Nissan is in a happy position going into the new year. The Juke, a compact MPV, was voted Continental Irish Car of the Year 2011 and is getting rave reviews, the all-electric Leaf goes on sale on 1 March and a new Micra has just arrived on the forecourts.
It's a good start by any standard but the news gets better. There are already 500 orders on the books for the Leaf and marketing director Paul O'Sullivan expects to sell 1,000 of them during the year through the 12 specially-appointed electric vehicle dealers in the Nissan network. There are also 500 back orders on the books for the Juke. Among the conquest sales here are Mini owners who, according to O'Sullivan, like the funky look of the Juke. To add to the good news there are also 600 names on a waiting list for the Qashqai which has been the runaway leader in its segment since its launch.
The Micra has long been a success story for Nissan and over the years it has averaged a 10% market share in its supermini segment. There are 46,000 Micra drivers on the road today and Nissan plans to tap into the car's strong loyalty base to fill the order books here too.
The new model comes with a new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. Nissan says it averages five litres per 100km and puts out 115g/km of CO2, among the lowest in its segment. It is a very city-friendly car with the smallest turning circle (4.65m) in its class but it is also no slouch on the open road. Nissan says the top speed is 170kph and although this was not tested it cruises happily at the legal limit of 120kph. The 0-100kph sprint takes 14 seconds.
In a brief launch-day test drive through Dublin and surrounding motorways the 80bhp engine showed good acceleration and was surprisingly quiet even under pressure. The five-speed manual transmission is light and a CVT automatic transmission will be available later, which will change the manual version Band A VRT rating of €104 annual road tax to Band B (€156), a small price to pay for the extra benefits in city driving. The CVT price was not given but we were told it will be the cheapest CVT system on the market.
The new model looks deceptively small: it has a bigger footprint and is bigger inside than the predecessor. There are plenty of storage spaces and even a hiding place for small items built into the front passenger seat in the mid-range SV version. The boot is also bigger with 265 litres of space; in the SV trim the rear seats can be folded down and then tumbled over to create 1,000 litres of cargo space with driver and front seat passenger on board.
There will be three levels of trim. The entry level XE gets six airbags, ESP and traction control and five headrests, and air conditioning is an option. A disappointment is that the wing mirrors have to be adjusted manually and there is no passenger grab handle but entertainment is well looked after with four speakers, a CD player, MP3 jack and Bluetooth phone connection. This will be the big seller with a price of €14,195, which means a price tag of about €11,200 with a scrappage deal.
The SV trim adds automatic air conditioning, cruise control and speed limiter, tumble down seats, driver armrest, driver's seat height adjuster and leather steering wheel. The pre-scrappage price here is €15,195 which is good value even in a very price-sensitive segment. The SVE version comes in at €16,995, and at that money buyers will be tempted to look elsewhere.
Options include a parking slot measurement system which will tell you if your Micra will fit into a parking space and this comes with rear parking sensors so you won't shunt the car behind. Fog lamps and 15" alloy wheels are also available and for €700 there is Nissan Connect, which lets you enjoy your iPod, iPhone, CDs, MP3, Bluetooth phone and touch-screen navigation system.
Nissan plans to sell 2,000 Micras this year in a market the company believes will see 100,000 new car sales. The supermini B segment makes up 20% of the market and Nissan is looking to take 10% of that.
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