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Nissan Micra DIG-S

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Road Test

Nissan Micra DIG-S

Model/Engine size: 1.2 DIG-S VISIA

Fuel: Petrol

Fuel economy combined: 68.9 mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 6/10

The new Nissan Micra 1.2 DIG-S is supercharged, which sounds very performance-focused, but actually it’s all about economy, and the result is 68.9 mpg and 95 g/km CO2 , which is class-leading for a petrol supermini.

Normally you’d have to go for a diesel engine to get these sort of economy and emissions figures. However diesel engines make superminis heavy, so taking away much of the agility that a car in this class should exhibit, and expensive. It’s unlikely that an average supermini owner would ever drive sufficient mileage to make a diesel purchase worthwhile. Diesels also emit higher levels of emissions that impact on local air quality.

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So Nissan has taken a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, added a supercharger – which pushes more air through the engine – and put it in the new Micra. The new DIG-S (Direct Injection Gasoline – Supercharged) unit is a technical tour de force, which, apart from the obvious supercharger feature, also uses specially-shaped pistons, improved exhaust gas recirculation and a higher compression ratio to deliver exceptional fuel consumption and a healthy 97 bhp.

As is now the norm in eco models, the Micra also gets an intelligent alternator – which restricts battery charging to when the engine is not required for power, such as under braking – and engine stop/start. To avoid the supercharger sapping economy, under light load the engine switches to the more efficient Miller Cycle and decouples the supercharger, before switching back to the conventional Otto cycle at higher rpm. This means that the supercharger is ‘switched off’ while driving at low speeds, so the DIG-S engine lacks the immediate torque that you would expect at low rpm with a supercharger, but it maximises efficiency. The engine also has 30 per cent lower friction when compared with a four-cylinder engine.

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The only other petrol engine that can compete with these low levels of emissions is the Fiat 500 two-cylinder TwinAir unit, which also emits 95 g/km with manual transmission.

So how does it drive? We know it’s economical, but with 97 bhp, it also has performance that’s better than you’d imagine from a three-cylinder unit. The engine is also more refined than you might expect, but this is slightly let down by the gearchange of the five-speed manual ‘box, which didn’t feel particularly smooth.

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In terms of its handling, the car feels reasonably agile, and the ride feels perfectly acceptable for urban use. The steering is as light and easy as you’d expect. However engine aside, overall the new Micra is not setting any new benchmarks for a fun driving experience.

So the engine in the Micra DIG-S is a genuinely impressive technical accomplishment. But what about the rest of the car? Does it match the innovation of the powerplant? In a word, no. While the engine makes real sense for the UK and our emissions-based taxes, the rest of the car is designed for global markets – with a particular eye on the East more than the West. This is why the exterior styling is not as characterful as the last model. Or, to put it another way, the car looks rather forgettable.

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However it’s in the interior where the lack of focus on the UK market is really apparent. There’s little design flair, but worse than this, the quality of the grey plastics feels very cheap. We think that the quality of interior plastics is something that motoring journalists can often get a little over-excited about. Our prime concern is for a car that is great to drive, but that is also as efficient as possible. However you can’t escape from the fact that the Micra has lots of competitors with interiors that are well designed, high quality, and provide a special ambience. Although the Micra has an engine that is likely to appeal to the more thoughtful car buyer, the interior won’t.

However all this needs to be looked at in relation to the price of the Micra, and at £11,150 for the DIG-S model, it provides an efficient car for a relatively low price. It’s also exempt from the London Congestion Charge, as well as from road tax.

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It should be noted that there are different trim levels of the Micra DIG-S, and the specification that you choose has an impact on the economy and emissions figures. Although the entry-level Visia version emits 95 g/km, this rises to 99 g/km for the better-equipped Acenta and Tekna models – when the fuel consumption also drops from 68.9 mpg to 65.7 mpg on the combined cycle.

You’ll need to go for the Tekna grade to get Nissan Connect as standard, which is an entertainment and information package incorporating touch screen satellite navigation via a five inch colour screen, Bluetooth for mobile phone connectivity and audio streaming from a suitable device, Aux-in and USB slots.

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The Tekna version also has a Parking Slot Measurement (PSM) system, which helps a driver establish whether a parking space is big enough for the car.

You can also specify CVT transmission, but the emissions climb to 115 g/km. This is in contrast to some other models where CVT transmissions can help to lower the emissions.

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Summary

Nissan is making some excellent products, and the engine of the Micra DIG-S falls into that category. However you can’t escape from the fact that the Micra as a whole has been designed with markets other than the UK in mind. Therefore it gets a Beating Spirit rating of 6 out of 10. If there was more design flair inside and out, it would score higher. We’re sure the Micra will succeed in terms of the car’s global sales brief, but there are just too many other superminis that offer a more emotionally-driven purchase in the UK market.

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Nissan Charged, the Nissan GT-R, and our ideas for Nissan’s future product range

We’d just like to share some final thoughts. Nissan was showing the Micra DIG-S as part of the ‘Charged’ tour. This tour included the supercharged Micra; the LEAF, which is charged from electricity; the turbocharged petrol Juke; and the twin-turbo Nissan GT-R. Yes, these vehicles are connected by the charging theme, but what a disparate array of products. The LEAF is a very futuristic zero-emission electric vehicle, which is an excellent car. The Juke is a small turbo crossover, with radical styling, which we think is a great car to drive and to look at. There’s the Micra, which we’ve concluded has a significant engine, but the overall design isn’t primarily geared towards the UK market. Then there’s the GT-R. Acknowleged as an awesome weapon to shame supercars costing more than twice the price, the GT-R is simply a phenomenal machine. With incredible acceleration, four-wheel drive, and lots of other technology to ensure theat you can use the performance, we’ve always thought it also looks great in a stealth fighter sort of way.

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Although all the above cars have their own strong points, they appear to be very unconnected, especially compared to the unified design style of products from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

So… as a footnote we thought we’d offer Nissan our ideas on how to optimise its ‘charged’ products

• Offer the LEAF with the Micra’s supercharged engine as a range-extender so Jeremy Clarkson can’t plan to run out of electricity after 100 miles.

• Make the Micra look as radical as the Juke, inside and outside, for the UK market.

• Give the four-wheel drive JUKE more low-emission engine options rather than just the high-end petrol engine that the 4WD version is only available with now.

• The GT-R – give it the hybrid powerplant from the Inifiniti M35h and make the car lighter; the M35h currently emits 162 g/km CO2 and manages 40.4 mpg, so with the same powerplant the GT-R should be able to manage sub-150 g/km emissions and 50 mpg+. And don’t worry, unlike hybrids with a CVT transmission, the Infiniti hybrid drive system is very direct. Keep everything else about the GT-R the same, and then we may be able to justify buying one!

Paul Clarke

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Nissan Micra DIG-S

Fuel economy extra urban: 78.5 mpg

Fuel economy urban: 56.5 mpg

CO2 emissions: 95 g/km

Green rating: VED band A – £0

Weight: 980 kg

Company car tax liability (2011/12): 10%

Price: £11,150

Insurance group: 8

Power: 97 bhp

Max speed: 112 mph

0-62mph: 11.3 seconds

Nissan Micra DIG-S review, Nissan Micra DIG-S road test