More 2014 Auto Show goodness

There were a total of four Micra’s at the 2014 Toronto auto show. You’ve already seen the red factory stock Micra in a previous blog post; now I’ll present the three “Show” Micras:

White Micra with roof racks
White Micra with roof racks

Roof racks look so good on a Micra, and with the money we save with the Micra, we can afford hobbies like skiing and snowboarding. White with red accents also looks nice.

Blue Micra
Blue Micra

I’m not sure what to make of this Micra. Nothing against anyone’s personal tastes, but white accents on blue just doesn’t do it for me. Ditto black wheels on a blue car. However, it is a Micra, and the more the better.

Red with custom vinyl
Red with custom vinyl

Micra’s look great in red and silver. This one combines both with a custom vinyl job for the silver. Personally, I’d put the black wheels from the blue Micra on this one, and these grey wheels on the blue Micra. Then I’d change the white accents on the blue Micra to grey. Interesting that this car featured a back-up camera.

The Nissan Micra was also the feature car in Nissan Canada’s 2014/2015 new cars and trucks brochure. Opened to the first page, it features a two page spread dedicated to the Micra:

Spread in the brochure
Spread in the brochure

Turn the page, and the Micra is featured again:

Micra brochure feature
Micra brochure feature

The Micra even had its own swag at the show: A little cleaner pad for my cell phone, stuck on a feature card:

Some swag...
Some swag…
...with a smart phone cleaning pad
…with a smart phone cleaning pad

Yes, I think the Micra was the star of the show. Shame I have to wait so long before I can order mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Close-up: The 2015 Micra

Visiting the new Micra at the 2014 auto show in Toronto provided me with a unique opportunity to get up close and hands-on with the new 2015 Micra. I went away impressed. In this post, I’ll share my findings for those of you who are as curious as I am about this new car.

The Engine Bay

The Engine Bay
The Engine Bay

Since I enjoy doing most of my own maintenance on my car, the place I like to start with any car is the engine bay, and I’m pleased to report that Nissan did not let me down.

The first thing I noticed is the absence of a plastic “Shroud” designed to hide the inner workings of the engine from the owner of the car. I’ve seen this a lot lately on new cars. I suppose some people like to see a “Clean” engine bay, but I prefer one that’s unobstructed with unnecessary frill. Besides, to me, a well designed engine bay shouldn’t be hidden; it should be on full display when the hood is raised, and this layout is magnificent.

Starting with the basics, as is proper with any trans-mounted 4 cylinder engine, the intake manifold is towards the front of the car, and the exhaust manifold is at the rear side. Things that need to be kept cool, like the alternator, are on the cooler side of the engine where they belong. Meanwhile, the engine itself has both an aluminum block and an aluminum head; it’s important to keep these two of the same metal to prevent head gasket leaks. The aluminum and plastics used should help to keep the car light, which will help with fuel economy.

Most pleasing is the fact that all maintenance items are easily accessible and most do not require tools. Starting with the prop rod, it’s along the left edge of the engine bay, and sits neatly out of the way. The air filter box is held closed with thumb clips. All fluid fill points have adequately large openings, and are placed in easily accessible locations, with enough space between them to prevent confusion. For example, the washer fluid fill is all the way to the passenger side, far away from the coolant fill at the opposite driver’s side.

Oil changes look like they’ll be easy. You can’t see it in my picture, but the oil filter is mounted horizontally at the front of the engine, near the alternator. There’s plenty of space to grip the oil filter from above or below.

Now that you gear heads are satisfied and you non-gear heads are sick of reading about engine bay dynamics, I’ll move on to the next subject.

The Instrument Cluster

The gauge cluster
The gauge cluster

The power was disconnected from the Micra at the show, so I was unable to determine exactly what the LCD and lights do; however, a little research into Micra’s from other countries revealed that this instrument cluster is nearly exactly the same as others in Micra’s in other countries, with the difference being the Miles Per Hour markings in the spedometer.

What I do know for sure is that there is a tachometer that redlines at a decent 6500 RPM, a speedometer that ends at an unlikely 220 km/h, and two buttons for navigating and resetting information on the LCD display. Based on my research, the LCD display shows the fuel level, as well as real time fuel usage and economy figures. I believe it would also show the odometer reading of the car. I’m not certain if it can convert between metric and imperial; this may be the reason why this car is not available in the US.

Above the digital display appears to be the typical “Idiot” lights, which would likely include a low oil pressure warning light, a high temperature warning light, a high beam signal light, a fasten seatbelt warning light, a door ajar warning light, a battery voltage warning light, and a parking brake light. The turn signal arrows should appear towards the top on either side of the speedometer.

I make it a practice not to post someone else’s pictures in my blogs, but if you’d like to see for yourself, a simple search engine image query of “Nissan Micra instrument cluster” will provide you with active versions of this cluster.

