Nissan March / Micra

Debut: 2010
Maker: Nissan
Predecessor: March / Micra (2002)

Time seems going backward in the make of new March...

Eight long years can make a lot of progress. So after waiting for eight years, we expected the new Nissan March (or Micra in Europe) to advance a lot from the outgoing generation. To our disappointment, the new March does not seem that good. Its jelly styling has lost the character of the old car. Its interior lacks the quality of European superminis. Compare with today's rivals, the new March seems to be a cheaper, downgraded choice. This coincides with the fact that the car is no longer built in Japan, but in the lower cost Thailand, India, China and Mexico. The cars sold in Japan and Europe will be imported from Thailand and India respectively.

Two reasons led to the change of production site: 1) Carlos Ghosn considered Japan no longer viable to produce cars as cheap. It has to concentrate on higher value products and let the cheaper countries to do the cheaper cars. 2) The marketing focus of March has shifted from the saturated home and European market to fast-growing developing countries. From cost or marketing point of view, it makes more sense to produce the car near its target markets.

Inevitably, the suppliers at India or Thailand are not as state-of-the-art as those in Japan. Also, customers of developing countries are not as demanding in areas like fit-and-finish, materials quality or driving dynamics. Instead, they care more about space and practical features, low running costs, easy to maintenance and good ride on their rough roads. These factors play important roles behind the development of the new March, although the design and engineering was actually done in Japan.

The marketing focus of March has shifted to developing countries...

Nissan said the car is built on its new, global V platform (V for Versatile). Its main advancement is a very flexible dimensions, capable of underpinning the next generation Note, Tiida, a small SUV and equivalent Renault models so that combined volume will amount to 1 million units per annum. However, this seems to have little benefit to the March itself, for this platform is no more than a conventional one. Suspensions are the predictable MacPherson struts up front and an H-beam at the rear. Electric power steering and 5-speed manual gearbox are standard. Xtronic CVT is optional.

Only the top engine gets auto start-stop. The base engine – also the majority buyers will choose – is a 1.2-liter three-cylinder called HR12DE. Intake-only VVT is no longer headline these days, but at least it produces a good 80 horsepower and the same pound-foot of torque. Just don't expect it to beat FIAT's new 900cc Multiair twin-cylinder engine. That rival will emit 20 grams less CO2 per kilometer than the HR12DE. The Nissan engine also lacks bottom-end torque. It needs to be revved hard. Fortunately it is smooth, thanks to counterweights incorporated at the crank pulley. Performance is modest with the long-throw and notchy manual gearbox, or even dismal with the CVT. Typical rubber band effect generates a lot of noise without go, hence an unpleasant experience that takes some getting used to.

A more powerful engine is the direct-injected and supercharged version of the same three-potter. Mind you, no one has tried this car yet, but its specifications looks promising. Not only output jumps to 98 hp and 105 lb-ft, it is significantly greener than the naturally aspirated engine, with the same 95g CO2 per km emission as the aforementioned FIAT engine. But read on, you may notice that figure is achieved with the mandatory CVT set at ECO mode, which might kill off any driving fun.

The biggest weaknesses? Uninspiring design and shinny hard plastics.

Actually, on the road the base March has not much fun to drive. Apart from the usual merits of small city cars, i.e. nimble, easy to drive and park, it fails to engage the driver in any way. With suspensions tuned to deal with bad roads, it soak up big bumps well but rolls a lot in corners. All controls are lightweight. European car will get different tuning to suspensions, steering, brakes and tires, though I won't expect it to jump to the league of Ford Fiesta.

So what are the strengths of this car ? Its cabin is roomy for such a small car. Its price is likely to undercut rivals. That's all about its strengths. The biggest weaknesses? I would say the packaging. Not only the exterior design is uninspiring (and a little outdated), its interior is full of disgusting shinny hard plastics. I actually find the interior of the old car looked more pleasing. To the buyers in developing markets that have never seen the outgoing March, that won't be much of a problem. To the current owners of March in Japan or Europe, they will be happy that their cars will enjoy a niche status in the next few years.

 The above report was last updated on 5 May 2010. All Rights Reserved.
General remarks
Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
March 1.2
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3780 / 1665 / 1515 mm
2450 mm
1198 cc
DOHC 12 valves, VVT
80 hp
80 lbft
5-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
915 kg
105 mph (c)
March 1.2DIG-S
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3780 / 1665 / 1515 mm
2450 mm
Inline-3, Miller cycle
1198 cc
DOHC 12 valves
98 hp
105 lbft
5-speed manual or CVT
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
112 mph (c) (manual)

Performance tested by: *Autocar

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