The newest kid in town is the Nissan Micra and it is ready to take on the established king of the ring, the Suzuki Swift. But can beat the benchmark? Let's find out.
With the new Micra, the little Nissan has now entered its fourth generation and takes a lot of design cues from its predecessor. The exteriors are interesting to say the least with its huge bug headlamps, the Mini-like grille and a lot of curves all round. In profile the curving roof and the greenhouse make it stand out. The Swift on the other hand uses a combination of sharp bulges and features to also lend it a unique look, alas lost out in a sea of Swifts we guess.
On the inside, the Micra uses excellent space management to liberate acres of leg, head and shoulder room, both for passengers at the front and rear. It comes quite loaded too, with keyless start-stop (a first in the segment) as well as electrically folding mirrors (all on the top-end XV), a nice stereo system and good use of materials. The problem with the Micra is there are too many surfaces and colours and that makes the dashboard appear cluttered. Some of the plastics used aren't the best quality, but the switchgear is pretty good. The Swift is just a hue of black on the inside and nothing else. Plastic quality is commendable, but not the best, though it all fits into place very well. The Swift may not have a Start-Stop button nor electrically folding ORVMs, but it does have stereo controls on the steering and nice front seats. Space, however is at a premium here and passegngers at the rear will complain about the lack of overall perceived space. Strangely enough, it's the Swift that has the bigger boot of the two, but the difference is marginal.
But once you are behind the wheel, the equation changes. The Micra's 1200cc, three-cylinder petrol engine is torquey and the ratios are nicely spread out for both city and highway use. Acceleration is brisk with 100 kph coming up in just under 15 seconds. Top speed is a shade under 160 kph which is par for the course. Overall driveability is decent, though there are some issues. Since it is a three-cylinder unit, the engine sounds coarse past 5000 rpm and the gear shifts aren't as slick as you would expect. Moreover, a lot of tyre and wind noise seeps into the cabin once you've crossed 80 kph. The Swift on the other hand has a four-cylinder 1.2-litre K Series unit that is refined, torquey and more powerful than the Micra (84 bhp vs 76 bhp). Acceleration is even more brisk and it can cross the 100 kph mark in just 13.5 seconds. Top speed is marginally better too at 165 kph. Overall refinement and driveability is good, and the gear shifts are slicker, although it's the Micra that makes for the better city car.
Dynamics have been the Swift's forte and the Swift with its numerous revisions over five years has now built up to be a car with good ride and handling balance. The ride quality has particularly improved, especially low and high-speed ride, although it is the Micra that outsmarts it in this aspect. Handling is beautiful, especially on-the-edge where the Micra's soft-suspension setup makes it a bit wooly and brings in a fair amount of body roll. Braking on both cars is good, but it's the Swift that tends to brake with more confidence.
In the end, there can be only one winner. The Swift is more adept dynamically, has a better engine and is more refined. It's also backed by Maruti's unfalliable service network, which the Micra can't boast of. But it's the Micra that seems to find the sweet-spot. It rides brilliantly, is well loaded, has more space and seems better put together. It also is more practical on a day-to-day basis and is more efficient too (14.05 kpl for the Micra vs 13.5 kpl for the Swift, overall). And it is the better car of the two.