By on March 30, 2015

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Here’s a riddle for you: what has a 1.6L engine making 106 horsepower, roll up windows, manual locks and cost $16,000? If your answer was “the Canada-only Nissan Micra” you’re wrong.

The answer is, in fact, my Grandmother’s 1999 Honda Civic, which she traded in for a Honda Fit LX. Inflation adjusted, her Civic costs about $21,676 in today’s Canadian dollars. Her Fit would have cost her $2,000 less back in 1999, or about what a Civic DX, which had no air conditioning or an automatic gearbox, would have commanded.

That same $14,000 is about twice the price of what a brand new, base model Nissan Micra would have cost back then. The Micra’s $9,998 sticker price today works out to just under $7,400. The same equipment, three more horsepower and much better crash safety (but a smaller car) now costs half of what it did right on the eve of the Y2K scare that never happened.

Even though Nissan insists that the Micra won’t make it to the States because the $9,999 Versa Sedan fills the same niche, there’s another factor looming beyond the PR messaging. The Micra drives the same as the EK Civic of 15 years ago. Getting in the Micra exposed me for the coddled, effete Millenial I am. I haven’t used a manual door lock since I sold my 1997 Miata, but knew that this was a car that did not have remote locks. Unfortunately, I then threw the keys in the cupholder and tried to poke an invisible starter button, thanks to the near ubiquity of “keyless start” systems.

The rest of the car feels like vintage Japan from two decades ago, from the driving position (low, steering wheel pointing straight out) to the plastics on the inside (about as good as an old Honda) to the NVH levels to the rubbery, long throw shifter to the coarse 4-cylinder engine. It’s a blast to drive in the same way that a Corona isn’t a very good beer, but is extremely satiating on a hot sunny day. In this bottle, the light weight and hilariously excessive bottle roll are the lime that provides a little extra fizz.

But it would never, ever fly in the United States, where merging onto freeways at 80 mph is a reality for many motorists, and parking spots were built for F-150s rather than built in the 1930s (as is the case in a few major metro areas up here). Half of all Micras are sold in Quebec, a market that is so influential that Canadian product planners make a special variant just for these skinflint buyers.

The Micra does not need to exist for American consumers. It may even be detrimental to Nissan’s aims for rapid expansion. If the Micra was introduced in America, it would be flayed, drawn and quartered worse than the Mitsubishi Mirage was. Because it’s forbidden fruit, it’s treated as a curiosity, “something we need in America” and “please Nissan, import it”.

To our first world tastes, the Micra feels like something you’d rent on vacation in some Caribbean country. To the locals, the Micra would be a pretty upscale car. Which is why Nissan is pushing so hard to re-introduce the Datsun brand pretty much everywhere but North America. After taxes, registration fees, import duties and other associated fees, a base Micra S like the one shown above could cost about $20,000 – or what I paid for my own Mazda3, which is literally twice the car in every qualitative measure.

That’s why Datsun is so important for Renault-Nissan. A truly basic vehicle at $5,000-$7,5000 is a big investment for many people in developing nations, but also a compelling alternative to walking, taking the bus, riding a moped with 7 other family members or an overpriced jalopy.  The hope is that one day, the Datsun customers will move up to something that shows that they’ve arrived. By purchasing a Micra. Small wonder that we’ll never see Datsun products on our shores. We wouldn’t want them anyways.

 

 

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102 Comments on “Generation Why: The Datsun Days Are Over...”


  • avatar
    CrapBox

    Oh good,despite being blessed with limitless resources, Canada is equivalent to “some Caribbean country,” not the USA.

    We’re the Venezuela of the North, tottering around in third-world tin cans.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      I’ve always found it odd that, in general, we (Canadians) reject most CPG and durable goods that aren’t somewhat artisanal and at least decently high up the quality ladder, but when it comes to cars, it’s just the cheaper the better.

      • 0 avatar
        sproc

        Not Canadian, but perhaps there’s a cultural perception that rust will eat a Micra as fast as an S-Class, so why bother?

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        After driving to Montreal for a weekend getaway I finally understood. The roads are horrible. The weather is gross. Parking is a nightmare.

        Most cars more than a few years old have some combination of curbed wheels, bumper rash (from those who insist on parking by brille) and rust.

        There is no point in having a nice car. It’s like wearing a suit to a construction site. It’s just going to get ruined and cost a fortune to fix.

        • 0 avatar
          Frownsworth

          That’s true. From what I gathered, Quebec’s insurance policies and pricing schemes encourages beater cars.

          Get only liability insurance and you can get away with cheap beaters.

          • 0 avatar
            JuniperBug

            Actually, insurance is affordable, far more so than neighbouring Ontario. Registration is a flat annual fee, independent of car age or value, except that cars with over 4.0L engines, IIRC, pay a surcharge.

            The crappy roads, tight parking conditions in the city, and enormous amounts of salt in the winter are very real problems, though. Even kids with 10 year-old ricer Civics will often have a winter beater and store their “nice” cars December-May in order to escape the rusting.

        • 0 avatar
          Acubra

          Quebec sucks. Roads are terrible, people are rude and aggressive, with the worst driving habits I’ve ever seen on this continent, petty crime aplenty.

