Home / Reviews / Shootout / The World Cup of Small Cars Micra vs Rivals


Cliche? Perhaps, but then you can’t blame us for getting caught up in the season’s fervour. Harmaan R A J Madon has to referee this one.
Photography Sanjay Raikar

Come to think of it, we have two cars from Japan (Maruti Swift and Nissan Micra), one from Italy (Fiat Grande Punto), a German (VW Polo) and a Korean (Hyundai i10). All strong products with their share of uniqueness vying for the ultimate glory.

The Micra is home free, because it is the newest car here. But that’s not all. It is a very good car with the right attributes to appeal to the Indian buyer. True, I’m circumspect about Nissan going down the whole brand ambassador route and some of the features might not necessarily mean much to the long-term ownership experience, like the snazzy keyless entry, but the fact that Nissan is trying to be different does win it favour. It’s big on the inside too, with three average adults fitting in the back, and the boot isn’t shabby either. However, Nissan has hit the cross bar with the Micra’s styling and interior. What’s all the noise about the ‘greige’ interiors? Cheesy, and they don’t hold together as tightly as, say, the VW Polo’s.

The exterior styling will surely polarise opinion, but I will refrain from commenting. As they say, if you have nothing nice to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.
The Swift has been Maruti-Suzuki’s talisman in India. Sure, other cars from its stable might sell more, but this is a car that has caught the Indian buyers’ fancy so much that Maruti has consistently been the best-seller in the segment. The fact that Nissan made no secret of benchmarking the Swift when it was developing the Micra made it a default contender for this comparo. Yes, the new Swift is on its way and, maybe, we’re  being a little unfair to Maruti by using the existing model, but surely there’ll be a rematch soon.


We’ve taken Hyundai’s hot-selling i10 along as well. Why? Simply because the i20 is far too expensive to compete, although a no-frills model would just about meet the price point of the new Micra. The i10 1.2 Kappa Asta (whew) we drove comes loaded with all bells and whistles, including every creature comfort and safety feature you want in a small car, making it exceedingly good value for money. The 1.2 Kappa motor moves the i10 along reasonably well, making it a car that you won’t mind taking out on the highway every once in a while either. Its ergonomics are spoiled by awkward pedal positioning, though, docking it the brownie points earned by the well laid-out dash. But it’s well built, quick plus very easy to drive in crowded city traffic.

The Grande Punto, like most things Italian, has a lot of style. It has verve, yet it’s classy in a way that few other cars are. Makes you wonder why so many carmakers can’t seem to blend the same pizzazz into their models. Surely, we have some smart lookers here, but for sheer good looks, the Punto takes the cake. However, like many things Italian, it doesn’t have that finishing touch. Much like their soccer team, who made an ungracious exit from the FIFA World Cup, I’m forced to red card the Punto for its below par performance, fuel economy and fit and finish. 

That brings us to ze German. Vell, the Polo deservedly won our earlier shootout on the merit of it being such a complete car. It is built like a tank, rides like a big car and has interiors that would embarrass some cars with twice its price. It handles well, is quick for a little petrol and not too shabby at the pumps either. If there is a grouse, it’s got to be the rear. A bit tight, and not the best seating-posture either, but then this is a car primarily for Europe, where most owners drive themselves and rarely use the rear quarters. The concept of a hatchback as a ‘family car’ is definitely Indian, so we can’t really be too unfair to ze Polo.

Okay, so we’ve accelerated the league stage, but we have four cars here. Which two will make it to the final?

Let’s start with the Swift. Like a tired striker that has soldiered on in extra time, the Swift nevertheless acquits itself very well. Think five years and still top of the goal-scoring list. But it is long in the tooth now, the pseudo-Mini styling effect is beginning to wane, the interior plastics are about average, plus there’s the tiny boot to consider. Factor in the soon-to-be-launched all-new Swift, and you have second thoughts about the current car. A case of tired legs then, but the Swift can’t quite cut it in extra time.

Next up, the i10. Hyundai’s ‘i’ nomenclature is catchy for sure and quite in keeping with the iPod/iPhone generation. But just look at it. It’s almost as though the designers lacked any imagination whatsoever, save for the gaping grille on the lower front bumper. While it’s very easy to get in and out of it, the ride quality itself isn’t anything special, which, while okay in city traffic and at slow speeds (thanks largely to the high-profile tyres), tends to be choppy at speed on an open road. The electrically-assisted steering is artificial in feel as well. It is a car, but has the feel of an appliance rather than something you’d want to possess or hanker after. Lastly, it is smaller on the insides, including its boot, vis-a-vis its standing rivals.

So, the new Nissan Micra and the Volkswagen Polo make it to the final. Let’s see what the scoreline reads before the whistle blows.

Rice or potatoes? Fish or sausage? Your culinary preferences aside, both contenders enter the final with the promise of a cracking head-to-head match.

Japan may be free-kick specialists, as they showed to deadly effect in South Africa 2010, and indeed the Micra lets loose some thundering shots. A 13-odd seconds to the ton is not to be ignored! Of course, the Micra benefits from low kerb weight, with corresponding positives in the fuel efficiency department as well. But then the light build is its undoing in some aspects. The ride can be skittish over ruts, with a tendency to tramline at times. Also, although it has been extensively tested for crash-worthiness, the Micra doesn’t exude a solid feel. Further, while Nissan has done well to provide a driver’s airbag even on the base model, ABS is available only in the top-end XV. Nissan should at least consider offering it as a cost option on the mid-spec XL.

The interiors on the top-end XV we drove have the grey and beige interiors, which, while they’re airy, don’t feel particularly robust. The cheaper XL and XE get black interiors, with a terribly shiny finish. In the Polo’s august company, the Micra falls short in this aspect.

By comparison, the Polo’s interiors make you smile. The fit, finish and tactile feel are unsurpassed in this segment. The front seats are also immensely comfortable. Even long hours at the wheel do not cause too much fatigue. But why the lack of a dead pedal, VW? It’s a small omission, but something which you tend to miss during long stints. You enjoy driving the Polo; its combination of big-car feel, well-weighted steering, strong brakes and good ’shift quality all contributing. However, you wish you had a little more poke, and while the 1.2 is good for city use most of the time, it can feel slightly overwhelmed on the highway.

The stereo is lovely too, one of the better factory-fitted items we have experienced to date, but VW would do well to provide iPod/USB connectivity as well. The rear seat is a bit cosy, with not as much legroom or head room as we would have liked, compared with the Micra, for example. But, as they say, you can’t have it all.

The score line is pretty even thus far. Both cars have attacked and defended well. The Micra’s willing engine and marginally better fuel efficiency are definite pluses as is its better interior room.

The Polo has struck back with better fit and finish and a big car feel, while being far ahead in the interior department. It’s better to drive as well, and feels better put together too.

Will this one go to penalties? I think not. The German camp unleashes a curling ball with deadly effect. The price is the clincher. At Rs 5.54 lakh (OTR, Pune), the Polo Comfortline is a good Rs 50,000 cheaper than the Nissan Micra XV. You might argue that, spec for spec, the Nissan has an advantage, but not really where it matters. No doubt, keyless entry and electrically-folding mirrors might be useful as feel-good features, but they add very little to what makes a ‘good car’. In that respect, the Polo still continues its reign at the top of the heap. It’s been a hard-fought match, but to the victor lie the spoils.




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