Nissan Micra 160 SR
Test venue: Chester and surrounding area
My first memory of the Nissan Micra was watching a little old lady precariously reversing a 1.0-litre model into a bollard at a local supermarket. I must admit that I treated the Micra with disdain. It normally attracted the 'flat cap' brigade, dithering at 25 mph on the weekly pilgrimage to the local eatery for Sunday lunch. Two years working closely with Nissan's Micra Rally Challenge in the mid-1990s changed my view somewhat, but it wasn't until Nissan launched the radical new Micra in 2003 that I began to give the car credibility.
The all-new Micra was introduced to the UK press in a wintry Newcastle-upon-Tyne two years ago. The Japanese manufacturer was keen to promote the new A-segment 'super-mini' as a city car. True, it excelled in an urban environment, but the range-topper was actually a delight to drive in a winter gale along remote Northumberland lanes around Rothbury and Kielder.
Nissan chose the Rowton Hall Hotel, near Chester, as a base for the launch of its new urban machine - the Micra 160 SR - the company's answer to the Mini One, Fiesta Zetec-S and CitroŽn C2 VTR. Nissan claims SR stands for 'Street Racer' and it's certainly true that the 1.6-litre engine fits perfectly under the bonnet of the latest Micra to hit our streets. How times change. I can't imagine that little old lady reversing this wolf in sheep's clothing into that parking space....
The manual version of the range-topping Micra I tested is available through Nissan dealers for an on-the-road price of £11,195. The basic list price is only five pounds short of £10,000, but you will pay an extra £1,190 for metallic paint and leather and heated seats.
If you are happy with the base package, then the Micra 160 SR comes equipped with 16-inch alloys, sports bumpers, air conditioning, stiffer and lower sports suspension, roof and side spoilers, ABS, rain-sensing wipers, an automatic rear wiper, multiple air bags, power-assisted steering, a six CD autochanger...The list goes on.
The 1.6-litre Micra falls into insurance group 6E and will take you to a top speed of 114 mph. Nissan claims that you will reach the speed limit in under 10 seconds and over a wide variety of roads you will see around 42 mpg. Nissan hopes to sell around 1600 of these Sunderland-built cars in 2005.
So, for a fiver less than that psychological 10K barrier, you have a potent pocket-rocket capable of giving many more expensive cars a run for their money. The Micra is deceptively spacious inside and the seating position is comfortable. You will either love or hate the internal dashboard layout and the rather unique front and rear design of the car.
Aluminium pedals give a sportier feel to the interior and white dials and trim distance the 160 SR from its predecessors. The gearchange is quite slick and it is easy to overtake and make rapid progress on a country road. Admittedly, the test car had a very low mileage, but the engine did take a long time to reach peak revs and to release its true potential at around 6,000 rpm.
The stiffened and lowered suspension assists spirited driving and Nissan is proud to admit that the team behind the 350Z has worked on improvements to the handling of the new Micra.
In fact, the whole range has undergone a face lift. There have been subtle external revisions, a higher level of refinement and a new 65 bhp, 1.2-litre engine to replace the little old lady's favourite 1.0-litre unit. The entire British-built range is being offered with four petrol engines and a pair of common-rail diesel units. A four-speed automatic transmission is also being offered with 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre models.
But it gets even better. Nissan UK has also built a one-off Micra 350 SR, which is powered by a mid-mounted, Nismo-tuned 3.5-litre engine. That 'monster', built in association with Ray Mallock's motorsport development company, is capable of 150 mph, will reach illegal speeds in less than five seconds and features revised independent suspension and a 30% increase in chassis rigidity. That's a real 'street racer'.
Now imagine that little old lady behind the wheel of one of those....?
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