          And culturally it is as different from your average “Canadian” folks (the further West the deeper the divide), as an average dweller of rural Alabama is from a San Fran socialite.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Of course, the odd paradox is that for all the rightfully-earned “Penalty Box” opprobrium heaped upon the Mirage, it ain’t exactly selling that bad (for a Mitsubishi).

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      It’s a car selling for used car prices with new car financing rates. A good fit for a certain demographic.

      • 0 avatar

        Four Mirage repos ran last week at the sale in Tampa. A harbinger of things to come.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        That’s a *growing* demographic in America, and one that is increasingly priced out of city living where car-free transit is an option. I suspect that ultimately Chinese manufacturers will make their entry catering to those buyers (well, and making Volvos) – just as VW did in the ’50s, Toyota/Honda/Datsun did in the ’70s, and Hyundai did in the ’80s.

        • 0 avatar
          derekson

          It is true that many manufacturers have entered the market via that route and moved upmarket, but I think it’s a pretty awful sign for Mitsubishi to regress to that market after being in the U.S. market for decades.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Mitsubishi has no shame, as evidenced by their sleazy manufacturing, supplier, distribution & dealership operations & workplace environment, and thousands of Mitsubishis will be “returned” by being driven into Mitsubishi dealerships & BHPH structures by intoxicated subprime debtors with Zero credit/FICO to lose.

            This speaks to a larger point; the 1st wave of vehicles being defaulted upon is now meeting up with off lease aspirations, timed neatly with the rapid surge in E-Z credit vehicle sales expansion that began approximately in 2011, and accelerated at a brisk clip through 2012, 2013 & 2014, and we’re about to witness a tidal wave of “pre-owned,” low mileage vehicles hit the auction block, filtering out into every nook & cranny of automotive retail asphalt & concrete (and gravel) parking surfaces, with sale tag prices posted prominently in the front windows.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I do the opposite with the keys thing, sometimes I will find myself thinking “Approaching car. Better get out keys!” And apparently I press the start button very subtly, because in the car with my dad on Saturday he said, “So you get in this and it starts right up, huh?” He had not seen me press anything.

    Also when I get into cars with column shifts, I automatically reach to the console, with my hand in gearshift-claw shape, ready to grab.

    You almost never see the word “jalopy” used these days.

    But it makes me think back to when I read almost all the Hardy Boys books as a child (silly requirement of reading such and such number of books each month). Chet had a jalopy, which I thought was a brand of car at the time. I remember many of the book covers had cars on them in one way or another, and I always thought “Oh there’s one of those jalopys.” and assumed they didn’t make them any more.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I had the same ‘refreshing’ experience when I test drove that aforementioned Versa S about 3 weeks ago. It’s just so basic and honest that you can’t hate on it. You get a car that can hold 4 full grown adults and take them on a long trip in relative, airconditioned comfort for less than $12k OTD. Shifter was a bit ‘disconnected’ and not as silky and direct as the one on my Civic, but it all went hand in hand with the driving experience.

    When I was 5, my family took a road trip to Daytona beach from Central NY in our rusty but trusty ’85 Civic Sedan. Tiny little thing with no air conditioning, and maybe all the better for it, as it had 76hp, probably less by the revised modern SAE ratings. A 106hp Versa S with air conditioning would have been like a Rolls Royce to us.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      That’s how I felt about the Nissan Sentra after a 10-day 3,000 mile rental. Nothing nice about the interior accoutrement. Shutting the door makes a hollow “pong” noise. The car is sensitive to crosswinds.

      However, the car is honest and two-speed CVT is a revelation at highway speed. The engine is 1.8L. The speedometer says 75. The tach says 2,200rpm. Crazy. Feels so luxurious to have a little tin can that can cruise so gracefully (as long as it’s not panhandle windy).

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I’ve been eying 6spd “S” model Sentras, they can be had brand new for $13,500 if you look around, and would make a perfect little commuter with enough room for car seats, with absolutely minimal cost of ownership. What I like is that unlike to many other basic manual transmission models, it comes with cruise control. Hyundai and Kia are perhaps the worst offenders at this, but the Japanese do it as well.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Same. My EK Civic is on its last legs, and I keep looking at off-lease and ex-rental Sentras as a replacement vehicle.

          I can scarcely bring myself to say it, but I’m actually looking at a CVT model. Nissan isn’t really known for transmission reliability, but you might want to check out a CVT model. Drone-free highway cruising in a 4-cylinder Japanese car is the best thing since sliced bread. I’m gambling that the transmission will last as long as I don’t thrash it.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Yeah I hear you on the ‘luxury’ of low rpm, high speed highway driving, getting out of my 2012 Civic that runs about 3000rpm @ 70mph into my gf’s Camry, that does about [email protected] 80mph is quite a revelation, makes for a more relaxed drive. And I think that in the lower torque, lower weight applications these jatco CVTs are just fine. It’s the ones in the 4000lb+ pathfinders and Quests with 3.5L V6s that I am very worried about. I just like zipping around in a 5spd around town too much to not get the manual option, doesn’t hurt when the shifter is a total pleasure to use, as is the case with my Civic thankfully.

