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Adding to the diesel dilemma

S. Muralidhar | Updated on January 27, 2011 Published on January 24, 2011

Nissan Micra Diesel   -  BUSINESS LINE

Nissan Micra Diesel   -  BUSINESS LINE

Niss Micra Diesel   -  BUSINESS LINE

Niss Micra Diesel   -  BUSINESS LINE

Nissan Micra Diesel   -  BUSINESS LINE

Inspite of the recent flak that diesel-engined vehicles, especially SUVs (socially useless vehicles…yes, Minister) have come under, the fact remains that as a fuel of choice for meeting future efficiency regulations, diesel is the better bet.

Diesel will continue to make sense, even if for a moment we were to remove the subsidy component from the fuel price differential with petrol. Diesel engines are inherently more fuel-efficient than their petrol counterparts. And, there has been huge progress in the quality of diesel engines that the cars of today sport, making them more refined, more fuel-efficient and cleaner. However, their emissions will continue to be a concern until fuel quality can be improved.

It is also a market reality that the car buyer is unlikely to pay a much higher price for protecting the environment and is instead more likely to look for a bargain that will leave his wallet more padded.

In the small car segment, there were always fewer diesel options available compared to petrol. The Maruti Suzuki Swift, Hyundai i20 and the Tata Indica have been around longer and also have been the most preferred, until the Fiat Grande Punto and later the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Figo joined in with their diesel offerings. Other hatch makers like Hyundai and GM have also been eyeing the diesel hatch segment and are likely to join the fray soon.

However, the latest entrant is Nissan Motor India. The Micra diesel joins its petrol cousin to form a formidable duo. Can the diesel version help Nissan corner a larger share of the hatchback market? I tested the Micra diesel extensively to find out if it can take on the might of the Suzuki Swift DDiS.

Design

The Micra diesel features the same endearing and practical design that the petrol version sported. I personally liked the previous generation Micra’s cute design. The current generation Micra, however, features a unique combination of the jelly-bean and tall-boy designs. So, on the outside, the new diesel Micra is pretty much identical to the petrol. The only differentiator is the dCI (Nissan diesel) badging at the rear.

There is a good reason why there aren’t as many diesel small cars. In most cases, it is because developing a compact diesel engine that is refined and yet adequately powerful is still a challenge. The Micra’s small 1.5-litre diesel engine is the closest in terms of refinement to the larger mills that you can find in Nissan’s stable. Considerably quiet and vibe-free, the Micra’s diesel engine barely makes it presence felt inside the cabin. Company engineers say that the Renault Nissan Alliance already had a completely suitable engine for this vehicle in the form of the K9 series diesel engine. “It was therefore the natural choice to use an existing Alliance engine matching the power and torque requirements for a small car in India.” It is the first time that this highly popular diesel engine has been mounted for use in Nissan’s V Platform.

Refined engine

Crank the engine and you can hear the distinct, but muted, rumble of a diesel when you are standing outside. Step in and close the door, the noise level drops down significantly. With the air-conditioner blower fan cut out and the music system switched off, the engine is still audible during the idling and initial acceleration cycles. But, later and with a bit of ambient noise levels you will forget that this is a diesel engine car that you are driving.

The four-cylinder, common rail direct injected K9K engine is an inherently refined unit. But, to make sure that the engine characteristics don’t intrude into the cabin, a number of other NVH measures have been adopted. Nissan engineers have significantly reduced the number of holes (and size of holes) between the engine room and cabin. Further, the thickness of the firewall is greater in many places (compared to the previous generation Micra). They have also added NVH isolation material on both the engine bay side and cabin side, and added the same material beneath the carpet too. The absorber material used is ultra-light weight, ensuring a weight reduction of 4 kgs, even while improving performance considerably compared to the previous generation Micra. Vibration countering engine mounts have also been used. Other measures that have been adopted to improve refinement and efficiency include exhaust gas re-circulation, and pilot and pre-injection for the combustion cycle.

Engine and gearbox

In terms of performance, the Micra diesel’s engine is not exactly a boisterous mill. The comparison of performance numbers clearly indicates that the Micra diesel hits a peak output that is the lowest, even lower than the Ford Figo, which at 69 PS is the model currently in that rank. But, the Micra diesel’s performance parameters have been chosen carefully to match the average driving conditions and expectations of the buyer in the segment.

While driving the Micra diesel in city driving conditions, I didn’t find the need for more power. There were a few situations when quicker acceleration would have been welcome, like tight overtaking manoeuvres. But, the shortfall would have also come from the slightly delayed delivery of turbo boost.

Similar to the Ford Figo’s 1.4-litre Duratorq diesel engine, the Micra’s K9K engine also delivers the lowest peak torque in the class. But, again here too, the number itself is just a statistic for this class of car. The buyer here would be keener on the fuel efficiency statistics. I didn’t get a chance to test the fuel efficiency of the Micra diesel in the city and highway cycles, but the rated mileage at 23.08 kmpl is higher than the other cars in the category. If the Micra diesel can similarly deliver a higher mileage in real world conditions too, the buyer will not be complaining too much about the less attractive engine performance numbers. Overall, the choice of the new diesel engine for the Micra has been driven by practicality rather than by the need for one-upmanship. The 5-speed gearbox has been mated well to the engine and the shift quality of the short-throw gear stick is smooth.

Bottomline

The Micra diesel is being offered only with two variants. And compared to the petrol variants with the same model name appendage, the diesel variants are missing some features like the front fog lamps, front passenger airbag and ABS with EBD. These features may have been avoided to keep the price of the diesel variants more competitive.

But, priced at between Rs 5.6 lakh and Rs 6.4 lakh, the Micra is more expensive than the segment favourite - the Suzuki Swift DDiS, and also the Ford Figo, which is currently the cheapest diesel hatch. Yes, the Micra’s built quality, and some of its other features will make up for the higher price tag.

It sure does make the choice and appeal of the Micra more…macro.

Published on January 24, 2011
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