If you live in a big metro and drive yourself around daily, you will have no doubt found yourself stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at some stage. With the situation ever worsening, more people are willing to spend extra for the convenience of an automatic gearbox. This trend is slowly but surely filtering down to hatchbacks as well, and that’s because these cars are predominantly owner-driven.
Honda’s Brio has been the favourite in the hatchback segment, and it’s easy to see why. It’s stylish, easy to drive, has a strong, fuel-efficient engine and a practical, well-appointed cabin too.
Nissan’s new Micra auto, however, has the technology, at least on paper, to upstage it. It comes with Nissan’s high-tech X-Tronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) under the hood, which promises to deliver the fuel efficiency of a manual gearbox. It now also gets a new, more aggressive nose, an attractive chrome grille, new pulled-back headlamps, and a deeper, more aggressive chin. There are also new alloy wheels, LED tail-lamps, a new rear bumper and a plastic add-on for the tailgate lip. But does the Nissan do enough to upstage the very capable Honda Brio? Continued..
What are they like to drive?
The biggest mechanical change in the updated Nissan Micra is the addition of the CVT gearbox. Despite its engine making less power than the Honda Brio, the car feels quite lively to drive in the city. This is partly down to Nissan’s very responsive three-cylinder engine and partly down to how the new CVT automatic gearbox manages to keep the engine at the optimum engine speed.
During normal driving, the Micra happily ambles along at city speeds, the gearbox keeping the motor at very low revs. The X-Tronic CVT comes with a steel belt for greater durability and more direct transmission of power. Clever programming of the gearbox software helps fuel efficiency improve too.
But tap on the throttle and the gearbox immediately wakes up and gets the engine spinning faster, altering the gear ratio at the same time. This results in a big surge in power, ideal for our stop-go traffic. Scything through traffic, as a result, is a breeze, the engine pulling strongly whenever you need some additional speed and pace. But, while the Micra does respond to a tap on the throttle as if it has a larger, more powerful engine, it does feel jerky to drive at times, and the performance delivered is often difficult to meter precisely.
There’s even more grunt on tap if you pin the throttle to the floor, but this is accompanied by an increase in engine noise and a bit of a ‘rubberband’ effect as the car is pulled forward.
The Brio’s four-cylinder 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine produces a much stronger 88bhp, 12bhp up on the Micra. It feels a bit smoother (the Nissan suffers a few three-cylinder-typical vibrations) and is faster when it comes to flat-out acceleration.
0-100kph in the Brio takes 15.09 seconds to the Micra’s 17.88 seconds, but this is skewed in favour of the Honda because the Nissan’s CVT gearbox didn’t allow us to ‘launch’ the car quite as strongly as required during the test. In the real world the difference isn’t as much.
The Brio is however nowhere as responsive to drive as the Nissan in city traffic. The gearbox is a bit lethargic at low speeds, the motor makes its peak pulling power at a higher speed and power delivery is initially not very enthusiastic either. At times, it takes a while to get up to speed even when you use full throttle abruptly in traffic. This makes it a bit frustrating to drive in the city.
Neither car comes with ‘tip-tronic’ or shift paddles but both allow some control with the slots for first and second gear.Continued..
Ride and handling
The Micra’s suspension isn’t as well sorted as the Brio’s. It’s fairly comfortable at slow speeds, but up the pace, especially on a bad road, and the Micra doesn’t feel as settled as we would have liked, and the suspension is noisy over sharp bumps. The Micra rolls around corners too and the light steering, which is a boon in the city, feels vague at high speeds. The Micra isn’t ideally suited for spirited driving and feels best when driven in the city.
It’s the Brio that’s more willing when you’re in the mood and once you push the car harder, the Brio displays poise, balance and confidence rarely found in a car of this class. With its confidence-inspiring brake pedal and eagerness to tackle corners, the Brio feels like a special little car. The ride is fairly pliant too, bad roads are soaked up quite well and the suspension works silently too. It’s only on uneven surfaces that the Brio’s sharp vertical movement makes it feel a bit choppy and, at higher speeds, a fair amount of road noise creeps into the cabin too.
