Here are two vehicles that will surprise and delight.

Graduate: Nissan Micra

WHAT IS IT?

The Nissan Micra is a compact five-door hatchback with which I have a love-hate relationship. The third generation was the first available in South Africa, and it was brilliant – quirky but practical (love). The fourth generation lost the quirkiness and brilliance, and was little more than a good option for a hire car (hate). But the fifth generation, available locally for a few months now, is the best ever – the love is back!

WHY THIS?

Nissans offer reliability and decent resale value, and with the new Micra you also get a crackingly good-looking car with an outstanding interior that is great to drive, and it’s not yet another Polo or Fiesta. It has to be the best blend of exciting and sensible in the segment today. Also, when you first start working, it’s nice to be able to budget accurately, and Nissan’s excellent 6-year/150 000km warranty as well as a 3-year/90 000km service plan all but eliminate unforeseen costs during ownership.

OUTSIDE

It could be suggested that Nissan has done this car a disservice by calling it a Micra – it looks nothing like any previous Micra, and is undeniably sexy. A five-door hatch with hidden rear door handles and a floating roofline, the Micra manages to look sporty, athletic and thoroughly modern, thanks mainly to the angular front end, prominent air diffusers and flared rear wheel arches. The Nissan designers have hit the nail on the head here and a good reminder that this is the same company that designed the GT-R.

INSIDE

The cabin of the Micra has been very well built with top-quality materials. Like the exterior, it is modern without sacrificing practicality, and everything is well laid out for the occupants.

Safety has been prioritised, and every new Micra comes with six airbags as standard, plus Isofix child seats, including in the front passenger seat. Electronic safety systems include Vehicle Dynamic Control, Anti-locking Braking System, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Hill Start Assist.
The Visia comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, daytime running lights, front power windows, a manual aircon, a Bluetooth and MP3 compatible audio system, cruise control, automatic headlights, six airbags and much more.
The Acenta adds 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights among other features while the Acenta Plus has 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and an Energy Orange interior. The 7-inch touchscreen colour display on the Acenta and Acenta Plus allows the driver to access features such as music, messages and maps through Apple CarPlay in addition to the MP3, USB and Bluetooth in the Visia model.

THE DRIVE

Local Micra buyers have no option when it comes to the drivetrain – all three models come with a 0.9-litre (900cc) turbocharged petrol engine (which is also used in a number of Renault vehicles) and a five-speed manual gearbox. It produces power of 66kW and torque of 140Nm, using a claimed 5.1L/100km of petrol. These modern little engines are quite phenomenal, but you do need to learn how to drive them, keeping them in their optimum rev range for decent performance.

The drive quality is another aspect that is worlds apart from earlier Micras. The cabin is well insulated from noise, the ride quality is comfortable without being wallowy, and it handles nicely too. Overall it’s an entertaining car to drive.

FINAL WORD

Nissan has been daring in totally revitalising the Micra name, delivering a complete compact car package with a bold new face. If you can come to terms with a car named Micra being desirable, you won’t have any buyer’s regret.

GO GET IT

Prices are easy to remember: R233 500, R257 400 and R272 400, for the Visia, Acenta and Acenta Plus respectively. Visit www.nissan.co.za for more information.

Middle Management: Volvo XC40

WHAT IS IT?

As with many vehicle manufacturers, Volvo is expanding its SUV line into multiple size and budget brackets. The XC40 is the most affordable of the true Volvo SUVs, but it is at the same time the most stylish – with it you can downsize without downgrading.

WHY THIS?

In these days of recession threats, austerity measures, staff cutbacks and diminishing profits, it is important to be seen to be sensible and sympathetic to the bottom line. Going with a slightly smaller, less in-your-face vehicle might be the considerate thing to do.

There are a few vehicle brands on the up-and-up, and Volvo is most definitely one of them. Long gone are the days of boxy practicality and a one-string reputation ­– safety over anything. Have a look at the Volvo model range and you will be casting your eyes on some of the most scrumptiously designed vehicles on the market. The SUVs are all particularly irresistible, the XC90, the XC60 and this, the XC40.

OUTSIDE

Even alongside the other thoroughbreds in its stable, the XC40 looks as though it was sculpted by a master’s hand and with a master’s eye. To me, none of its rivals come close in terms of aesthetics and charm, while it exudes the road presence and status of a far larger, more expensive vehicle.

The designers have based the XC40 on the designs of the XC60 and XC90 (you can’t miss the family grille and headlights) but managed to give it a fresh interpretation that is fun and funky without losing the classiness. The black-roofed versions are particularly effective, as the roofline disappears into the background, highlighting the svelte but angular bodyline, perched atop large, beautiful wheels.

INSIDE

The charm continues as you slip behind the wheel of this, the littlest XC. It is attention to detail that really pays off, and this is a lesson that can be carried across to just about any business – these are what make the customer feel special and happy. While the dashboard is centred around a massive 9-inch touchscreen, it is the classy, stainless steel, rectangular air vents that repeatedly caught my eye. Another highlight is the gear selector, which is small and beautifully crafted from stainless steel and leather. It is these touches that you find yourself noticing time and again, making the cabin of the XC40 a place that you genuinely enjoy spending time in, which in turn adds bookmarks to your long day in the office with a period of solace. 

THE DRIVE

Volvo has done a good job of balancing comfort with agility with the XC40’s suspension, as well as offering a number of engine options that should meet with just about everyone’s needs. There are small petrol engines (T3 – 115kW/ 265Nm), big petrol engines (T5 – 185kW/ 350Nm) and medium diesel (D4 – 240kW/ 400Nm) engines, although only the T3 petrol engine is available with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. The others all get all-wheel drive and 8-speed automatic gearboxes.

As always, Volvo has been serious about safety with the XC40, including all the regular active and passive safety features as well as things like City Safety, which is described as like having a co-pilot on the lookout for other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and large animals that might pose a threat of collision. Brilliant if you spend time on the road making work calls (via Bluetooth, obviously) or are distracted by other work pressures.

FINAL WORD

An SUV for the city, the XC40 does not promise to take you on remote adventures over the weekend, but it does deliver comfort, style and happiness in large doses, all of which make the work week that much more endurable.

GO GET IT

For a car this appealing, the entry-level price is quite incredible. R486 500 will buy you the T3 manual, although the most expensive XC40, the T5 Geartronic AWD is another R160 000 at R644 100. All Volvos come standard with a 5-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan. Visit www.volvocars.com/za for more information.

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