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Nissan adds 117bhp 'warm hatch' model to Micra range as part of mid-life revisions. Does it transform the supermini?

Our Verdict

Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 road test review - hero front

Two years after launch, the fifth-gen Micra range gets a warm hatchback: the N-Sport

  • First Drive

    Nissan Micra N-Sport 2019 review

    Nissan adds 117bhp 'warm hatch' model to Micra range as part of mid-life revisions. Does it transform the supermini?
31 January 2019

What is it?

Remember the Micra 160 SR? A gold star and extra nerd points if you do. Launched back in 2005, it was Nissan’s first and (until today) only attempt to push its supermini into the 'warm hatch' sphere in Europe.

To say it was unsuccessful is an understatement. Contemporary reviews suggest it was actually pretty competitive. But it seemed that car’s cutesy styling combined with the Micra’s driving school image did it no favours for enthusiasts on a budget. 

But perhaps the latest generation is a better fit, with its more grown up, angular design and slightly more upmarket positioning. Nissan clearly reckons so, which is why it’s launched the N-Sport onto the market.

Far from just a cynical trim level, the firm is using it as the basis to introduce a new 1.0-litre engine, also available in other higher-end trims. All cars with the new engine get a bespoke chassis tune, lowered suspension and a new steering rack, while the N-Sport model gets subtle exterior styling tweaks and and natty Alcantara trim on the dash and seats.

Alongside this, model year upgrades include a newly designed infotainment system with additional connectivity, and a new smartphone app that allows some limited operation of vehicle features.

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What's it like?

As good as it needs to be, we reckon. When the latest Micra launched in 2017 its biggest failing was that the most powerful engine option put out just 89bhp. 

The Renault-sourced 0.9-litre triple also lacked torque, had an inconsistent throttle response and, thanks to its bizarre whining noises when revved, wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of refinement. It was fine in the lower rungs of the range, but with top-end Micras stretching towards £20,000 it couldn’t compete with the far gutsier turbo triples of rivals. 

Responding to this criticism, Nissan has ditched the 0.9 for a 1.0-litre unit, available in two states of tune. The N-Sport is available In both, and we’ve got the more powerful unit here, putting out 117bhp and 133lb ft of torque, or 148lb ft for short periods with an overboost function.

Far from a simple software rejig, the more powerful 1.0 has a number of hardware changes, including direct fuel injection, a higher compression ratio and dual variable valve timing.

It means the N-Sport can realistically compete with cars like the Seat Ibiza FR and Ford Fiesta ST-line. Outright performance is still modest by anyone’s standards, and doesn’t feel as punchy as the Fiesta’s Ecoboost unit, yet there’s enough urgency in the mid-range that it rarely feels strained or out of its depth on normal roads.

Refinement is decent, too (somehow better than the lesser-powered unit we tried), save for some chuntering at low revs, although it doesn’t sound particularly effervescent. Minor gripes concern the throttle response, which still isn’t perfect, and the new six-speed manual gearbox which, despite a shorter throw, feels a touch imprecise.

We had plenty of praise for the Micra’s dynamic composition at launch, and the N-Sport upgrades build on that. The 10mm drop in ride height doesn’t just give it a meaner visual stance, it also combines with a revised spring rate to tighten up the body control to a noticeable degree in fast cornering. The quickened rack heightens the car’s sense of agility, too.

The result is a car that feels fluid and composed in most situations, with a ride that sacrifices a little - but not too much - of the standard car’s suppleness. As is usually the case, however, UK roads will be the sternest test of that particular trait. 

The interior, while as largely free of colour and character as most of its rivals, offers up a competitive level of perceived quality. The aforementioned Alcantara is a rare touch in a sub-£20k car, while it also partially trims the seats. The new infotainment system is an improvement in terms of new connectivity features and better clarity, but sometimes lags between menu selections. Kit levels are strong, too, with Nissan's Safety Sense active assist tech fitted as standard.

Detail changes, such as a new centre armrest and standard rear electric windows (woah, I hear you cry, but they were never an option before) offer welcome convenience. But familar foibles remain, such as a rear cabin that's tighter on space than rivals. 

