Road Trip: 2017 Nissan Micra Takes on Manhattan

“Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan”

– Beastie Boys, An Open Letter to NYC

MANHATTAN, New York – Look up “Tips for driving in New York City” and chances are, number one will be “Do not drive in New York City.”

Up against the world’s most aggressive traffic – in one of Canada’s tiniest cars.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

Even for those of us who are high-speed veterans of the Autobahn and the narrow, spaghetti-like mountain roads of Europe, driving in New York is a daunting prospect. Even more so when we’re up against the world’s most aggressive traffic – in one of Canada’s tiniest cars. The 2017 Nissan Micra isn’t available anywhere in the US, but its manoeuvrability might just make it feel right at home here in America’s largest city. We hope.

There are more than eight and a half million people crammed into metropolitan New York; and though only some 30 percent of them drive – they all want the right of way. The roads – many of them dating back nearly a hundred years – heave and crumble, pocked by time and abuse. Lane markers are a quaint suggestion only – since everyone ignores them, merging together like a vast school of angry fish. Leave more than a foot between you and the car ahead and someone’s nose immediately butts in – the victor being whoever refuses to yield. While on the one hand we’re grateful for our subcompact’s ability to dart through the merciless cut and thrust traffic, we’re painfully aware of our vulnerability among the belching delivery trucks, battered taxi cabs and tank-like SUVs.

It’s nearly two hours since we set out from LaGuardia Airport in Queens, lurching through Brooklyn and finally making our way across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.

We’re tasked with finding several “New York’s smallest” landmarks, such as a pint-sized Statue of Liberty, a tiny museum behind a set of folding doors in a narrow side alley, and Manhattan’s smallest house – a nine-foot six-inch wide, three-storey building that recently sold for more than US$3 million.

Our fleet of Micras range from the base S, which at $9,988, is Canada’s cheapest car, up to the fully loaded $17,188 SR with automatic transmission. All are gaily wrapped with “Manhattan under a Micrascope” decals and an assortment of jelly-bean colours

There’s only one engine choice; a 1.6L four-cylinder making 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t sound like much, but the 1,044 kg Micra moves along smartly with the five-speed manual transmission.

Opting for the more lethargic four-speed automatic will set you back another $1,000. Paddle shifters would provide faster response for quick lane changes or the inevitable avoidance manoeuvres in this kind of traffic, but that would affect the Micra’s all-important lowest price tag in this competitive segment.

Equally important, the Micra has a modest fuel appetite, rated at 8.6L/100 km city and 6.6 highway. Over the rough roads, the Micra’s better damped than you’d expect a sub-$10,000 car to be, but the engine gets pretty buzzy when it’s working hard. Still, it’s a fairly pleasant environment, with plenty of overhead room and good visibility – a must with this traffic.

Throughout the day we made our way from one side of Manhattan to the other, past the shimmering glass folds of Gehry’s landmark IAC building, craning our necks to gape at the legendary Dakota, up Broadway and down the rarefied, tulip-studded length of Fifth Avenue. Central Park’s newly minted grass and blossoming crab-apples were a tranquil contrast to the roar of traffic and dirty concrete.

Turning onto Columbus, we suddenly realized there was a carriage horse bearing down on us at full clip, and we made quick use of the Micra’s 4.65 m turning radius. Thanks to specially tweaked suspension and Canada-only front and rear sway bars, the Micra’s pretty stable during such unexpected manoeuvres and handles quite well.

A rush of wind, a streak of black and an enormous Lincoln Navigator cuts in front of us, necessitating an emergency brake stop that nearly puts the Micra on its nose. A close call, and we voice our displeasure with a couple of rude blats of the horn. We’re assimilating quite well, cutting around stalled cars, flipping off rude cabbies, and putting our tiny Micra in places the SUVs simply wouldn’t fit.

Subcompacts make perfect sense in such a congested urban environment. The Europeans know it, and they’ve long embraced a wide variety of small city cars, including the Micra which has been sold there since 1982.

Japan, one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, produces a wealth of small runabouts with style and character.

But US buyers, who equate size with status, don’t buy subcompacts – especially with the current low price of oil.

And here in Manhattan, an American microcosm of hustle, wealth and power, the overwhelming vehicle of choice appears to be the large crossover.

Our final destination is Times Square, the core of the Big Apple and resembling a Las Vegas casino turned inside out. A 24-hour monument to tawdry tourism, Times Square is a sensory overload of towering lights, milling hordes, roasting street meat and great plumes of sewer gas. The cheerful “meep-meep” of our roadrunner-like Micra is lost within the cacophony of blaring horns and vibrating jackhammers.

We rolled into the square like a convoy of wide-eyed mice, dodging kamikaze bicycle couriers, nonchalant jaywalkers, cops on horseback, and even a droopy-drawered Captain America.

At 11 feet long, the Micra is a cinch to park and we’re soon lined up – a string of colourful beads in front of our hotel on Broadway. Barely rating a glance from the jaded New Yorkers, our entire convoy has made it through some of the world’s worst traffic without a single dent or scratch.

2017 Nissan Micra SV
Engine Displacement: 1.6L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 109 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 107 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy: 8.7/6.8/7.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 407.8 L / 819.5 L seats down
2017 Nissan Micra SV
Base Price $14,048
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,600
Price as Tested $15,748
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.4
7 Styling
7 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
9 Value