            A coworker was recently car shopping, and ended up with a CVT Sentra SE, he’s been thrilled with the MPG, high 30s, touching 40 on his mixed commute, at the real world prices they go for, and how useful they are for people with children in car seats, I’d say the Sentras are a very smart/savvy choice, despite what the high and mighty ‘enthusiasts’ may say.

          • 0 avatar

            The Sentra also has a freakishly-large amount of backseat room.

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            On my trip I averaged over 38mpg, and I verified the fuel computer. If you have a light foot, you can easily eclipse 40mpg on 50mph backroads. Plus, Nissans are known for their touchy accelerators, particularly the 4.0L Frontiers. Eco mode actually makes the Sentra a better drive (can’t believe I’m saying this).

            Backseat is freakishly large like Kyree says. Shorter passengers can slouch, even with a tall driver like me in the front seat.

            Judging by the sales figures, the Sentra is the worst kept secret in America, but the enthusiast demographics haven’t really taken notice.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            I think the Sentra has a freakishly large (or at least usefully shaped) trunk as well. Alex Dykes managed to fit 22″ roller bags in the trunk upright.

  • avatar
    TangoR34

    And let’s not forget Hondas were over-engineered in those days for the money you pay for.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …where merging onto freeways at 80 mph is a reality for many motorists…

    You don’t drive in Seattle, do you?

    A Seattle merge is start up the ramp toward the highway, accelerate to about 55 MPH then hit the brakes, slow down to 40 to 45 MPH as you merge onto the highway and then lazily accelerate to 58 MPH, typically from the middle lane.

    If the person behind you is actually trying to get by the same driver may accelerate more aggressively to say 65 or 68 MPH matching lane change to lane change while watching you in the mirror, saying in their best Gandolph voice, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

    • 0 avatar

      South Florida, Texas and Michigan…

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Places I drive regularly for work, and I have rarely seen anything but the usual dawdle up the ramp and merge into traffic at a minimum of 20 below the prevailing speed of traffic. That is when traffic isn’t so heavy that the merge is at 10mph.

        This whole “need 400hp to merge safely” meme really needs to just stop, because it is unadulterated BS, and I don’t mean Bertel Schmidt.

        • 0 avatar

          Nobody said you need 400 hp to merge. But the Micra, as it is, would be considered “too slow” by many. This is an objective analysis not a value judgement.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            I don’t think that was his point Derek.

            There are those of your generation in particular in the enthusiast ranks, who didn’t grow up driving malaise and post malaise era vehicles in the 80s and early 90s, who believe, and will tell you with great insistence, that anything that can’t sprint 0 to 60 in under say 6 or 7 seconds is inherently dangerous because it is so slow. It cannot safely merge onto a highway and is a dangerous vehicle because of this.

            I drive a 394 HP vehicle sometimes, but mostly a 210 HP vehicle that weighs close to two-tons mated to a 4-speed automatic geared for fuel economy. My 0 to 60 time on a good day is about 10 seconds – I have never felt “unsafe” or had situations in the minivan from Satan there was any issue.

            When I owned a Probe during the late 80s, that car was considered a rocketship by any standard – and would be deemed by some of the B&B as a hapless unsafe death trap because it can’t get out of its own way on an onramp (0 to 60 for a Probe GT gen 1 was around 6-1/2 with good cold air feeding the turbo). I learned to drive in an ’83 Civic outside of Boston surrounded by malaise era yachts, my first car was a Ford EXP – neither of which could get out of their own way. Admittedly during the era of 55 MPH speed limits but there was plenty of power to merge onto the highway – and in 90% of situations still would be the case today.

            The only highway I’ve driven where it was, “go go go go go GO!” is Merritt Turnpike in Connecticut. The on ramps are extremely short and just dump you onto the road. There are a handful of ramps like that on the 101 in San Francisco and LA – but there are exceptions not rules.

            I believe that’s the meme they were pointing to – and I’m in full agreement.

            If I was pedantic, apologies in advance.

          • 0 avatar
            Onus

            @APaGttH

            The Merritt is horrible. That probably the only time I’ve ever merged onto a highway in first gear and 6000+ rpms.

            Now don’t get me started on the off ramps.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            @APaGttH: You drive a nearly two ton 210 hp car with a 4 speed automatic transmission? Hey, so do I! But I’m guessing yours doesn’t have a V8 and rear wheel drive…

          • 0 avatar
            derekson

            Isn’t a lot of the reason that the average US consumer considers smaller engined cars “too slow” the fact that most drivers never actually push the gas pedal down more than say 40-50%? Sure, a 150 HP car is plenty fast enough if you’re actually willing to USE all of the power, but if you’re only using 40% of the power then you need a 375 HP car to accelerate at the same speed.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Dereckson

            The average American driver could not find full throttle with a GPS, so you are 100% correct in my estimation.

            I had no trouble at all with short Northeastern merges in a 57hp Peugeot 504D. Put your foot in it and go.

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            @krhodes GM for one used to make it easier — full throttle was somewhere in the middle of the pedal.

