By on May 16, 2014

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Canada and the United States are different in a thousand subtle ways. Surely, our auto market accounts for a few of those things. Our streets are tighter, our gas is more expensive and due to our tiny market (smaller than California’s) and our American-style regulations, our product mix mirrors that of what’s offered in America. But if the Nissan Micra is successful, that might change.

A look at Canadian sales charts are enough to illustrate the difference in tastes: when it comes to passenger cars, Canadians favor the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. Mid-size sedans, the perennial leader in America, are far less popular north of the border. Large cars are a non-entity, and hatchbacks and diesels (as well as manual transmissions) have always been more popular in Canada. Especially in Quebec.

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So it’s hardly a coincidence that Nissan chose to launch their Canada only, A-Segment hatchback in La Belle Province, where the first 200 units were sent – and sold in a matter of days, with 10 percent of those being the base model, which has a manual transmission and no air-conditioning. That model will set you back $9,998 CAD, or $9,183 USD, an astonishingly low price for a brand new car with a warranty.

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And we didn’t even get to drive one. Nissan had only a few base cars on hand, and all were snapped up by the Quebecois motoring press, even circumventing the sign-up sheet that Nissan circulated, leaving us Anglo scribes to face the indignity of well-optioned Micras – some with two pedals. Quelle dommage.

Nissan was emphatic that the Micra is not coming to America, and as much as that could change (it’s made in Mexico and complies with Canadian regulatory standards, which are essentially identical to American standards), there’s a reason for it. The Versa sedan, with its roomier interior, smooth CVT and better NVH characteristics, is the car that is much better suited to American conditions, namely lots of highway driving and interior space.

That’s not to say that the Micra is a bad car by any means. In fact, it’s the kind of car that the Canadian market has been clamoring for since Hyundai stopped selling a manual, no options Accent hatchback for – you guessed it – $9,999 some years ago. But compared to the three-door Accent of the mid 2000′s, the Micra is a much more appealing proposition.

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Only one bodystyle – a five door hatchback – will be offered. Nissan invested a fair amount in small tweaks for Canada: things like rear seat heater ducts and a split folding rear seat (to better fit hockey equipment – seriously) are integral to all Micras sold up here, along with a number of improvements to the structure for crashworthiness. There are three trim levels offered, from the base, no options “Quebec special” to the fully loaded SR. That version will top out at around $16,000 CAD (or about the price of a base model Honda Civic), and come with Bluetooth, a backup camera, alloy wheels and an optional 4-speed automatic transmission.

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At 150 inches long, the Micra is about 10 inches shorter than a 1992 Honda Civic hatchback, (but the same amount longer than a Fiat 500). At 2300 lbs, it’s not far off in terms of weight either, and the cars share similar powertrains. Honda may have stuck with 1.5L single cam engines in the Civic hatchback, but the Micra’s 1.6L DOHC 4-cylinder only makes 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque, while behaving and sounding very much like the Honda 4-cylinder engines of 20 years ago.

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Hindsight makes it easy for us to forget that the Civics of that era weren’t the most sporting vehicles, and neither is the Micra. Most of the driving thrills come from the novelty of piloting something so diminutive and unfiltered, with lots of thrashing engine noises, a low driving position and a tiny footprint – but there’s probably potential for the Micra to be honed into something truly fun, much like the Civic. The 5-speed manual transmission is a bit rubbery, but is satisfying nonetheless.

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The 1.6L engine requires you to keep your foot pinned to the floor for any real acceleration, but unlike a Mitsubishi Mirage or a Fiat 500, you don’t feel like it’s ever struggling for breath in the middle of the rev range. Even more surprising was the 4-speed automatic – in this day and age, it sounds like a punchline for a cliche Toyota Corolla joke, but the 4-speed does an admirable job of getting the car up to speed, and let’s the Micra use 500 fewer revs at highway speeds (60 mph sees about 2500 rpm in the auto, versus around 3000 with the manual). Fuel economy, at 27/35 mpg city/highway, isn’t up there with other subcompact and compact cars, but that’s likely due to the transmission choices and the lack of em-pee-gee-optimized styling that bigger, pricier rivals have to their advantage.

