We were all quite excited when we heard that the Micra was coming back to Canada; this was a cool, compact model that had been making waves as the March in other markets, and as compact cars became hotter sellers here, it looked to be the right time for the Micra to return.
Arrive it did, to Canada and not the US, where it could be had for less than $10,000 at base. Good stuff.
Of course, the excitement was tempered a little when we found out that while that base MSRP was great, this new lil’ hatch from Nissan would be THE definition of “stripped”; no air conditioning, no power windows or locks, no Bluetooth and no automatic transmission (it costs over three grand to get one, and it’s only a 4-speed). Was this really feasible? In this day in age, when the self-driving car is just around the corner, would this really work? Especially if you’re 6’3” like me; can bigger folks live with one?
In order to find out, we spent a week behind the wheel of one, and decided to go almost all the way to the other end of the subcompact spectrum and try a Toyota Yaris LE—that car’s second-highest trim—alongside the Micra to see what we were dealing with. Both cars are similar sized, all-new for 2015 and aimed at the same buying group.
First of all, the facts: while Nissan would likely tell you that their Versa Note is actually the more direct competition for the Yaris, we beg to differ. The Micra has more front and rear legroom than the Yaris, more headroom at both ends and more cargo capacity, too. That’s a pretty good start.
Styling-wise, the Micra looks rather good from almost any angle; it looks a little awkward from the front but its profile and details like black halos around the taillights and subtle roof spoiler make for a very cool looking car.
The Yaris is a little less boy-racer, a little more futuristic and one of the better-looking Toyotas on the market today. The large lower-grille opening may be a little much for some, but it goes a long way to provide some distinction the Yaris’ front end, which was sorely lacking in the previous generation. Unfortunately, the rear end pretty much looks lifted directly from the old car; an interesting crease here or chrome trim there would have helped things along. There are a few weird touches, too; that picture of the windshield wiper you see in the gallery below? No, that’s not from a bus—that’s the Yaris’ single wiper, which works rather well and means you only have to replace one wiper blade instead of two. Takes some getting used to, though.
Then you take a seat inside the Micra and while it doesn’t get Nissan’s NASA-developed Zero Gravity seats, those it does have are quite comfortable, save for a slightly small bottom cushion that doesn’t offer quite enough thigh support for taller folk.
That’s when you see the rest of what passes for an “interior” in the Micra; wind-up windows, plastic everywhere and a shift-lever that looks like it could have come right from the last Micra, that left our market in 1992. The Yaris, on the other hand, looks loaded by comparison; the swoopy lines, infotainment screen (part of a $500 option package in the Micra) and more space-agey (by comparison, anyway) dials are a little easier on the eyes. It even gets a bit of a race-car vibe by way of a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Cool.
The seats, however, aren’t as comfortable, the angle of the steering wheel makes it harder to reach than it is in the Micra (neither vehicle featured telescopic steering) and the deep dash takes a little getting used to. It does feel a little airier in the Yaris, however, and the windows ahead of the a-pillars make for a better view forwards than the Micra.
Having said that, everything in the Micra is perfectly laid out and takes no more than two seconds to find; I like being able to twist a nice, big dial to change the volume instead of hunting for a tiny button or worse, a touch-panel display. It’s a refreshing simplicity.
A simplicity that’s reflected in the driving experience a little. When piloting the Micra and its buzzy little 109 horsepower engine, you really get the feeling that you’re driving little more than a set of seats, a steering wheel and an engine. It’s a kind of purity you just don’t get much of in the industry today.
Yes, it’s a little wheezy when you get to highway speeds but that power is all you need to dart gainfully through traffic in your four-seater go-kart, and even have a modicum of fun while you’re at it.
The Yaris actually makes less power (103 hp), but it is a little less manic in its delivery, offering a more relaxed drive, helped along by the four-speed automatic. Of the two, the Yaris tends to be the to be quieter car, and as a result, just a little more luxurious feeling.
Storage-wise, aside from some funky bins just to the left of the Yaris’ gauge hood, it’s dead even and you can easily fit an adult-sized hockey bag in the rear of each without having to fold the seatbacks, which is an easier task in the Toyota than it is in the Nissan.
But you’re looking at a $6,967 difference between these two cars, and as good as this new Yaris is, it isn’t $7,000 better than the Micra. In fact, I wouldn’t say that the Yaris is $3,000 better than the Micra, either, which is what the difference would be if you added the auto to the Nissan.
We started this tale wondering if we could live with the Micra for a long period of time; even without A/C or Bluetooth, we’re now wondering if we could live without it. It’s a fantastic proposition, and the fact that it can be had for little more than a song is incredibly tempting.