The Center Stack

The Center Stack
The Center Stack

At the top of the stack are rectangular louver style vents, which differ from the round vents at the driver and passenger side. In between are the hazard warning signal button, and an indicator light advising on the status of the passenger air bag which would be dependant on whether a person is sitting in the passenger seat or not.

Below that is a stereo head unit with an impressive looking display. There’s a CD slot in the top and an aux in in the bottom. All the controls are clearly labeled, well spaced, and easily accessible. The stereo itself appears to fit in a standard sized slot, which would facilitate future upgrades to the head unit.

Below the stereo are the HVAC controls in a triangle configuration. The top dial controls the fan speed, with four speed positions in addition to the off position. On either side are the AC button and the rear window defrost button. Below this are the positional dial, and the temperature dial. There are five basic positions; these include the dash vents only, the dash and floor vents, the floor vents only, the floor and windshield/side window vents, and the windshield/side window vents only. There are variations between these settings, as well as variations between the temperature settings. Below and in between these two is the selector allowing the driver to choose between fresh air (great for clearing windows) and recirculating air (great for keeping the inside of the car cool on a hot day). While these are fairly standard these days, this particular arrangement appears ergonomically well thought out.

Below the stack are two cup holders. While at first they may seem inconvenient, these will place my and my passenger’s coffees directly in front of the gear shifter, within easy reach. In fact, ergonomically, the center stack contributes to the efficient and ergonomic use of space in this cabin.

Center Console

Center Console
Center Console

In a car as small as the Micra, given the interior space, it’s remarkable that a center console even exists; yet it does, and here we continue to see an extraordinary level of design given the price point this car is being sold at. There is an armrest that folds down from the driver’s seat; below that, a hand brake, beside which is a slot designed to hold any combination of smart phone, mp3 player, and other modern device. Directly behind it are a 12 volt and USB port that could provide power to such devices. While it might have been nice to have provided an input jack here, this might have made upgrading the head unit in the future more difficult.

Driver’s Controls

Driver's Controls
Driver’s Controls

Below the combination turn signal/headlight stalk, witness a lever which releases the steering console so it can swivel up and down, delivering tilt steering; a feature which, I contend, has never before been available to any vehicle at this price in Canada ever. Also note the controls for things like cruise control on the steering wheel itself. Next to the tilt steering lever is the control for the power side mirrors. Below that, we have a button which appears to control some sort of stability or traction control system. Look a little lower, next to the hood release lever, there is a second lever that releases the hatch covering the gas filler cap.

The locking gas filler cap is an excellent idea. Nay-sayers will say it’s easy to defeat with a screwdriver and the gas could still easily be stolen, but I propose that it serves a more important purpose. More important than gas being siphoned out of a gas tank is knowing if something like, say, bleach has been poured into a gas tank, because bleach will destroy an engine. I would know if something untoward has happened to my gas tank by some low life scum if I see that my gas cap cover has been forced open with a screwdriver, and I can then take measures to have the tank drained and the fuel tested, and possibly proceed with a criminal investigation without risk to my engine.

This picture also illustrates the generous legroom, as well as the cupholders molded into the doors. No bit of space has gone unwasted, except that I’m certain there’s a bit of room there above the hood release mechanism for a tiny slot which would hold my parking pass, presenting an opportunity for improvement in the 2016 model.

The back seat

Back Seat
Back Seat

My acid test for the back seat in any small car is as follows: I put the driver’s seat all the way back, then I seat my 6’4″ self in the back seat directly behind the driver’s seat. In comparable cars like the Chevrolet Sonic, this is impossible; but in the Micra, I fit with ease. My knees did touch the seatback, but were far from feeling crushed, and I still had plenty of headroom.

Back seat passengers did get only one shared cupholder behind the center console, but it appears as though their windows might roll down all the way, and the doors do have child safety lockouts so kids can’t open them from the inside.

The Boot

The Boot
The Boot

Some might call it a trunk, but this is a hatchback, so I’ve decided to borrow from the British and use the term boot.

Given the size of this car and the legroom available to front and rear seat passengers, it’s amazing to me that there’s any boot space at all, and yet look at the generous space available. A family of four could easily fit their luggage back there for a two week vacation.

The privacy shield is easy to remove, and the seats fold forward in a 60/40 split. This can provide even more options for three or two people travelling.

I checked under the floor; there doesn’t appear to be a spare tire, but there is a jack kit. I didn’t think to look under the car, but I would think that this new Micra probably doesn’t come with a spare tire.

Other Considerations

Decked out Micra
Decked out Micra

So there’s a rear wiper and washer, and the front windshield washers are mounted in the cowel. The antenna is a short whip mounted in the middle of the rear roof. There is an optional backup camera, but I personally feel this goes too far and borders on frivolous.

