I have to admit I had no idea what I was looking at when I first saw a Nissan Figaro. In Emerald Green, to be specific, as opposed to Pale Aqua, Lapis Gray or, rarest of them all, Topaz Mist. London car expert Máté was there to patch the gap in my brain so I can now tell you about this cute little button of a car.
It was built in very limited numbers on a Micra platform for Japanese domestic use. Nissan only planned a production run of 8,000 which was bumped to 20,000 to meet demand. Rather like when Ferrari decided to make an extra 50 Enzos—then one more for the Pope—to round the original run of 349 up to a nice and even 400.
The Figaro is like those tiny Japanese cars from the 60s, from back when the Japanese were still scrappy upstarts when it came to producing cars, and when companies like Honda were more knows for motorcycles (and Formula One racing cars). Cars that used engines more commonly utilized in dialysis pumps or pacemakers. Like the Honda S600’s exquisite 0.6-liter inline four—with DOHC and four carbs. Except, of course, the Figaro is a modern car.
Compared to its spiritual predecessors, the Figaro runs a big block. Its turbocharged one-liter MA10ET makes 75 HP which sounds infinitesimal until you consider that it has but 1,800 pounds of car to propel. Imagine a car whose power-to-weight ratio improves by 10 percent if a corpulent driver disembarks.
What makes the Figaro so popular in London is of course the fact that all of them were built right-hand-drive. Given that the whole production run was twenty thousand, you bump into them surprisingly often. And their only saving grace is that they are much older than you’d think: the Figaro was introduced 20 years ago at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show.
It’s almost retro by its own right. Almost.