Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
Nissan Micra DIG-S review (2011 onwards)
What: Nissan Micra DIG-S
Where: Berlin, Germany
Date: July 2011
Price: £11,000 - £15,000 approx (tbc)
Available: September 2011
Key rivals:Fiat 500 TwinAir, Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio, Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion
Summary: Can the supercharged Nissan Micra DIG-S bring a little excitement to Japanese manufacturer's frumpy supermini? Perhaps not. But 95g/km CO2 has got to be a decent result...
We like: impressive CO2 and fuel economy for a petrol car, reasonably roomy for its size, well equipped, technically sophisticated engine
We don't like: not-so-sophisticated ride and handling, interior plastics, road and engine noise, 'world car' vs European expectations
The Nissan Micra DIG-S has a supercharger. But don't let that confuse you - this is not an exercise in performance, and we're still talking about a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine here. It's just now an especially green one.
DIG-S stands for Direct Injection Gasoline - Supercharged, and these technologies together with a whole host of other detail improvements take the already efficient Micra 'world car', and turn it into something almost extraordinary.
The almost is important. With the 'charger, and the direct injection, and the friction reduction, and the start-stop system, and the increased levels of energy management - be that loss reduction or regeneration - this new version of Nissan's latest supermini emits as little as 95g/km CO2.
The only other pure petrol small car equivalent to this is the Fiat 500 TwinAir - and that's technically in the class below. Make no mistake, the DIG-S is a very impressive achievement. All the eco capability of an optimised diesel, but with petrol refinement and reduced costs.
Unfortunately, in order to take advantage of this environmental prowess you have to buy it wrapped up in a Micra. And that's where the word 'almost' begins to rear its ugly head. Which is a shame.
We don't want to bore you to death here, but when a manufacturer starts talking about sodium-filled valves, 'Diamond Like Carbon' surface treatments and 'nano polished' camshafts you know it's expended quite a bit of effort on an engine.
And that's before you even get to the supercharger, or the unusual 'Miller' cycle combustion process. The Micra's DIG-S triple is no mere work of a moment, involving much, much more than simply bolting the twin-scroll blower to the side.
All this does more than drop the emissions and improve the fuel economy. Power is boosted from 80hp in the regular version to 98hp in the DIG-S. And although the 11.3-second 0-62mph time hardly sounds sprightly, it feels keen enough on the road.
Or at least, it does once you've wound it up a bit. We associate supercharging with instant torque, but this has a peakier delivery - much more like a turbo. It's not perfectly smooth in operation, either, but it has a certain quirky charm, complemented by the thrummy sound effects.
Ride and handling
The engine would probably be more fun if the chassis was. Instead you get a kind of bouncing lollaping experience, which if far from terrible doesn't exactly fill you with the greatest confidence.
In other words there is little sign of change from the regular car. You get light, parking space friendly steering, and a tendency to push into understeer early if you're too hot on the throttle through the corners.
As the angles of lean you can generate through the same suggest, it is reasonably comfortable - but this doesn't stop it crashing through potholes. Similarly, the five-speed manual gearbox is competent, but doesn't like to be rushed.
As basic transport it gets the job done. Yet the sense of limited sophistication will be immediately apparent to anyone with even the slightest interest in driving. This is presumably what happens when engineering a car that is set to be sold in 160 countries, like this one.
This 'world car' issue makes its presence felt in the cabin as well. The plastics seem, for the most part, not as good as they were in the previous Micra. The whole thing feels very much built to a cost. Which it is, of course.
There are no special upgrades for the DIG-S (the leather pictured here isn't available in the UK), and so it's still the same interior that has to serve every world market. Fine - the savings made allow Nissan to spend money being creative elsewhere, as with the Juke, for example.
But taken in the context of today's European supermini sector, you can't help but notice the difference between the Micra and almost everything else on sale - and that includes cars from Hyundai and Kia, let alone the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Back to transport basics, we should acknowledge that there is a fair amount of passenger room and bootspace, especially for a car of the Micra's compact size. Plus higher grade models get Nissan Connect infotainment and sat-nav as standard, which is nice.
Economy and safety
That headline 95g/km CO2 figure is accompanied by a claimed 68.9mpg - making the DIG-S a real alternative to an eco diesel. However, it's also only valid on the entry-level Visia specification.
The extra weight of kit on the mid-range Acenta and top-spec Tekna pushes the Micra to 99g/km CO2 and 65.7mpg - but that is still better than the vast majority of other petrol cars on sale.
A stop-start system and improved aerodynamics all help the DIG-S improve over the regular Micra. It scores four out of five in Euro NCAP crash testing, with ESP and four airbags included on all models.
The MSN Cars verdict
Nissan is hoping this new DIG-S engine will help the Micra appeal to a wider European audience. But while we can admire this technical achievement, we just can't overlook how uninspiring the car is in other areas.
Pricing is yet to be announced, but it is expected to cost £11-£15,000 - which is potentially a problem when the new Kia Picanto isn't all that much smaller, has a seven-year warranty to Nissan's three, and is available with 99g/km from just £7,995.
Unfair? We don't think so, not if you're really only looking for compact, environmentally efficient transport - which is really all the Micra has to offer.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.2 direct injection with supercharger|
|Torque, lb ft||104|
|0-62 mph, secs||11.3|
|Top speed, mph||112|
|Mpg combined||65.7 - 68.9|
|CO2, tax||95 - 99g/km, 10%|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|
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