Some cars are ugly to start with. Other cars have ugliness thrust upon them. Who said (1) Bangle-era BMWs and (2) current BMWs? Not us. The funny thing is though that even the ugliest cars enjoy a honeymoon period, usually at the beginning or end of their life cycle, when their looks are not actively hated by the majority of the population.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule and many would say that Nissan's K12 Micra is one of them. Shed is prepared to risk his next four weeks' worth of old age pension on a bet that nobody has ever said 'that's a great looking car' when discussing it. It was beaten hard by the ugly stick by the designer, beaten a bit more by whoever was responsible for signing off the final design, and never treated to any kind of beautifying process in the whole of its eight-year life from 2002 to 2010. Oh, there were facelifts, but when you're gopping in the first place a facelift only makes you look worse. Whenever Shed feels like he has been unlucky in love all he has to do is look at a K12 and remember that there's always somebody worse off than himself, ie K12 owners.
In fairness though, it wasn't all bad news. For a start, the K12 didn't look too terrible from the side, and for a second, or a couple of years in fact, Nissan made a sporty version that couldn't help but go a lot better than it looked. They called it the 160 SR, which made people think it had 160hp whereas in fact it only had 109. Where did the 160 come from then? Well, if you added a zero to it you got the cubic capacity of the engine, sort of, which was a lot less exciting. Maybe there were complaints about misleading advertising at the time because Nissan renamed it the Sport SR a year later, but then another year after that they plucked up some courage and re-renamed it the 160 SR.
We had one of these chappies in here a year or so ago, a red five-door that had just gone through its MOT with no advisories at 108,000 miles. Today’s black three-door went through its MOT with no advisories in June at 93,000 miles. It’s still at that mileage, has a full service history and costs £1,290, which is the great scheme of things these days seems not bad.
When the 160 SR was new at a fiver under £10k it was up against plenty of other nippy superminis like the Panda 100HP, Swift Sport, Yaris T-Sport, 206 1.6 Sport and Cit C2 VTR/S, but it held its own in contemporary reviews. The 160 SR’s HR16DE variable valve timing engine was a detuned version of the one Renault used in the Twingo 133. It’s also featured in various Jukes and Qashqais. In the 160 SR it may have only had 109hp and a high nines 0-60 time, but it was a fun steer that felt a lot quicker than the meh figures suggested thanks to a closely stacked five-speed box, light weight (not much more than a tonne) and suspension that was well matched to that weight.
Not matched in the perfectly damped manner of a Delta Integrale, say, but in a way that delivered good body control and dartability, if not ride comfort so much. For that, 160 SR owners could thank the Nürburgring development time put by the chassis nerds from Nissan's Cranfield-based Technical Centre who had also been responsible for the Euro-spec 350Z. The Micra was lowered, stiffened in both spring and roll rates, and given a girthier front anti-roll bar. One well-known and highly credible UK mag gave the Nissan four stars, praising its spirited engine and engaging chassis. They also said that rivals had a more youthful image, which was another way of saying it was ugly.
If you felt that the chassis could handle more than 109hp, which it certainly could, minor tweaks on the inlet and exhaust would get you up to 120hp. Shed dimly remembers somebody in Greece chatting about a 150hp turbo kit but he can't recall if that ever happened. If it did, it might well have felt like Greece in the cabin because there wasn't much room in the SR's engine bay to start with even before you thought about wedging a red-hot turbine in there.
Some 160 SRs generated an odd groaning noise at around 2,500rpm. This wasn't caused by the owner realising what a terrible buying decision they had made but by a heat shield rubbing against the anti-roll bar and lambda sensor. Cam timing was by chain, and Micras did have a reputation for chain stretch, but that was mainly on the 1.2s. Having said that, somebody once told Shed that chain stretch became more of an issue on Nissans after Renault took charge of this part of engine production. Whatever, the mantra was that unless the chain was impressively noisy you should leave it alone because putting a new one in was a pricey exercise. Clutches weren't cheap to replace either.
Generally, however Micras have always been associated with low running costs and with the exception of the things that we just mentioned the 160 SR wouldn't kill you on that score. Some ignition units played up, some engine mounts didn’t play the game and some driver’s door locks seized up, but fixes were usually easy and inexpensive. The spec level was high and so was the official combined mpg which sailed easily into the forties even under duress. With gentler use you could get up to 50mpg. With a pair of blinkers you could even pretend it wasn't ugly. What you wouldn't be able to wish away was the regular sight of other cars pulling out in front of you from a side road, their drivers having concluded that you were bumbling along in a bog stock K12.
1 / 5