            Ford was baffled in the mid-80s when their focus groups kept saying a GM product felt more powerful than a Ford they knew outperformed it. They eventually wired up the cars to measure exactly how people were driving them. The pedals never made it to the floor — which meant that the drivers were getting full throttle in the GM but only about 75% from the Ford.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Alexander Avenue in Sausalito, CA, just north of the Golden Gate is one specific example of a really short onramp.

            Another one is further north, merging onto 580W from Francisco Blvd E, just outside San Quentin on the west end of the San Rafael Bridge. Not only is it a short ramp, but you merge into an exit only lane for Sir Francis Drake Blvd, leaving you to dodge traffic exiting 580 while trying to get your speed up to the main flow of traffic in the space of about 500ft.

            Most of the ramps off 92 between 280 and 101 in the South Bay are also a mess.

            These are a few examples off the top of my head; there are a few more in the SF Bay Area. While they are the exception, they are pretty damn scary in a slow car.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        This is endemic in Northwest Ohio; started about eight or nine years ago!

        Traffic’s moving 65-70mph if not more, yet there’s always one fvcking idiot in front of me doing 50mph! I put my hazards on in that situation because several years ago, I was nearly rear-ended by a semi that didn’t see the line I was at the end moving at a crawl and didn’t adjust his speed accordingly — there was nowhere for him to go, with traffic to his left. (I would have had to come to a dead stop on the shoulder; it appeared that there was enough room for me to merge.)

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      APaGttH’s comment made me spit water out my nose.

      Far be it for me to generalize, especially given how insane Michigan residents drive, but I witnessed very eccentric driving during my fall ’14 trip to the Seattle Metro Area.

      I actually have an unsolicited job offer, and it’s a very good one as judged purely based on pay/benefits/security, but am just now learning about Washington State specific phenomena that I’ve not heard of before, such as “The Seattle Freeze.”

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I left out that once you give up passing Gandolph, they immediately slow back down to 58 MPH.

        Seattle is also stunning that as you pass Gandolph they’ll match yo u speed for speed, sometimes all the way to 80 MPH. They are completely oblivious to the fact they’re doing it. It’s a total unconscious passive aggressive Seattle thing – very weird. Somewhere between 75 or 80 you start to pull away and they fall back very quickly to their left lane cruising speed of 58 MPH.

        It really sucks the joy out of just “driving” around here.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          lol

          Passively-aggressively sucking the joy out of other peoples’ drive.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          A fun game on local rural two-lanes is to: 1) wait until there is a car behind you (who will be following too close because SOMEONE IS IN MY WAY); 2) gradually speed up, 1 mph at a time; and 3) see how fast you can get going before they realize they are going too fast. I hit 85 mph once on Highway 104 before the car behind suddenly dropped back.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            I get similar entertainment in a slightly different way: I drop my speed down 1 mph every thirty seconds or so. I’ve dropped down to as low as 40 mph a couple times before they realize that it’s actually possible to pass slower vehicles.

            I have absolutely no idea why they don’t come to that conclusion when they first encounter me, or why they enjoy being so close to other vehicles on an otherwise empty road.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I think the Seattle Freeze is more or less gone now, because after three crazy economic booms there are so few longtime Seattleites left among all the later arrivals.

        I’m grateful they all showed up. So many old-school Seattleites have cranky and antisocial personalities.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I have a “sort of” choice of living area if I were to relocate there: Issaquah, Kirkland or Sammamish.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Kirkland is my ‘hood. It’s an inner-ring suburb on the lake with a nice little downtown (the best suburban downtown in the area, IMO) and housing ranging from pretty expensive to OMGZ expensive mostly depending on how close to the downtown and the lake you are.

            Issaquah and Sammamish are outer-ring suburbs on the edge of the growth boundary (and very close to the mountains). Issaquah has two small downtown areas (one old and one new) but for the most part those places are your standard American suburban subdivision + big box experience. Housing is expensive but cheaper than Kirkland unless you are looking right on Lake Sammamish.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            @DeadWeight

            Don’t know if you’re following this tread anymore.

            If schools are important to you consider looking at Bothell. It’s further north, and if you’re having to commute south to Bellevue or Redmond it will suck. However the Northshore School District is one of the top in the state, and one of the top in the country. Very well funded. Housing in Bothell is also far more sanely priced. You can get 2X the house in Bothell that you would get in some parts of Kirkland or Bellevue.

            In Kirkland and Bellevue the schools that are good versus not so good (relatively) drive real estate pricing. In the most desirable areas with the best individual primary schools, prices in Bellevue in particular are absolutely insane.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          I would say the Seattle Freeze is very much alive and well – HOWEVER – Kirkland and some other communities are very much a bunch of ex-pats from other places in the US or globally, and is much more friendly than other areas.

          Moved to Kirkland last year and I’m now wondering why I insisted for a decade I would never become an “east sider.”

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Dal & ApaGttH – I appreciate the info on those areas. I am cranky/surly/jaded about things automotive, most things media & pretty much all politics (both sides of aisle), but despite my apparent crankiness on an automotive website, am very laid back with & non-judgmental about people (assuming they’re not barbarians).

