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What is the Micra up against?

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The new Nissan enters a segment that's terribly competitive. Of the many hatchbacks that are in the fray, four of them come closest to the Micra as competition - the Ford Figo, the Volkswagen Polo, the Fiat Punto and of course, the most important one of them all, the all-conquering Maruti Suzuki Swift. And maybe, to an extent, there's the Hyundai i20 as well. Here's how the Micra stacks up against these hatchbacks:

 

Volkswagen Polo

Styling may be subjective, but the Polo is the second-best looking hatch in the country after the Punto. And in solid red or white, the little Veedub looks all the more alluring on our roads. The engines of both the Micra and the Polo seem to be closely benchmarked. What sets the Polo's motor apart is its liveliness beyond 2000 rpm. The VW three-pot motor is noisy and vibey at start and at low revs, but once you are on the move, it feels refined. The five-speed gearbox is well geared and shifts are snappy. Overall, the Polo is a cheerful car to drive. The interiors are sober to the point of being retro though quality of plastics and switchgear is excellent. Space at the rear is at a premium - three adults at the back of the Polo will find it rather intimate. Boot space is terrific, though. The Polo suspension is designed to handle bad roads, so there is more suspension travel than necessary - leading to the car diving every time you brake. Handling however is sorted and has a bigger hatch's attributes. The Polo has one thing that the Micra doesn't - and it will be felt in these days of decontrolled fuel prices - and that is a 1.2-litre three-pot diesel motor.   Hyundai i20

The best-selling i20 may be a notch above the Micra across all aspects, including size and price, still that doesn't stop us from bringing it into the ring. What makes the i20 such a favourite among Indians is its curvy looks, excellent build quality and bucket-loads of feel-good features. The i20 is perhaps all the car you require, considering Hyundai offers it with three diverse engine-gearbox combination options - the 1.2 petrol with a five-speed manual, the 1.4 petrol with a four-speed automatic and a 1.4 turbodiesel with a six-speed manual. What we'd like at this moment is the 1.4 petrol with the five-speed manual - the 89 horses would be put to better use over here though the price will go up by 8 per cent! Otherwise, the i20 is an easy car to pilot in the city but it's not a driver's car. The steering is over-servoed and doesn't provide feedback while the handling is soggy. Ride is good, however. The i20 is the kind of car you should gift your parents... it will be a thoughtful gift, for sure!   Fiat Punto

The best-looking hatchback in the country! The Punto is smashing to look at, of course it's terrific in white, red, black, silver, purple, chocolate brown... you get the picture. What we are looking forward to is the Punto 90 in white with Abarth-like go-faster stickers on it - heck, the car deserves it. Speaking of which, the 90 is the more powerful version of the 1.3 diesel all set to be launched mid-July. Now that's something the Micra doesn't have. Other than that, the Punto comes with a 1.2-litre petrol motor, the extremely frugal 75 bhp diesel and a 90 bhp 1.4 petrol - so there are a lot of Puntos to choose from. The Punto's strongest feature, other than its lovely Italian lines, is its ride quality - the best in this bunch of cars. It takes a lot of abuse but doesn't let you bear the brunt. The Punto also handles quite well and is a pleasure to chuck around corners. A 120 bhp T-jet 1.4 petrol Punto in Abarth guise would be a dream come true. Where the Punto is weak is in the way the car is put together and of course the dicey question that accompanies it: 'Will I get good service?' If you are weak about Fiats, then you can't help it - no Micra can come in the way!   Maruti Suzuki Swift

Obviously, the best-seller and the benchmark and the one car who everyone has aimed their gun-sights at. It makes sense, because it was the first significant large hatch in the country that came at a rather sensible price and that it has set records on the sales charts. There are some really valid reasons; for one it's a Maruti Suzuki and that is half the job done. Then it is fun to drive with its responsive steering, nice chassis balance and a power-to-weight ratio that makes other cars go into limp mode. It can be chucked into corners, thrown around with alacrity and plaster a smile wider than <I>The Joker<I>. The 1.2-litre K Series petrol motor has strong performance, refined and efficient, while the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel is... er, a strong performer, refined and efficient! Interior space is okay, as long as you aren't taller than 5 feet 10in while the seats are quite all right. It is very well loaded and comes with a service setup that is unmatched. It might be five years old, but there's a new one coming next year that will cause more sleepless nights to its competition.   Ford Figo

No one would have thought the Figo would become such a success story. But it has, and that is despite being based on the last-gen Fiesta platform. It doesn't look exciting on the outside and can't really hide its ageing lines. That though is what the market isn't concerned about, and Ford is managing to push out over 7000 units a month. You are probably wondering how, so here goes. Its starting price for the base version is just under Rs 4 lakh, on-road Delhi and for that you get a 1.2-litre petrol engine that is refined and fairly efficient if slightly gutless. The gearbox is wonderful, body control is excellent and the steering is quite responsive too - in a very typical Ford manner. The 1.4 TDCI diesel with its 68 bhp gives it good bottom-end grunt and decent top whack too. The interiors are pretty spacious and decently loaded, although the seats could have been more supportive. The boot is large and deep enough and that makes the odd out-of-town journey over the weekend comfortable for a family of four. Ford has improved its after-sales service and cost of spares and all of it is helping the blue oval gain credence in the Indian market.