Motoring / Motoring News
Andre De Kock
A strange thing happened when this writer joined the ranks of the really old. I battle to recall recent things, but tend to have crystal-clear memories of the things that gave me deep joy in my distant, misspent youth. Like the handbrake turn.
It was, at the time, a holy grail of unbelievable coolness. I am talking about an era before this country got television and we viewed action from overseas in the movies. There, James Bond and other kick-ass heroes made cars spin in their own length by dint of dipping the clutch, swinging the steering wheel and jerking up the handbrake.
Then, I learned that rally drivers did the same thing, from much higher speeds. I was mesmerised, but what clinched it was my friend Adrian. He had a car, he could do handbrake turns, and, like James Bond, he got laid a lot. There simply had to be a direct association. So, when I got my first car, I started to practise the handbrake turn. It never got me laid, but I discovered the action itself rendered great satisfaction.
Some years ago, car manufacturers started killing the art of the handbrake turn by giving vehicles electronic handbrakes, operated by a switch. Naturally, I hated them for it, but some occasionally redeem themselves by turning out a car with a clutch, a manual gearbox and a real handbrake. Like Nissan’s Micra 1.0T Tekna Plus. Invited to drive one, my first impression was one of joy – it has a real, old-fashioned six-speed manual gearbox. Thus, it was already a winner, but circumspection demanded some slightly deeper analysis before declaring it my Car of 2020.
We shall start with the engine, that Nissan regards as highly as I do the transmission. It is a three-cylinder, 999 cc, turbocharged, direct injection, petrol unit that develops 84 kW of power at 5 150 rpm, and 180 Nm of torque between 1 750 rpm and 4 000 rpm. Nissan is proud of it – it boasts an ultra-lightweight delta cylinder head and bore spray coating on the cylinders that reduces friction, while improving heat management and combustion – all gleaned from the GT-R supercar.
The powerplant passes its produce to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. The Micra weighs in at 1 079 kg, is 3 999 mm long, 1 743 mm wide and 1 465 mm high. It sits on 17-inch wheels in 205/45 R17 tyres, while disc brakes front and drums rear with ABS, EBD and electronic Brake Assist take care of the slowing down process. Sadly, it suffers the curse of the space-saver spare wheel.
It seats four adults and five at a pinch, with a split and folding rear seat enabling one to extend luggage space. It has a multi-function leather covered steering wheel, from where one can operate cruise control, Bluetooth and the audio system. A centre touchscreen houses a multi-information on-board computer.
Active safety stuff includes the above-mentioned brake system, hill start assist, a lane change blind spot warning system, a rain sensor for the windscreen wipers, rear child proof safety locks, LED daytime running lights plus a light-sensitive automatic on/off switch for the LED xenon headlights. Passive safety systems include front and side airbags for the front and curtain airbags all round.
But what was it like to drive? Extremely good and not just because of the manual gearbox. The Micra has lively acceleration – Nissan lists a 0 to 100 km/h time of 9.9 seconds and we have little reason to disbelieve them. Its wide torque band makes it possible to utilise sixth gear in the city and it would cruise at 120 km/h in the top cog with just under 2 400rpm on the clock.
We did not try to achieve its top speed of 200 km/h, but believe it to be possible. We achieved an overall fuel consumption figure of 6.4l/100 km during the test – impressive as we never tried to drive economically. The Nissan Micra 1.0T Tekna Plus costs R342 600, which includes a 150 000 km warranty and a 90 000 km service plan.
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