            The prospective company has offered to give me a sneak & peak of those areas, at least, for anywhere from 2 to 4 days.

            It sounds, at this preliminary stage, that Kirkland would probably gel best with my personality, and I’ve been looking at home prices there online, and it is indeed somewhat expensive.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Huh. I moved to Kirkland last year too. I grew up in Bellevue, though, so being an eastsider wasn’t too novel.

            We wanted to stay in the city, but were priced out of the neighborhoods we wanted to be in (Cap Hill, Queen Anne, Roosevelt). The only city neighborhood that might have worked is Ballard, but access to the outdoors is so hard — compared to Kirkland, Ballard would add half an hour to the ski commute.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            @deadweight

            Kirkland is one of the most booming luxury home markets in the country – in the top ten. Average luxury home is just a mere 1.7 million I had read.

            There are more affordable areas but there is plenty of just – wow.

            There is a house in our neighborhood that was built in 92, 11,000 square foot lot, 2,600 square feet of house, does have a fair view of Lake Washington year round – they’re asking over $300 per square foot!

            There is another house just built near by and the asking price of 9,000 square feet of lot and 4,200 square feet of house is $1.335 million.

            The first house I mentioned won’t sell until they drop the price – a lot.

            The second one could sell at asking price but the floor plan is not very family friendly. It is ideally setup for people who are really into entertaining – and even in that layout some features are lacking on the lower level.

            Welcome to 2015 and the home of the ever expanding Google campus – which is driving a ton of speculation in Kirkland.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            So far I have discovered that Kirkland & Bellevue are really pricy, but have really good schools and really low crime rates.

      • 0 avatar

        We’ll have to meet up should you decide to take the job! As for the Freeze, it may have more to do with a couple of serial killers abusing our sense of trust than where one went to high school (which is how Louisville likes to ferret out strangers).

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          You’re referring to Bundy, Ridgway & Yates, right?

          I was reading a blog by a psychiatrist who has conducted peer-reviewed research, wherein she claims that both ancestry of Washington State residents (Nordic & Japanese, IIRC) and the high % of gray/overcast, damp days have conspired to depress peoples’ moods in the PNW.

          The Seattle Freeze thing is something I had never heard of until the last several days, as I was researching general info about the area, and it kept being mentioned on forums.

          I forgot to mention that when I was out there recently, I had the chance to check out Snoqualmie, which was really scenic, but probably pushing the envelope from a commuting perspective.

          • 0 avatar

            That would be them! I read about that aspect in this Medium story: https://medium.com/embrace-the-weird/bundy-affected-why-the-seattle-freeze-makes-perfect-sense-c1344118434f

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I didn’t realize Louisville had the same “Where’d you go to school?” disorder as Cincinnati.

          The correct answer to this question is which high school you attended. Your place in local society is likely determined by the answer to this question.

          (The correct answer is a private Catholic high school, and that you still live on the same side of I75 as where you grew up.)

          I get an exemption from this, as I live east of I75 now, but went to school in Indiana (far west of I75), which is outside the “zone of caring,” but not so far out as to be labeled stranger (still on 275 highway loop).

    • 0 avatar
      Stumpaster

      Ah yes, the infamous imaginary on-ramp test. Do the writers ever wonder what the truckers do on all these on-ramps? Stand on the on-ramp shoulder begging for some turbo boost? Or just accelerate the best they can and merge safely, using mirrors and sumsuch safety thingamajigs?

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        As a denizen of the northeast, and having driven a reasonable amount around NYC, LI, and Boston, I definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck in something that takes more than 9 seconds to get to 60. Yeah, you can do it, but you really prefer not to.

        In Pennsylvania it’s even worse, since the crazed terrorists who designed their highway system saw fit to have *yields* into 65 to 75mph traffic. If it takes you 10 seconds to reach that speed you’ve got a choice between flooring it and hoping the now-invisible-but-soon-inevitable guy who will come up on your hindquarters has radar cruise control, or waiting until the next holiday when traffic dies down.

        As for truckers, I imagine it’s a bit more likely that the coffee-sipping, friend-texting crossover pilots will notice and attempt to avoid a 60-foot-long, twenty-five ton big rig than they will something like a Nissan Micra.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I spent plenty of time driving a 98-hp ’88 Accord around New England, with a few trips to New York. As long as you didn’t try to be cutthroat aggressive it was just fine.

          The worst problem was actually on I-91 in Vermont, where the Accord’s top speed of about 90 mph was not sufficient to keep up with traffic flow. Vermonters are insane.

        • 0 avatar
          turf3

          I have to call BS on this one.

          I have successfully driven, in Houston, Dallas, and Boston traffic, the following cars:

          1962 Corvair van with 80 HP & 4 speed
          1978 VW Rabbit with auto trans (I have no idea how many HP, but there weren’t a lot of them)
          1982 Chevrolet Cavalier with 4 cyl. and auto (maybe 90 HP?
          1987 Mazda 626 with ~115 HP and 5 speed
          ~1986 Nissan pickup with ~120 HP and 5 speed
          1990 Volvo 240 with ~120 HP, auto trans, and curb weight of probably near 4000 lb.