As expected, both cars, with their compact dimensions and light steering, are easy to drive in the city. The Brio has much more steering feel and also better visibility through the rear windscreen while reversing. Continued..
What are they like inside?
The Nissan Micra’s refresh extends to its cabin too. The seat fabric is different, the dual-tone plastics are new and the dashboard is significantly restyled as well. The centre console gets a new glossy-black finish and overall perceived quality has gone up too. Still, some plastics look a bit creaky and there are some cheap-looking bits. Overall, the new cabin is a lot better than before, and quality sees a step up too. The Micra’s arched roof also helps give it an airy feel. The front seats however lack thigh support and are a bit flat too.
The Honda Brio is the master when it comes to interior packaging and the Brio is no different. Given its compact dimensions, you don’t expect such space, but the Brio can accommodate passengers in greater comfort than many bigger hatchbacks. You get a fantastic view out from the driver’s seat and the driving position is spot on. The Brio’s dashboard is well built too, but the absence of a full centre console gives it a spartan feel. The poorly finished rear power window switches and the lack of a CD player also tell you where Honda has saved money.
The Micra, in comparison, has a fuller dashboard which merges nicely into the doorpads. The air-con and CD-player-equipped music system are neatly integrated into the central console, and in terms of storage space the Nissan is quite generous too, with bottle-holders on each of the doors.
The Brio offers substantially less boot space compared to the Micra, barely enough for a weekend outing. The Micra, on the other hand, has a much more practical 251-litre boot and can easily accommodate large suitcases. Continued..
Equipment and safety
The Nissan Micra comes in three variants – XL, XL (O) and XV. The base XL costs Rs 4.79 lakh and comes with body-coloured bumpers, front and rear power windows, air-conditioning, tilt adjust for the steering and an immobiliser. Next is the XL (O), which adds a keyless-go system, 2-DIN music system, Bluetooth telephony and a driver airbag for Rs 5.42 lakh. The top-end XV comes with chrome on the grille, a rear defogger, auto-folding electric mirrors, seat-height adjust, two gloveboxes, automatic climate control, steering controls, two airbags and immobiliser. The diesel version of the car is also available in a top-of-the-line XV (P) variant, which gets a rear spoiler, fog lamps, a reversing camera and four airbags. The Brio has five variants – E, EX, S, V and VX. The base E, at Rs 4.15 lakh, has only basic equipment. It comes with only power steering, air conditioning, manually adjustable mirrors, front power windows and an immobiliser. Move one step up to the S and you get steering-mounted controls, chrome air vents, seat height adjust, keyless entry, rear power windows, electric mirrors and a rear parcel shelf. The S model is priced at Rs 4.64 lakh. The V variant, priced at Rs 5.09 lakh, comes with alloy wheels, fog lamps, dual-tone beige cabin and a rear defogger. The top VX variant will set you back by Rs 5.38 lakh for the manual and Rs 6.16 lakh for the automatic variant. It comes with safety features like twin airbags and ABS as standard.
Like the Honda City, the Brio doesn’t get a CD player even on the VX variant. More of a glaring omission is the lack of Bluetooth connectivity, something present on even the Nano. You also don’t get a rear wiper, which is strange considering how much muck the flat rear picks up in the monsoon. Verdict and tech specs
The Honda Brio is a seriously well engineered product with few areas of weakness. It is spacious, comfortable, well-built and practical. It rides well, is fun to drive and is well priced too. This automatic version, however, is slow to respond when you demand a change in pace and that sometimes makes it a bit irksome to drive in urban conditions. This is down to its slow-witted gearbox and the engine’s weak mid-range. Honda has also left out some important features, even on the top-spec Brio auto.
The Nissan Micra is a bit more expensive but much better equipped. It is just as spacious, as comfortable to sit in and the new interiors feel more upmarket. Yes, the ride is definitely clunky over bad roads and the handling doesn’t feel as grown up as that of the Brio, but the Micra feels much better suited to urban conditions because its three-cylinder engine and CVT gearbox combination gel really well together. Power delivery is immediate, so you can zip in and out of traffic with less effort, and the CVT gearbox helps deliver fuel economy figures that are as good as that of a manual-gearbox-equipped car. And that makes all the difference.