There is a car out there that I have not driven yet — the GT-R or the Nissan GT-R, to be precise. It is not a normal car — it was conceptualised, designed and developed with the rather humble ambition of rocking the foundation bolts of super-expensive exotica from around the world. Like its predecessors, the GT-R manages to simply annihilate unsuspecting Ferraris and Porsches off red lights and is a showcase of how much technology can be shrink-wrapped inside the bodyshell of a car. Needless to add, the GT-R is a pretty sharp image-building tool for the Japanese giant that is slowly working its way into profitability and numbers. Ah, numbers. That is where a spanking new car plant in India with an installed capacity of 400,000 cars a year comes into play. And the first car to roll out of this facility is the Nissan Micra. It is a garden bug compared to the all-conquering GT-R, but is cleverly engineered to harvest space and provide a decent ride on Indian roads. And guess what, they let me play with one for a whole day! I am getting quite familiar with the East Coast Road that connects Chennai and Pondicherry via Mahabalipuram. It is a fast enough road, but traffic conditions vary from almost nil to irritatingly slow. Only a week back I was blasting across the ECR on the Lancer Evo X boasting close to 300 bhp. Now, with 76 bhp on tap, the Micra was not really a match, but its puny three-cylinder petrol motor was working overtime to keep the driver entertained. This 1198-cc engine is the result of the times that we are going through — salaries are still frozen, fuel prices are on the rise and economising is not a bad word. Despite the 6000 rpm redline, the Micra motor goes past it with relish so that quick shifts are rewarded with nil loss of power — critical for a small motor. The five-speed gearbox is not as slick as that in the Maruti Suzuki Swift, but it is in the same league as most of its competitors. Gearing is good for city driving conditions as well as for cruising at a decent 80-100 kph. Well, this engine does feel and sounds like a grown-up version of the three-pots that we are familiar with — except on the power delivery front, where it is far superior. A diesel may soon join the fray and confuse the hell out of prospective buyers — that story we will save for another day! Nissan however claims that the petrol Micra is so fuel efficient that a diesel option is not required. One word that has been troubling Japanese engineers a lot is “plasticky” and this was evident when the developers of the car took pains to explain what they have done to make the interior look... er, less plasticky. Alas, it is still quite plasticky, but the interior as a whole has been conceived and executed with care and an eye for detail. The top-end models get twin-tone finishing and the door handles look like they are straight out of the 370Z.
Nissan has made a comfortable car with the Micra — that is what the prospective buyers would have wanted at the numerous clinics they did across the country. You can see the result in soft fabric upholstery, softly sprung suspension and a general tendency to float through proceedings. When subjected to a series of potholes, this wallowy-ness was not appreciated by passengers — especially at the rear. That said, the car does not lose posture while cornering and I was thankful for that — especially whenever I had to throw the car onto oncoming traffic at the numerous artificial chicanes the traffic police had devised to keep speeds in check. Also helping matters was a very direct steering. In short, the Micra feels like a bigger and more comfortable car than it has any right to.
Keyless ignition system and the start-stop button in the top-end models is a party trick that will get its share of followers. The Rs 45-odd lakh Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X FQ300 did not have a start-stop button… just to drive the point home! In a move that must have been triggered by number crunchers as well as clinics, a driver-side airbag is standard across the board, while ABS is available only for the top-end XV model. ABS prevents accidents and is critical for Indian road conditions, where we are always braking and avoiding (people, cattle, stationary vehicles...) and it should have been standard equipment instead of the airbag. For heavens