          None of these cars scared me in merging onto freeways. I know how to enter a freeway. If the person in front of me won’t go fast enough I hang back so I can have enough room to accelerate.

          The only 2 cars I’ve ever driven that were truly inadequate were the 1974 Vega and the ~1984 Mercury Crapi with 4 cyl. Both of these were totally clapped out by the time I drove them.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            A Volvo 240 doesn’t weigh anywhere close to 4000lb…

            I find people take the ‘they’re tanks’ stuff a bit too seriously on the internet. They weight about 3000lb, which was pretty darn hefty in the age of 1800lb Honda Civics and 2500lb Accords, but it’s actually rather trim in the modern automotive world.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            3200lb, IIRC. They run like “tanks” and can certainly take a crash like one.

          • 0 avatar
            turf3

            OK, so I overestimated the weight of a Volvo 240. But no one has addressed the main point which is that if you know how to drive you do not need lots of HP to drive successfully and to get onto freeways.

            When I was learning how to drive, I was taught that you should attempt to drive so that a glass of water set on the passenger side floor would not spill. Adopt that attitude and you will need a lot less horsepower, you will go through brakes more slowly, and you will be able to go 170,000+ miles on a clutch. (I have never yet had the nerve to actually put the glass of water there, even with the rubber mats in my current vehicle the cleanup would be tiresome.)

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I could probably count on one hand the number of times someone on an on-ramp ahead of me accelerated as fast as a Micra with a manual transmission is capable of doing.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Allow me to take the role of Foghorn Leghorn and shout “what the heck happened to our society that people are so soft that they need air conditioning everywhere they go?”

    A/C in cars was not prevalent until the late 80’s. Has the planet really gotten that much warmer since then?

    Mr. Honda did not allow factory A/C in his company’s cars until after 1986.

    My old man drove Lincolns and Caddies after ’72 so he had A/C but his were usually the only cars in the neighbourhood that had them. We had some in our social circle who drove late 70’s BMW’s and Audis and they had roll down windows and no A/C.

    During most of the 1960’s our family of 5 made due with a Mini and various VW’s that had zero options. Not even a radio. And the windows in the Mini did not roll down, they slid. The baby rode in the cubby over the engine compartment in the back of a ’62 Beetle.

    “For gosh sakes, don’t your windows roll down?” “Oh no I forgot they don’t because your all too weak to actually roll down a window”

    Personally I believe that A/C is responsible for the obesity epidemic in North America.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I will counter that most modern cars simply aren’t engineered with open window motoring in mind, the days of vent windows blowing perfect laminar air at your crotch are gone. However, (warning: 4Runner content) on third gen 4Runners such as mine, equipped with a moonroof, a most comfortable and quiet laminar flow is formed throughout the entire cabin when you open the moonroof and have the tailgate window about half open. It is simply perfect, no buffeting even at 70mph. I drove from Akron Ohio to Hatteras North Carolina in the middle of June with this arrangement, and only for a few minutes of traffic in DC did I bother even turning the A/C on.

      • 0 avatar
        Tinn-Can

        Brings back memories… I had a 91 4runner with a moon roof as a first car. I don’t think I ever had the windows closed if it wasn’t raining. Also when stuck in traffic, the AC had an awesome crotch vent right below the steering column that would blow cold air up your shorts. That was the best system ever…

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Yes, the wonderful, adjustable crotch vent was retained until atleast the third generation. This is the sort of stuff I love about old Toyotas, everything is thought through to the n-th degree with nice little touches. Where they had a swing and a miss is not having a ‘mist’ feature on the wipers to make a single pass when you push the stalk, I have to turn them on then off. There is however an intermittent setting, something my 2012 Civic lacks.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        Concur with the comment about the moonroof 4 runner. That’s also my car.

        AC became necessary when the “cab forward” design became prevalent. An acre of slanted windshield that allowed direct sun on another acre of black dashboard. A heatsink of magnificent proportions. Prior to owning my first one (97 Saturn S1) I didn’t much care if the AC worked or not. Those design features with a Houston area summer are certain to turn you into an AC fan. They are the automotive equivalent to the home with black roof and unventilated attic.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Depends where you live. Living in Northern Virginia in the 1970s, air conditioning was considered mandatory. You could buy a car without it, but that was an admission of failure.

      Canada was different because you only had two months of hot weather, and that’s only in the Montreal-Windsor corridor. The rest of the country either got rain or occasional short heat waves.

      • 0 avatar
        AKADriver

        I love in NoVA today and daily drove a Miata with broken A/C until late last year. But, that’s a car with 360 degree airflow.

        I replaced it with a Mazda 2 because apparently it’s capable of breaking the laws of physics every time I merge onto the beltway with only 100hp.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Allow me to take the role of Foghorn Leghorn and shout “what the heck happened to our society that people are so soft that they need air conditioning everywhere they go?”

      Two factors: More people live in areas of the country where ambient temperature routinely exceeds body temperature, air conditioning basically required to stay alive, and cars designed for improved aerodynamics have lots of glass area compared to older cars.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Mr. Honda did not allow factory A/C in his company’s cars until after 1986.”

