Buying a new car is an expensive exercise.
This is why, when the time comes, many South Africans turn to the used car market.
Fortunately, there are deals aplenty and a good “demo” or “lightly-used” car is the route to go for most drivers looking for a reliable and affordable ride.
In doing so you not only get a relatively clean car, the service, repairs, tyres and other maintenance factors are not going to be terribly expensive, either.
And if it still has a warranty or service plan, these expenses can fall away completely.
This is why when I was offered the opportunity to review a one-year-old Nissan Micra Active Visia from a Motus dealer in Johannesburg, I did not hesitate.
In terms of price, it plays in the sweet spot for entry-level car buyers – which is typically R150,000 to R200,000.
This model is on the “floor” at Motus for R159,900.
With 20,100kms on the clock, it’s a R30,800 saving on the new price for the same model.
Styling and features
It’s not the new-generation Micra launched in 2018 – rather, it’s a carry-over from the previous generation launched in 2011 but updated in 2017 to fill the gap in the line-up with a slightly cheaper car.
Think Polo Vivo and Polo, or Corolla Quest and Corolla.
Being a generation older it is looking a little dated both inside and outside, but it’s not that old that you feel uncomfortable.
The dash and some exterior styling like the grille and hubcaps have newer Nissan design cues, and overall it’s a pleasant-looking car.
Providing drive is a 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine putting out 56kW and 104Nm through a 5-speed manual gearbox.
As with many 3-cylinder engines it’s throaty, and revs freely, which gives it some character.
It manages to keep pace up hills and stick comfortably to the speed limits on the highways, while driving around town is not a chore. The engine noise is never terribly loud inside, but it’s always present.
Shifting gears is a simple affair and the gear change has a positive action to it. There’s no vague, sticky shifts, which is the kind of positive reinforcement lacking in competitors.
The small-capacity engine means its frugal at the pumps, too, and 5.2l per 100km is achievable on the combined cycle. The 41l fuel tank should then cost around R570 to fill (from reserve).
The Micra Active has manual air-conditioning, front power windows, Bluetooth with audio streaming capability, a 12V power socket, steering wheel adjustment, and foldable rear seats.
It’s a practical car and built well. The plastics are a little hard and shiny in places and the steering-wheel controls of the previous generation are gone, but it’s a comfortable city runabout that doesn’t shy away from long trips.
Its biggest highlight is its space and safety, though.
Despite the price, it’s bigger than most entry-level hatches under R200,000, and the boot can accommodate a decent haul.
If it’s a student car, you could easily fit a subwoofer in there and still have space for a rucksack.
Up front in the dash is a touchscreen audio system with TomTom mapping and live traffic, USB input, a built-in music hard drive, and iPhone/iPod compatibility.
It does not feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but it gets the job done.
On the safety side it has ABS, EBD and brake assist, driver and passenger airbags, remote central locking, and auto door locks.
Visually this car looks new. Although it lacks the new-car smell, it is still a good deal in today’s climate – especially when you consider that it carries the remainder of its 6-year/150,000km warranty and 3-year/90,000km service plan.
Buying a second-hand car can be a betting man’s game and I have been hurt this way before.
After spending the equivalent of the purchase price of the car I bought on repairs within two years, I realised that the “deal” I got was not really a deal at all – I should have kept the 1.4 I had instead of betting my happiness on a 2.5 V6.
Since then, I have opted for demos and low-mileage second-hand cars, so I have become accustomed to not being the first owner.
There will always be those who are prepared to pay for the comfort of being the first, but buying a car like this Nissan Micra from a reputable dealer network makes it very easy to go the used route.