Most promising is the chassis, which is shockingly adept at soaking up bumps on Quebec’s notoriously harsh roads. Only the short wheelbase prevents the Micra from having a truly compliant ride. Body roll is unavoidable on a car like this, and the Micra is no hot hatch, but at least the electric steering has decent weight to it and even provides a fair bit of feedback.

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Inside, the Micra is constructed almost exclusively of black hard plastic – but if you’re expecting better, then you need to manage your expectations. Like most Japanese cars, everything appears to be well assembled, and all the materials appear to be durable and hard-wearing. The backup camera’s tiny screen is difficult to make out in the sunlight, but it’s hard to fault the Micra by virtue of offering it in this segment.

For the Canadian market, the Micra is an interesting and viable proposition. Easy to park, simple to maneuver in tight spaces, with a minimal appetite for fuel and what seems to be a relatively hassle free ownership experience, the Micra offers a chance for a number of Canadians to get a brand-new car when they might have otherwise had to have opted for used. To an American audience, this may sound like damming it with faint praise, but the reality for us is that with gas, insurance, taxes, vehicle prices and a higher cost of living, owning a car is much more of a financial burden than it is in the United States. For newly landed immigrants, teenagers getting their first car, or even someone looking for a reliable winter beater, there’s now an affordable option that has all of the safety and modern conveniences of a new car, for less than the cost of a good used car.

Nissan says that if the Micra does well, they’ll look at bringing in other Canadian-appropriate models from world markets. So far, other OEMs have been shy about putting resources towards Canadian market offerings, and given the economics of our market (European tastes and American regulations), it’s easy to understand this reluctance. But having taken a gamble on homologating the Micra for Canadian tastes, Nissan has taken a bold risk, and they should be rewarded for doing so – hopefully with a new customer base that will stay with the brand as they move up into other products that are also tailored for Canadian tastes. With any luck, the competition will take notice.

Nissan provided travel, accommodations and meals for this review. Yes, that is a real, authentic Quebec topless roadhouse in the background of the second photo. It was not open at the time of the photoshoot, but all the stories you’ve heard are true.

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63 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2014 Nissan Micra...”


  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    in some parts of the world the Micra comes with a 1.2 3 cyl. with a massive 75hp and 75lb/ft

    of course you can get a 4 spd auto too

    are you not entertained?

    better off with the Koleans who have a 1.4 4 cyl. with workable outputs and at least a 6 spd man.

    4 spd autos dont sound like a good idea here

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Why would you need air conditioning in Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      Where I live in Canada, temperatures from June to September top 30C with humidity that makes it feel into the 40s (that’s over 100F for you non-metric types). I wouldn’t consider a car without A/C, if not for the summertime comfort, then at least for the wintertime defogging capability, given our also-humid winters. My parents have a summer home in Nova Scotia along the Bay of Fundy. That’s a place where you could probably live without A/C, but for the thousand bucks or so, I wouldn’t be that much of a cheapskate.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        I’m in the Maritimes, so I can honestly say we need A/C here too. If you’re not near the coast, it’s the same weather conditions you mention above. The humidity is at times unbearable.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Because much of this country can see +35C in the summer (before humidex) and -35C in the winter (before wind chill).

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Not all Canadians live in Igloos year round, despite what Americans have been told. Parts of Canada get extremely hot and humid for extended periods of time, especially Southern Ontario. Therefore, A/C is highly desirable for a lot of Canadians.

      • 0 avatar
        gtrslngr

        Exactly ! Vancouver BC has some of the most temperate weather in N.A. Toronto can get hot as hell and humid as a sweatbox in the summer . The middle provinces can be murder come mid July . Even Montreal has a habit of reaching into the upper 90′s in summer . I’ve been in Quebec City when its hit the high 80s . So yeah … most Canadians in the more populated areas definitely want [ and need ] A/C

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I’m probably not the only American reading this who has no idea what 30C is supposed to feel like.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        30C = 86F. Add a few more degrees and some East Coast humidity to that, and you end up with some pretty miserable weather.