      My grandma had a ’79 Civic with A/C. Pretty sure it was factory.

      I rode in a carpool in elementary school that used an ’83 Accord part of the time. That one had A/C, also pretty sure it was factory.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        I had an 83 Accord, pretty sure it had factory AC.

      • 0 avatar
        djsyndrome

        Probably not. The A/C units had a factory look but were port- or dealer-installed. They were still doing this when I bought my 1995 Civic Vx.d

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Same here.

          Bought a 1994 Civic EX new and most Hondas of that era had “plug & play” AC modules installed by dealers.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @dj and @DW are both correct. Prior to ’87 any AC unit in a Honda was a dealer installed unit. Nothing shipped with AC from the factory.

            Mr. Honda was adamant that they were a motor company and that AC impaired the performance of their motors.

            As for AC allowing Singapore to gain 1st world status. The argument can be made that AC is the most important invention of the 20th Century. It changed settlement patterns throughout the world.

            As an example the southern part of the US was a backwater with little to no manufacturing prior to AC. With the advent of air conditioning industry was able to move from what is now the rust belt.

            Even movie making and TV started on the east coast. Movies gained popularity because they were air conditioned so the masses could leave their tenements and relax in air conditioned comfort while they watched movies.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            My ’94 Civic EX came standard with A/C. I think the EX-grade Civics came from Japan (as mine did), so perhaps they did install the units after they got here on the boat.

    • 0 avatar

      Lee Kwan Yu credits A/C with allowing Singapore to flourish.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Having grown up in, and started my driving life in, cars without A/C, all I can say is – no f’ing way am I sweating my balls off in a car without A/C ever again. Opening the windows just means you are hot and deafened too. And this is in Maine, which might as well be the North Pole compared to most of the country. Exception made for little old convertible British sportscars used only on perfect weather days. And even then, if I ever buy the MGB GT that I have wanted for ages, it will have A/C put in it.

      YOU might not mind heat, but I would be perfectly happy for the temp to never exceed 70F, and never does the inside temp of my house exceed that, year round. One of the advantages of living in the first world is climate control, and I take full advantage of it.

      • 0 avatar
        mechaman

        And not much fun listening to my Progressive Rock CD’s with the windows down. Or my Drums and Bass CD’s .. and so on. Seriously, on all but the worst days I can miss A/C, but I don’t like to. Family won’t sit still for it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Personally I believe that A/C is responsible for the obesity epidemic in North America.”

      AC isn’t, but high-fructose corn syrup probably is.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      Spend a summer in Dallas or Houston without AC in your car. Let’s see how much you enjoy going to your job interviews in a dark suit and tie when it’s pushing 100F and >80% RH outside. Yeah, right. You’ll be at the auto dealer the next morning as soon as they open.

      Wait till you come out of the office at 5:30, when the theoretical temp at the airport in a big open field is 106, and the actual temp on the street is 110, and your car has been thermally soaking all day and the internal temp is around 160F. And remember, nowadays in the big city, leaving your car unlocked with all the windows down is a good way to find yourself buying a replacement the next day.

      Finally, I call BS on “AC in cars was not prevalent till the late 80s”. In Texas, AC was practically universal from the mid 60s on, except for the super-el-cheapo models and work trucks. I know, I was there.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I call and trump your statement.

        At no time did the southern part of the USA constitute the majority of worldwide vehicle sales.

        Even in the United States, the sale of new cars with standard factory installed air only exceeded 50% around the 1968 model year.

        Remember how much market share VW had in N.A. from the late 50’s to the mid 70’s with no A/C available ? The first domestic manufacturer to offer A/C standard across their line was American Motors and this certainly didn’t sweep them in to profitability. In the 1950’s the UK exported more vehicles worldwide than the US (domestic) manufacturers and they put A/C units only in their most prestigious models/lines.

        With so many Mirage/Micra type vehicles sold in emerging markets and many northern European vehicles sold without air conditioning, non A/C cars still retain a significant market share.

        If we based worldwide vehicle trends on the Texas market/experience then wouldn’t most of us be driving Suburbans? (Not that I wouldn’t mind one, particularly this winter).

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          A/C became more or less standard when it got to the point that it cost more to build some cars with it and some cars without it. It maybe made sense to not get it as an expensive option on a car 30+ years ago if you were in a place like Maine, but it sure doesn’t now.

          Like everything, as the technology improved and proliferated the cost of it plummeted. Same with house A/C units – I bought my first window A/C 20-odd years ago for my first apartment and it was a good deal at ~$350. Today something similar is $100.

          The only cars offered without A/C today in the US are absolute stripper price leaders, and even then good luck actually finding one to buy. My folks didn’t buy a car with A/C until the 1980s, but that is because they are [email protected] Yankees, not because they didn’t want it. Once they bought the first one (’82 Subaru), they never bought another vehicle without it. Not wanting it makes you just plain weird in my estimation. Are you some sort of human/lizard cold blooded hybrid??