Should I buy one?

The biggest problem with many of these so-called ‘warm’ hatches is that the pricing point is so uncomfortably close to the fully-fledged hot variants that they seem, on the face of it, to be relatively weak value. The Micra N-Sport is no different, unfortunately.

But to dismiss it for this reason is to dismiss how popular cars like the Fiesta ST-Line are. Despite the list price, leasing deals for the Nissan are expected to be competitive, while what you lose in outright fun compared to a hot hatch you gain in greater everyday comfort and refinement, lower running costs and cheaper insurance.

With no 'hot' Micra on the cards for the foreseeable, this is as good as it will get for now. Enthusiasts will be better off plumping for the cheaper, flimsier and less refined (but far more fun) Suzuki Swift Sport, while rivals from Ford and Seat are more complete all-rounders. But Nissan’s stylish, polished offering is still worth a look - and, if you do want to save money, remember this engine and suspension setup can be had on the cheaper Acenta model.

Nissan Micra N-Sport DIG-T 117

Where Lisbon Price £19,005 On sale Now Engine 999cc, 3cyls  Power 117bhp at 5250rpm Torque 132lb ft (148lb ft overboost) at 1750-4000rpm Gearbox six-speed manual Kerb weight N/A Top speed 121mph 0-62mph 9.9sec Fuel economy 56.5mpg CO2 114g/km Rivals Ford Fiesta ST-Line, Seat Ibiza FR

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Comments
19

31 January 2019

Not in my book, firming up the suspension is no more than when I cut the springs in my MK1 Escort in the believe I'd get a Mexico.

Suzuki Sport all the way

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

31 January 2019
xxxx wrote:

Not in my book, firming up the suspension is no more than when I cut the springs in my MK1 Escort in the believe I'd get a Mexico.

Suzuki Sport all the way

You cut your springs ?! Jesus, I m surprised youre still alive.

XXXX just went POP.

31 January 2019
typos1 wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Not in my book, firming up the suspension is no more than when I cut the springs in my MK1 Escort in the believe I'd get a Mexico.

Suzuki Sport all the way

You cut your springs ?! Jesus, I m surprised youre still alive.

Not my springs (I'm not aware I had any), the springs in my Mk1 Escort

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

31 January 2019
I'm a fan of the current Micra. I think it's a handsome car, and I think the 'sporty' enhancements to the interior work well on this model.
However at £19k they must be having a laugh. Hard to see where the buyers will come from considering the performance on offer elsewhere for similar money, or less.

31 January 2019

Why not buy the much cheaper, smaller, lighter Up GTi if you want some fun?  Talking of which, just  noticed quite a number of reasonably priced "nearly new" examples for sale right now. This suggests either owners don't like them, or VW are pre-registering, or at least selling off last year's demonstrators. 

31 January 2019
LP in Brighton wrote:

Why not buy the much cheaper, smaller, lighter Up GTi

Because it is cheap tinny VAG rubbish. It competes with Protons and such.

31 January 2019
This looks decent. Most drivers aren't that bothered about power and handling when most of their driving is around town and the local commute. Like the Hyundai NLine or whatever it's called on the i40 it has the looks but is a decent every day driver with a bit of pep. Some may say it's style over substance but I disagree.

31 January 2019

Perhaps if you like the styling and want your Renault Clio with a Nissan badge on it. But £19k seems excessive. As for Alcantara on the dash, my 1988 Lancia Y10 had that too.

This only looks a good idea if the only alternative was the new sort of sporty Hybrid Yaris 

31 January 2019

I really like the look of the new Micra. But when i had alook at the performance figures for a petrol model i was very dissapointed and had to write it off. Even at 9.9 seconds to 60 its not acceptable. Some models look really sporty, just dont have the engine to match 

31 January 2019

I really like the look of the new Micra. But when i had alook at the performance figures for a petrol model i was very dissapointed and had to write it off. Even at 9.9 seconds to 60 its not acceptable. Some models look really sporty, just dont have the engine to match 

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