This is not some half baked attempt at making a cheap car; rather, it’s a refinement of engineered techniques and technologies. I’ve worked in the body shop of a car plant, and brought that experience with me. I put my hands up in the wheel wells to feel the back side of the fenders; a place usually left unfinished where salt can accumulate and rust through, these are folded over and made smooth to shed such accumulation. The attention to detail in the engine bay and interior clearly carries out throughout the unseen portions of the car.

Conclusion

The Micra
The Micra

Well, what else can I say? This is an awesome little car engineered for the wants and needs of the modern person. While I feel as though I’ve uncovered a lot with my brief visit, I can’t help but feel there’s much more to learn about this car.

Time for a new car

My current car is a 2002 Grand Am GT. I bought it for $16,000 in 2004, when gas was less than a buck a liter, with 46,000km on the odometer. It represented great value at the time; it was loaded with features like a sunroof, Monsoon stereo system, 16″ chrome alloy wheels, and ram air V6 power that delivered plenty of torque for impressive launches. The headlights would turn themselves on automatically, the traction control would keep me out of trouble, the oil life system would advise me on when it was time for an oil change, and the beefy sway bars with the wide tires would keep everything in order even during the hardest of cornering. It has a practical side as well; with four doors, it’s a decent family sedan that takes regular unleaded and gets okay gas mileage.

2002 Pontiac Grand Am GT
My ’02 Grand Am GT

Over a decade after I bought the Grand Am GT and with 210,000km on the odometer, I can’t really complain too much; it’s been reliable, but it’s not the car it used to be. The foam on the back speakers has rotted, and being a Monsoon system, are not standard, so are expensive to replace. The power mirror switch is broken from its mount, and one of the non-replaceable map lights built in the rear view mirror has burned out. The body cladding has kept it looking great, but the inevitable rust is starting to show through in places. Not having done anything to the car the entire time I’ve owned it, I’m aware that I’ll need to do significant work to keep it roadworthy; things like replacing the water pump, radiator, and all the engine seals are probably going to be the tip of the iceberg. The headlights are hazy, the trim along the windshield, having lifted out, is now being held in with an adhesive, and occasionally the turn signal decides not to work. That said, it still starts and runs good and strong, but let’s face it: It’s an old car, and things aren’t going to get better. With gas well over a buck a liter, the “Okay” gas mileage isn’t okay anymore. I think I’d like to end my relationship with my Grand Am GT while we’re still on good terms.

1990 Micra
1990 Micra

Other things in my life have changed since I bought the Grand Am GT. The economy has become less stable, so I find myself driving longer distances for work. I am going to downtown Toronto a lot more than I ever have since owning my last Micra for my career. Given the instability of the economy, having reliable transportation is an absolute must. The price of gas right now is hovering between $1.20 and $1.30 a liter, so fuel economy is becoming more important to me than ever. I still want a car that’s good for my family; I need a back seat with its own doors, and, given that my son is now the tallest in his class, headroom and legroom in the back seat is important. I also need a trunk with the ability to carry large, bulky items from time to time. I need a car that will continue to be reliable and trouble-free, and would like to keep my on-going maintenance costs as low as possible. It’s no wonder I’ve been having dreams that I still have my 1990 Micra stored in my garage; over the past year, I’ve found myself waking up from those dreams wishing that I could still buy a car like that.

Generous headroom for the whole family!
Generous headroom for the whole family!

My recent trip to the 2014 auto show confirmed that the 2015 Micra will be an even better value than my 1990 was. It has all of the good characteristics of my old Micra, like generous headroom and legroom front and back, a solid, all-aluminum engine that’s accessible and appears reasonably easy to work on, a tight turning radius, a small size, and, starting at $9,998, has a purchase price lower than anything else in its class. In fact, it’s priced cheaper than many used cars. In addition to this, it’s a thoroughly modern car with features like ABS brakes, plenty of air bags, vehicle dynamic control system, rear floor heating ducts, and options like cruise control, heated mirrors, 4 speed automatic, and even a backup camera. The Micra never had it so good!

So, that just about sums it up. I’ll be buying a new car this year, and if the test drive goes well, it looks like it’s going to be the Micra. I can hardly wait!

Why it’s Canada-only

The media has been scratching its head on why the Micra is only going to be sold in Canada and not the United States. Some have reasoned that people living in the United States have a bias against hatchbacks. Others have supposed that the Micra doesn’t meet US regulations. I don’t think these are the reasons at all.

The real reason, I think, is that they’re tweaking a car that’s already being sold in Europe, Australia, and other countries that have one thing in common with Canada that they don’t with the United States: They measure all of their speeds and distances in kilometers. It’s highly unlikely there are any current Micra instrument clusters in the Nissan parts bin capable of displaying speed in miles per hour, or distances in miles. Given the limited market for a car like the Micra in the US, and given that they already have it covered with the Versa Note, it wouldn’t make sense to re-tool to accommodate, while a Canadian-spec Micra would only need minor changes that would work in any of their current markets.

