First Drive: Nissan Micra N-Sport

Nissan adds heat to the Micra, but not too much…

Think of a hot hatch. You’ve probably got a Fiesta ST in mind, perhaps a Peugeot 208 GTi, possibly a Volkswagen Polo GTI. What you’ve not thought of is a Nissan Micra. In fairness, Nissan has never pushed the Micra into hot hatch territory, but its driving school image was always going to work against it.

The latest Micra is a different beast though. A sharp, angular, design looks modern and, with a variety of trim options, quite stylish. It’s grown up significantly from the cutesy bubble shape of the 90s.

Still, Nissan hasn’t quite got the confidence to go all-out in its first foray into a high performance city car, so the new Micra N-Sport is rather more warm than hot.

More than just a trim level, Nissan has made a number of changes to the car to match its sporting overtones. The suspensions has been lowered and stiffened slightly, and there’s a quicker steering rack to make things more responsive. Some cosmetic changes, including some snazzy black wheels, faux-carbon fibre trim, and a chrome exhaust tip, differentiate the N-Sport from the run-of-the-mill Micras.

Importantly, there’s also a new engine. The old 0.9-litre engine the Micra was lumbered with has been shelved, with a new, marginally larger, 1.0-litre unit taking its place. In the everyday Micras it makes a significant difference, but the N-Sport version has been tuned to produce 117hp. Not exactly breathtaking, I grant you, but a handy amount of power in a small car.

It translates into a 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds, but the Micra feels more lively than that once you’ve got it rolling. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and allows you to keep the engine spinning nicely, and if you keep your foot in you’ll eventually spin it all the way to 112mph.

The revised suspension is marginally firmer than the standard model, but retains the comfort levels while adding a little extra entertainment. Grip levels are good, with the front end washing wide eventually in a controlled manner, but you’ll be alerted to this by countless flashing lights on the dashboard before it happens. The computers then kick in and ensure everything is returned to the straight and narrow, bringing the fun to a safe and swift end.

The N-Sport then is really a sporty-looking machine, grounded in a reality that’s cheap to insure and comes with low running costs. To that end, 47.9mpg is promised by Nissan, using the new, more realistic WLTP economy tests, while CO2 emissions of 114g/km will keep tax bills low, especially for company drivers.

It retains all that makes the current generation Micra a surprisingly pleasing model, too. The steeply raked body hides a cabin that’s really quite smart up front, with the N-Sport benefiting from a new infotainment system. It’s certainly better than Nissan’s previous effort, but there’s still a bit of lag in the controls, and still not the easiest system to navigate around. It’s competitive for now, but technology moves on very quickly.

What’s also new in the N-Sport is a swathe of Alcantara fabric across the dashboard. It looks magnificent, adding a real premium sports car sensation to the interior, and is unlike anything else at this end of the market. Ok, so Lancia did it in the 90s with the Y10, but that’s car knowledge nobody needs.

It gets a little tight in the rear, but the Micra is fine for a couple of children with their child seats. The boot takes 300 litres of luggage, which is marginally more than you’ll squeeze into a Ford Fiesta but less than you can get in a Volkswagen Polo.

It’s also roughly the same price as the Fiesta ST-Line and Polo R-Line, cars that do a similar thing. At £19,000 and some loose change, it’s a lot of money for a small car, and perilously close to the asking price of proper hot hatches. However, warm hatches are incredibly popular thanks to lower leasing and PCP rates, which will bring down monthly payments, and more sensible running costs.

But it’s possible to get even more sensible and retain the N-Sport fripperies – sacrifice 17hp and the price drops by over a thousand pounds. If you want the extra oomph and tuned chassis, then it’s possible to do that with the Acenta trim that saves £1,700 but loses the sporty cosmetic changes. Nissan has got every option covered, seemingly.

Model Tested: Nissan Micra N-Sport DIG-T 117
Price: £19,005
Range: £12,875 – £20,005
Top speed: 121 mph
0-62 mph: 9.9 seconds
Power: 117 PS (115 bhp)
Torque: 200 Nm (148 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £345
Official fuel economy: 47.9 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 114 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 11E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.