        • 0 avatar
          turf3

          OK, I yield on the statistics. But I do not yield on my response to the implication that all of us who want/demand AC in our cars are weenies. If you have trouble with internal thermogenesis, or you live up North, OK; but I am telling you that in the South, as soon as AC became available it was immediately adopted, and that this did not happen sometime in the 80s by a bunch of wimpy whining baby boomers and Gen-Xers, but in the 60s by the same folks who fought World War Two and lived through the depression (buncha whiners, like my grandmother and mother who rode in a Ford T model from Kansas to Idaho in 1935, just a woman and her 7 year old daughter alone, or my father who fought 4 years in the Pacific…)

          Other parts of the world, or the Northern US, I can’t speak to as I wasn’t there then.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Remember that I started my statement with a clear reference to a cartoon character. It was meant to be ‘tongue in cheek’.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Remember once my infant daughter was crotchety in her car seat. Kept crying all the way to our destination. I knew from the baby books that a baby who cries for no reason is a baby that will be asleep in 30 minutes. Still, it persisted. Turned out that the belt buckle against her leg gave her a 2nd degree burn. It was Phoenix. Sometimes you have to turn the steering wheel with the calluses on your hand.

      So yeah. Sometimes you need air-conditioning.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      “A/C in cars was not prevalent until the late 80’s.”

      Maybe on imports, but for domestic cars, that wasn’t really the case where I lived (MI and IL). Pretty much anything but an econobox was optioned with A/C the vast majority of the time.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    You obviously don’t live somewhere humid. Here in Seattle, we use our air conditioning year-round. It’s called DEFROST for 9 months of the year. It dehumidifies the air which keeps the insides of the glass clear.

    I wouldn’t drive a car here without it. Especially with any passengers as in that case, without A/C on a wet day you will never keep the windows clear.

    [I rarely comment on this site any longer, and again am reminded why – with the half-minute page load time, and then the page refreshes one of which wiped out my first try at this comment – what in the heck is going on?]

  • avatar

    The way Derek talks down to and about Americans is so cute. It is, however, entirely true that Versa covers the same ground. And so does the “new” Mitsubishi Mirage. The press hates the latter.

    My 2010 daily driver has mechanical locks and crank windows (and automatic transmission, because manuals are for people who think they are better than everyone else).

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    Why has A/C become near mandatory? I live in Atlanta, where it’s hot probably from April-October. You NEED Air Conditioning. I suppose in some parts of the country, you don’t, but here, you do. I also credit the longer commute times in Atlanta over the last 30 odd years. You can tolerate no AC for 15-30 minutes. Try sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, moving 5 mph, with no A/C, for an hour, and see how you feel once you get to your destination. People move more than they may have 30 years ago; you may not need a/c where you’re currently living, but you may wherever you end up next. It’s also cheaper and better quality for an automaker to limit options and build very few configurations of a vehicle, and most consumers now expect A/C, so it’s become standard over the last 30 years. The last cars I remember it being optional on (and I mean TRULY optional, not it’s an extra cost feature that all of them come with) were the bottom feeder Japanese subcompacts of probably 30 years ago. It quickly became standard by around 1990.

    I don’t know what a Micra would sell for in the United States. I think it’s safe to say that there wouldn’t be a lot of cost in meeting safety standards, because I expect Canadian safety/emission standards are about the same. But how much profit can there be in a car that costs $10,000? It cannot be significantly less expensive to produce than, say, a Corolla; it takes about the same labour, development, engineering, and marketing, and despite the internet longings for a simple car, I think about three people would actually buy it, and those people are the kind of people who will run the car into the ground and not buy something often. Not a very lucrative market. Perhaps in Quebec with the salt and rougher roads, this is a reasonable proposition but I would certainly pay a little more and get a Versa if I were in this bracket.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I kind of wish the $12k Versa was the hatch version, not the trunk. I’d add aftermarket cruise, and call it good. Too bad the Versa Note is $Thousands more.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “that a Corona isn’t a very good beer” Agreed, not only not good, there’s no character. I’d rather have Sol or some of the local “ales”, and if it is very hot, a sweet cold cider.

    We get the Micra down here. Doesn’t look too bad for being an econobox, although this generation got a more sober interior.

    You’re spot on on how it would be marketed in the 3rd world, Toyota and Honda do something similar with the Yaris and Fit/Jazz.

  • avatar

    Great article Derek! And as much as I hate to admit, I grudgingly agree. You see, I think these small cars nowadays are great cars, so the more the merrier. There are those that can compete however. The Fiesta, Versa, 500 and Mini come to mind. The Spark looks very good on paper. The top of the line March/Micra I recently test drove for TTAC is better looking and equipped than this. Out the door for 42 k reais (not counting discounts) and the dollar at 3.2 reais brings it to 13 k. With our levels of taxes, surely there would be a lot more meat on the bone than here. With space to reduce the price. Shame the March has the issues I pointed out. There are small cars out there that conciliate all these points better.

    I think they’ll continue to be a low volume presence in NA that will grow or recede according to economic conditions. They’re here, they’re good they’re relatively safe. As to on ramps, step on the thing, it’ll go.

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