I am sorry to say that with each passing day, the 2000s Nissan Micra looks better and better. Why is it a bummer that I’m growing increasingly charmed by an economy car never sold in the United States? Because we nearly nabbed it.
This is the 2002-10 Nissan Micra, known in its home market of Japan as the March and recognized among Nissan fans by its internal corporate chassis code K12. I kid! Nissan nerds love talking about the R32 Skyline and B13 Sentra SE-R and Z33 300ZX. Having a preference between an S13, S14, or S15 Silvia is a personality trait in the world of drifting and knowing what an R34 denotes is a right of passage into tuner car fandom. These are all iconic performance cars, hot versions for those in the know.
This is, uh, not what you get with the 2000s Micra. This Micra didn’t have a serious performance version. It was not a rally monster. It was not a hypermiler of legendary economy. It was no icon; there was nothing iconic about it.
Except! It looks absolutely amazing, and better each day.
The styling is consciously anti-edgy. It is the Pebl to the rest of the world’s Razr. Its bug eyes beam out over a safe and smooth hood. Its doors round out over sturdy fenders. It looks like an escape pod. It looks like a flat-faced dog. No! Not a dog. A little bug, like a roly-poly.
It is a gem! What it is not, is available for purchase by U.S. drivers. This was almost not the case.
This generation of Nissan Micra was supposed to come to the United States under the Smart brand, as Jalopnik’s resident Smart expert Mercedes Streeter pointed out in our office Slack channel. I had forgotten that Smart was originally sold exclusively through Penske dealerships when it arrived Stateside in 2008. Mercedes-Benz took over the U.S. sales of Smart years later, in 2011 as Automotive News reported. One of the false-start plans of Penske for Smart was to bring over the Micra as a kind of four-door Smart. It was lost in the Mercedes-Benz sales takeover, as Automotive News noted when the deal was announced back in 2011:
The 21 Smart dealerships that do not have Mercedes products will lose the franchise, leaving Smart with 58 U.S. dealers. Four of the 21 dealerships that will lose the Smart franchise belong to publicly traded Penske Automotive.In addition, a four-door car being developed by Nissan for Smart USA has been canceled.
What was this four-door car? Well, it was to be a Micra, as Motor Trend previewed as late as October 2010:
The new Smart will use Nissan’s next-generation Micra/March platform, which also is related to the next-generation Renault Twingo (Motor Trend, July 2010). The new Micra launched in Thailand last March, with other Asian nations following. The new March is set to go on sale in Europe in November. It employs Nissan’s V-Platform, which its “godfather,” Noritaka Tsuru, called a “breakthrough project” when revealed to journalists late last year at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show.
Smart says its new model will be built in a Nissan plant in the U.S. It’s likely to be built in Europe for those markets, as well. Roger Penske manages and markets Daimler’s Smart brand in North America, and the Nissan factory connection has long been in the works. You’ll remember that Penske was trying to line up Nissan production of Saturns in early 2009, when he was in negotiations to buy that brand from General Motors. Last spring, Smart owner Daimler announced a strategic alliance with Nissan/Renault.
I will warn you not to click the above link, as it includes a rendering of what Motor Trend thought the Smart/Micra would look like. It is terrifying to behold. It is not a roly poly. It is a chimera of horrifying proportions, with a leering maw and beaming eyes. I am having waking nightmares of it slowly crushing me and gobbling my internal organs for sustenance.
Thankfully, the Micra never looked like that, though Nissan contracted Ray Mallock (of Nissan Group C fame) to take one, rip out the back seat and stuff a Nissan 350Z engine back there.
It was like a Renault Turbo II, if the Renault Turbo II looked like it was racing... for love. That we never got that thing is a genuine shame.