        We may joke about Canada, but we all ought to know that the weather doesn’t immediately change at the border. It gets damned hot and sticky in eastern Canada during the summer.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          Mb and Sk get really sticky hot too, I think due to Lake Winnipeg, and other large lakes in the region.

          Per Wiki, Manitoba has 3 of the worlds largest 35 lakes by area (12, 27 and 32). Not quite as much immediate water as Southern Ontario and Michigan but noticeable none the less and it sure seems to affect the region.

    • 0 avatar

      Windsor, Ontario is due south of Detroit. Toronto is about as far north as Milwaukee and I don’t hear of people in Wisconsin foregoing A/C.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Such truth. Yearly temperature swings of 120⁰ F. In the state capitol, Madison, one can enjoy some truly 3rd world stench and rot in summer owing to its being sandwiched on an isthmus between two lakes.

        One earns PC indulgences by living in a gentrified attic in Monona without air-conditioning.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    I was just checking out one of these on the streets of Frankfurt this morning. If for no other reason than because it has actual windows instead of gunslits, I like it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yes!! The greenhouse looks straight from the late 90s-early 2000s, and thank God for that!

      Neat car. 109hp/107tq is perfectly fine for 2300lb, I wonder if that decent torque figure has a lot to do with the super long intake runners that Nissan likes to put on their I4s. Unfortunately they cover up the whole top of the engine. Then again in the age of 100k mile spark plug intervals it’s not a big deal I suppose.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Well, the beltline still climbs toward the butt too much for me but it’s certainly better than the hatches we get in the States. Overall, it’s very 2006.

      I sure love seeing how much others hate the gunslits thing, too.

  • avatar
    darex

    Derek, it’s “Quel dommage.” ;-)

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Many of these will be sold as winter cars to people who put away their sports car or convertible in the fall.
    $10k, 0% and a warranty looks pretty good when compared to a $5k rustbucket.

    • 0 avatar
      minivanman

      I certainly would not say “many”, more like a handful. The target market is definitely people who can barely affort a new vehicle, not those with cars they do not use for more than half the year.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        You would be surprised. I know quite a few people who buy this type of car (Kia, Mazda 2, Yaris) so that they can drive a Miata, BMW or 370Z all summer. Do a search on Kijiji.ca for “never winter driven” or “never seen snow” and you’ll see what I mean. Over 300 hits in my mid-size market.

        These $10k no-frills cars are way more reliable than winter beaters, and arguably cheaper if you factor-in maintenance and the inconvenience of no-starts on a -20 morning.

        The “can’t afford a car” crowd drives older rusted Caravans.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          Modern electronics though tend to freak out once the temperatures go belew -20C. At least, Nissans do.

          It would be fairly easy to make a good hot hatch out of this. Both it and the Note share platforms with the Renault Sport Twingo and Clios, so the parts bin is there if anyone got ambitious.

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    ” … due to our tiny market (smaller than California’s) …”

    This is the second day in a row you’ve repeated that assertion. Yesterday in the comments I quoted the numbers from Matt’s Blog, the most frequently-cited source of sales data at TTAC. They indicate that for the most recent full calendar year the two markets were essentially a wash, with Canada actually slightly ahead (1.74 million vs 1.71 million). Are you disputing Matt’s numbers or using a different definition of vehicle sales?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Could someone please provide an explanation as to why in Canada we use mostly U.S. safety specs and tests (with some exceptions such as daytime running lights) yet put restrictions on the import of U.S. sources vehicles?

    There are currently a few other vehicles that are sold in Canada but not the U.S. The Kia Rondo and Chev Orlando come to mind. Both are highly functional small people movers.

    And yes, having a split/fold rear seat is necessary for carrying your hockey equipment. I can’t currently think of one car that fits a hockey stick in its trunk so they have to fit in length wise. Having a split fold rear seat allows you to carry sticks, equipment bags and 3 people. The best small vehicle for this being the Mazda 5 which due to its seating configuration allows you to carry 4 people and their equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The Nissan Xtrail (not lol) I noticed while in Canada, as well as the Acura EL (lol). I was trying really hard to spot unique cars while there, but those were the only two I could see. This was in 2010.

