IF YOUVE managed to avoid the overwhelming drone of talk concerning green cars, carbon emissions and fuel economy, then well done to you: its a drum thats been relentlessly beaten over the past five years, and in truth it is one that needs paying attention to. The manufacturers have been working hard to deliver ever more fuel-efficient cars that benefit everyone.
Theres one slight snag with the current eco-warriors however, and thats diesel power. If youre a convert to the black stuff then thats not a problem, but there are still people out there who would rather walk than own a diesel car. Its not the nicest stuff to handle and whatever you do, dont eat your lunch after filling up if you werent wearing gloves at the time.
But Nissan have taken on the thorny challenge of creating a petrol-powered Micra eco car that can sneak under the magic 100g/km like its diesel rivals while keeping the plus points of petrol: smoother running, less noise and more freedom to rev.
They have certainly succeeded. The technical details of the engine are sufficiently numerous to swallow up a whole page, but in brief it is a supercharged version of the existing 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit. In addition it runs to a different combustion pattern (called the Miller cycle if you have ten minutes and Wikipedia to hand) that gives greater efficiency, modified pistons, a different compression ratio, direct injection this is no stripped-back affair.
It also yields a benefit not normally fitted as standard to something so eco its significantly quicker than the standard car. It has 97bhp compared to 79bhp for the standard car as well as an extra 26lb.ft of torque, and while that might not sound like much it is enough to cut more than two seconds off the 0-62mph time. Nissan claims it feels like a much bigger naturally-aspirated engine to drive, and out on the road you certainly feel the difference. While it will never be a mini hot hatch, the Micra DIG-S has the kind of vim you dont expect from a car that has such green credentials.
The headline figures are right up there with the best of its diesel rivals too. Capable of over 68mpg and with emissions of 95g/km in the manual version, the Micra DIG-S promises some very low running costs, particularly when you take into account the lower price of unleaded. And for the truly green, petrol engines emit far fewer harmful particulates than the equivalent diesels, never mind the absence of black exhaust fumes associated with them. When youre behind the wheel it feels like youre cheating the system, and there is something pleasing about being able to pull away briskly and more quietly than a diesel rival could.
The rest of the Micra driving experience is as before. To look at the Micra is as innocent and inoffensive as a car can be. It might be a bit cute for some, but with a car targeted at the young, the old and everyone in between, a friendly face isnt such a bad thing. Step inside and the emphasis is on no-frills practicality: there are fewer of the semi-premium touches you might find elsewhere in the class, but you can still get a Micra with leather, climate control and a useful sat-nav and Bluetooth phone combination that should be enough gadgetry for anyone.
The driving experience matches up to the non-threatening looks. As learner drivers across the globe will know, a Micra always has a light clutch, easy steering and a slick gearchange, and when youre concentrating on squeezing every mile out of a litre of petrol or grinding through obtrusive traffic, these things matter. The Micra also makes good use of its tiny footprint, with the big windows and slimmed-down cabin providing good interior space.
With a £1,000 price premium over the non-supercharged version the Micra DIG-S makes sense even before you sign on the dotted line. With the potential saving of an extra 10 miles plus for every gallon of fuel you could save 150 litres of fuel a year at a cheaper price as well as free road tax and congestion charge. That its diesel-powered rivals offer this advantage too is undeniable, but if diesels not your thing, now you have a choice.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Nissan Micra DIG-S Acenta, £12,150
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol producing 97bhp and 105lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 112mpg, 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds
Economy: 68.9mpg combined
Emissions: 95g/km of CO2