I’m confident that eventually the US will get their Micra, but only if it’s successful in the Canadian market. Our sales numbers will dictate whether or not they’ll design a US spec gauge cluster for the Micra. Using the Canadian market as a test bed to introduce (or re-introduce) European products of this nature to the North American market is brilliantly prudent.

Why Micra?

micrarearIt might seem odd to some that I really like the Nissan Micra, even in light of the fact that I currently own cars that would be considered “Better” by our current cultural standards. Indeed, even at the time I bought the Micra for $2500, there were cars available for that price that some may consider more appealing. So, why the Micra?

When I bought the Micra, my way of thinking had evolved considerably. I was 20 years old and wanted a better life for myself, so I set aside my ego and worked things out. I went to college the following year after reasoning that I could earn at least twice as much as I could without a post secondary education, and with an interest-free student loan, would represent an investment in myself that would pay off in one and a half years for a three year program. I learned to use a spreadsheet and did financial forecasts, using real data. I had achieved my goal ahead of time, landing a summer job with a large IT company after my second year.

During my summer employment, I had earned enough money to buy a used car. Once again, I set my ego aside and, based on my previous experience, decided that, in spite of the fact that I preferred coupes and driving stick, a four door automatic car would most likely have been treated a lot better than would a two door stick shift. I also reasoned that, if I focused on smaller, low powered cars with minimal features and options, my money would buy me something newer with lower mileage and that would give me better gas mileage. My money would go a lot further all around; it all made perfect sense.

The Micra represented the clarity of mind that drove my success at the time. I was not embarrassed to drive it as some might suspect; quite the contrary. I drove it with a great sense of pride. I had bought the car entirely within my own means; it wasn’t a gift, and yet it was clean, reliable, and rust-free; a difficult task for any College student making it on their own. The small engine meant that $20 worth of gas (at 1995 prices) got me back and forth to school every day, as well as weekly trips to the laundry mat, grocery store, and my part-time research and development job for an entire month before needing to put another $20 in the tank. The reliability of the car meant no surprise expenses, and I was always on time. The short wheelbase, good ground clearance, light weight and small tires made it handle well in the snow. I could park in impossibly small parking spaces, and carry large, bulky things easily in the hatchback. My plan was working out better than expected.

My first Micra parked in front of our first new house
My first Micra parked in front of our first new house

I quit smoking, graduated college, married my wife, bought my first (and second) house, started my career, and saw the birth of my son while driving that car.  Nothing ever got to me; even when my brother-in-law laughed at me and asked me if I thought his car was better than mine, I simply stated that I thought my car was better for me because my Micra was the car that took me everywhere I needed for little more than the cost of the little bit of gas it used; his car didn’t do that for me. I never paid any mind as to how much the gas would cost, or even the effects of wear and tear. I didn’t want anything that didn’t truly make me happy or my life better, and my Micra reminded me of that. My life was efficient and fun, like my car.

One thing I always wanted was to be able to buy a Micra brand new, and being able to get options like cruise control, air conditioning, and a stick shift. When I found out that Nissan wasn’t selling them in Canada anymore, I moved on to  bigger and more expensive cars.

Time for a new car!
Time for a new car!

Now it appears as though I’ll be able to make that dream come true; and you know what? I liked the person I was when I had my Micra, and I’d like to be more like that guy again. To be able to set my ego aside, to enjoy care-free driving, and to be able to focus on the more important things in life.  I think I’ll take mine in silver.

Welcome back, Micra. Good to see you again.

2015 Nissan Micra

Source: Nissan Image Library

It’s been over 14 years since I drove a Micra, and just when I thought there was no hope of me owning another, Nissan just announced they’re bringing the Micra back to the Canadian market.

There’s been no mention of pricing as of yet, but it looks like this Micra is designed for Canada, with a twin cam 1.6L gas engine rated at 109 horsepower; that’s twice as much power as the 1.2L made in 1990. The engine will be mated to a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic, 15″ wheels standard, rear heat ducts, and optional heated mirrors.

There’s going to be 3 trim levels; the S, SV, and SR. Never before seen in a Canadian Micra will be features such as cruise control, 6 way driver’s seat with an armrest, power windows, power locks, keyless entry; it looks like it’s going to have all the modern goodies, including Bluetooth. Imagine the Micra SR, with a leather wrapped steering wheel and 16″ alloys. That’s a huge change from the carbureted Micra that didn’t even have power steering.

Personally, I’m really pleased to see Nissan bring this car back to Canada. In fact, I’m so excited, I decided to create this web site about it. I’m too busy with setting up this site to write more, so you can read the press release here.