    • 0 avatar
      claytori

      We don’t. Passive restraints (AKA airbags) are not required equipment in Canada. But if the vehicle is built with them (i.e. everything) then they must be maintained operative. The market now demands this level of equipment. There are some other small differences as well.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Because what everyone loves is a car in Superman blue with red door handles, and grey wheel covers and a white stripe. Honestly, who would choose that combo?

    It kills me how some people just refuse to buy a used car, they MUST have something new, and it MUST be cheap and base level. I have never auto shopped in that headspace.

    I had always thought SL was the top trim level for Nissan. But then you mention SR, and I saw an Altima 3.5SR today in the garage which looked very chromed/trimmed. So SR is molto benne?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “It kills me how some people just refuse to buy a used car, they MUST have something new, and it MUST be cheap and base level. I have never auto shopped in that headspace.”

      Well, cheap, base level and CPO spins my beanie. Tough to find, though. You often have to take stupid frills you don’t want if everything else clicks. Like alloy wheels. I prefer steelies and caps. Or just raw steelies.

      • 0 avatar
        Tinker

        It’s why I drive a 2011 Mazda CX7 SV (base model). Yes it has alloys, no, they’re not my fault. (I bought it with 30,000 miles on it, an ex-dealer rental car.) CPO and we are sitting just north of 34,000 miles.

        I don’t get the compulsive rear view cameras that makers put in these sorts of cars, either. But it has bigger door openings than the small Jeep (Patriot?); does not have exaggerated throttle tip in, and it doesn’t jostle my old bones. You step on the gas, and it makes forward progress, after-a-fashion.

        it doesn’t suffer from the combination of upper curve below the rear windows, combined with the downward curve in the roof line. (Is THAT why makers insist on using rear view cameras?!)

        It won’t have 60,000 miles when we sell it. Yes, we expect this will be our last car. My biggest complaint is that the door has two stop positions, instead of just one, so it is always a choice whether you open it fully, and ding your door and theirs, or open it to a lesser size, and have to struggle to get out of the car at all.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      “Honestly, who would choose that combo?”

      A recent transplant from France who misses home?

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Quebecers like weird colour combinations, I think it’s part of their identity. There are some oddly coloured houses in Quebec.

      • 0 avatar
        gtrslngr

        Pardonne moi … but that would be Quebecois .. not Quebecers ! And for the record . ALL Canadians have a penchant for odd colors … from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and everywhere in between . Great folks and a great country mind you . But their sense of style-fashion-design and color does leave something to be desired

        • 0 avatar
          frobertson

          Ummmm…… “All Canadians… Nova Scotia to……” Left out a province on the East Coast… Welcome to Newfoundland. We have snow on the ground for about 8 months a year, highs of about 75f in the summer ( not counting the wind chill) literally thousands of square miles of wilderness (and that’s not even including the wonderful space that is the Big Land – Labrador), really crappy cow trails that the government calls highway, and 1.45l gas. We are where cars come to die…. On quiet nights you can hear them rust.

          We don’t really need AC, but we are getting spoiled by cars with heating and cooling!

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      As soon as I saw that car, I thought “only in Quebec would you see that colour combo”. I lived in Quebec for a summer years ago, and the variety of Ford Aspires, Hyundai Accents, Cavaliers, Sunfires, etc., with gaudy stripes/questionable body “enhancements”/bad aftermarket paint jobs was a shock to my Ontario eyes. If Nissan can sell factory combinations like this, they’ll have 50% of the Quebec market in no time.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I saw, here in Ohio on two separate occasions the same black Avenger. On the sides it has pink, purple, and silver 80s detailing. It’s God-awful. I can’t even describe how awful it looks, like some amped up detailing off an old Plymouth Breeze or a Beretta GTZ.

      • 0 avatar
        frobertson

        Ummmm…… “All Canadians… Nova Scotia to……” Left out a province on the East Coast… Welcome to Newfoundland. We have snow on the ground for about 8 months a year, highs of about 75f in the summer ( not counting the wind chill) literally thousands of square miles of wilderness (and that’s not even including the wonderful space that is the Big Land – Labrador), really crappy cow trails that the government calls highway, and 1.45l gas. We are where cars come to die…. On quiet nights you can hear them rust.

