strikes you is not the roof, and that's because there's plenty of headroom. The Micra's ‘boomerang'-shaped roof gives you more than enough headroom, even at the rear.

Then the next thing you notice is the width of the cabin. We bet that you can squeeze three passengers — without too much discomfort in the rear — and that's saying something for a small car. However, the rear seat doesn't offer you enough thigh support and the tiny, fixed headrests are quite useless. Still, cabin room is one of the things Nissan has concentrated on and for sure it has paid off.

This is quite a practical cabin too. There are bottle-holders on the doors, two cup-holders on the centre console and storage space between the front seats. This top-end XV variant gets twin gloveboxes but it is disappointing that both are unexpectedly small. Another grouse is that the rear seats don't split; they just fold as one piece. Thankfully, you do get a boot that is quite big.

The Micra is well-equipped though. There's keyless entry and go (a first in this class), powered mirrors that electrically fold, a CD player with an aux input, climate control and power windows on all four doors.

Nissan is currently not offering alloy wheels or steering-mounted audio controls. We also like the Micra's build quality though it doesn't have that typical Japanese tininess.

Like the competition, the Micra uses a 1.2-litre petrol motor and unlike most of its competition, it is a three-cylinder unit.

What's most impressive about this engine is that it doesn't have the vibration at idle usually associated with three-cylinder engines.

Select first gear on the beautifully positive gearbox, get off the progressive clutch and you might be a tad disappointed. At low revs, the engine doesn't pull very well but just as you're wondering where the 76bhp has gone, it suddenly finds its guts. Past 4000rpm is where the action is and it is at its best from here all the way to the 6800rpm redline.

You need to use that gearbox and keep it here, because at low engine speeds and with four people on board, the engine bogs down quite a bit. Sometimes when you floor the throttle to get past the traffic, you need to slam down the gear to summon up passing power.

Also, while it's not as smooth as the K-series engine, the Micra's engine is surprisingly refined for a three-pot motor.

It's pretty smooth and silent when you're not pushing it and it's only past 5500rpm that you get that typical three-cylinder thrashiness.

Where the Micra stands out is with its ride. The long-travel suspension simply absorbs bumps and irregularities and feels like a big car while doing so. Potholes are despatched with solid thumps and you rarely feel the long-travel suspension is at its limits.

This brilliant ride hasn't come at the cost of its handling either. When pushed on the highway, the Micra feels stable and never shows the edginess that some of its rivals display. The electric steering is nicely judged too. It is easy to twirl at low speeds, making navigation through traffic easy, and it weights up well at high speeds, making it quite confidence-inspiring.

At Rs. 4 lakh for the base XE version, the Micra looks to be a pretty good deal, especially when you consider all variants have a driver's airbag, a trip computer, power steering, air-conditioning and body coloured bumpers.

The mid-level Micra XL will, at Rs. 4.75 lakh, add remote locking, wheel caps, CD player, power windows, central locking and a tachometer.

But it's this top-end XV that is really interesting. At Rs 5.25 lakh, it offers some equipment that you don't usually get on small cars. However, it does miss a few things that you get on other large hatchbacks.

Nissan is now offering only the 1.2-litre petrol motor while the diesel is expected to be in showrooms by Diwali this year.

Looks like Nissan has a winner on its hands.

Keywords: Nissan Micra