        We don’t really need AC, but we are getting spoiled by cars with heating and cooling!

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      It’s my experience and observation that the total cost of ownership in a vehicle is directly proportional to the original purchase prices of that vehicle. I’d rather have a newer, lower line car than an older, higher line car. Basic cars are pretty good these days, and newer cars require fewer repairs and less maintenance than older cars.

      Why would someone else’s preferences bother you?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Just something I wouldn’t do. It doesn’t bother me – if they want a crapcan go right ahead.

        • 0 avatar
          sitting@home

          For someone who’s car HAS to start every morning of the year in temperatures from sub-zero to post-Saharan, and who can not afford down time while it is at a mechanics, then a brand new $10k crapbox makes a lot more sense than an aging $10k status symbol.

          When I was young my dad always had the most car for the money because he was an able mechanic and could arrange alternate transport when necessary. My mother always had the newest car for the money because her job, and often people’s lives, depended on reliable transport at all times.

          • 0 avatar
            Jamez9k

            Some people in the States have no idea how beat to crap our cars get around here. Bad roads, yearly salt bath and temperature extremes. Add to this that owning and maintaining a car is much more expensive here : I order parts online from the US and with shipping and customs I still save money compared to buying local.

            No doubt in my mind that buying a new 10k Micra vs. a used 10K compact will be less expensive in the long run. 3% vs 6-9% interest rates, warranty, probably worth more after its paid off/useful longer, less missed work because your car didn’t start one morning.

            Of course the car could end up being a complete pile that falls apart after 100k km. Only time will tell.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Sigh, this is exactly the sort of car I like. What’s with the random notches in the interior B-pillar beside the seats?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I’m a bit charmed that the Micra somewhat resembles a tiny London taxi; even more so in black.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t come in black.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Headlights = eyes
    Upper grill = nostrils
    Lower grill = mouth
    License plate = teeth

    Add all that up and car looks like hamster.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Ha Quebec gets the early production flaws
    .
    Don’t you get the Nissan Canada pitch? Topless babes for non A/C Micra…

    Here I go again.. bet Micra SR with auto & air = a Sentra @ year-end lease.

    It’s not just the French. You should see some of the Brompton folding bike combos. A train wreck.

    Class leader? Micra needs CVT for another 500 off the RPM count & rear discs for wet weather highway.

  • avatar
    Jolgamazatlan

    Derek, great first look at what we call the March here in Mexico! You also were very astute to notice a positive trait that no other writer has ever mentioned.
    “But the 4-speed does an admirable job of getting the car up to speed, and lets the Micra use 500 fewer revs at highway speeds (60 mph sees about 2500 rpm in the auto, versus around 3000 with the manual.
    I’ve had this little gem for abut 7 months now but I must admit that I have never gone on a trip outside the city with it.
    Hmmmm perhaps we could drive from Mazatlan to California this summer instead of taking a Flying Cattle Car (formerly known as a plane). Maybe this thing is a as good as most cars on the highway and it’s not the buzz-box I thought it would be? One caveat though, there is no cruise control available for this car anywhere in the world … yes I looked, but on the other hand it feels like a drive by wire throttle and a baby could push it down. Decisions, decisions.

    And peeps please don’t sweat the “Quebec is a guinea pig thing” the March/Micra has been manufactured for years in Mexico and is a well-honed, surprisingly tight little unit ….. for the price.

  • avatar
    JohnnyFirebird

    Glad you enjoyed your time in Quebec! The Micra is a nice little car, but not really for enthusiasts. My friend (in BC, oddly enough) wants something like this, but really, really wants it in purple. So that limits him to a Mirage or Chevy Spark – the closest is a gross sea blue / green on the Micra.

    The leasing rates are pretty terrible, so this seems like a good car to finance or buy cash.

  • avatar
    dwight

    Bought mine. SR loaded. Just the car I was waiting for…cheap, small, nimble hatchback. Rock on. Sorta.


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