Some cars start out ugly. Other cars have the ugliness imposed on them. Who said (1) BMWs of the Bangle era and (2) current BMWs? Not us. The funny thing is that even the ugliest cars enjoy a honeymoon period, usually at the beginning or end of their life cycle, when their appearance is not actively disliked by the majority of population.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and many would say Nissan’s K12 Micra is one of them. Shed is willing to risk his next four weeks of old-age pension betting no one ever said “that’s a nice car” when discussing it. It was beaten hard by the designer’s ugly baton, beaten some more by whoever was responsible for signing off on the final design, and has never been through any embellishment process in its eight years life from 2002 to 2010. Oh, there have been facelifts, but when you’re having a facelift, a facelift only makes you look worse. Whenever Shed feels like he’s been unlucky in love, all he has to do is look at a K12 and remind himself that there’s always someone worse than him, that’s ie the owners of K12.
In all honesty though, it wasn’t all bad news. For starters, the K12 didn’t look too terrible from the side, and for a second, or a few years in fact, Nissan made a sporty version that couldn’t help but go much better than it looked. seemed there. They called it the 160 SR, which made it look like it had 160 hp when in fact it only had 109. Where did the 160 come from then? Well, if you added a zero to it, you got the engine displacement, sort of, which was a lot less exciting. Maybe there were complaints of misleading advertising at the time because Nissan renamed it Sport SR a year later, but a year later they plucked up some courage and renamed it 160 SR .
We had one of these chappies here about a year ago, a red five-door that had just passed its no-notice 108,000-mile MOT. Today’s black three-door passed its MOT without notice in June at 93,000 miles. It’s still at that mileage, has a full service history and costs £1,290, which is the grand scheme of things these days doesn’t look bad.
When the 160 SR was new at under £10,000 it was up against many 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 journals. The variable valve timing HR16DE engine in the 160 SR was a detuned version of that used by Renault in the Twingo 133. It is also present in various Jukes and Qashqais. In the 160 SR it might only have 109bhp and a high 0-60 nine time but it was fun steering that felt a lot quicker than the meh figures suggested thanks to a five speed gearbox tightly stacked, light weight (not much over a ton) and suspension well suited to that weight.
Not matched in the perfectly damped way of a Delta Integrale, say, but in a way that offered good body control and flexing ability, if not so much ride comfort. For that, 160 SR owners could thank the Nürburgring development time put in by chassis nerds at Nissan’s Cranfield-based Technical Center, who had also been responsible for the European-spec 350Z. The Micra was lowered, stiffened in both spring and roll rates, and featured a wider front anti-roll bar. A well-known and highly credible British magazine gave the Nissan four stars, praising its spirited engine and engaging chassis. They also said the rivals had a younger image, which was another way of saying it was ugly.
If you thought the chassis could handle over 109bhp, which it certainly could, minor tweaks to the intake and exhaust would get you up to 120bhp. Shed vaguely remembers someone in Greece talking about a 150hp turbo kit, but he doesn’t remember if that ever happened. If so, it might well have looked like Greece in the cabin as there wasn’t much room in the SR’s engine bay to start before you even thought of wedging a red-hot turbine there .
Some 160 SRs produced an odd whining noise at around 2500 rpm. This was not caused by the owner realizing what a terrible buying decision he had made, but by a heat shield rubbing against the anti-roll bar and lambda sensor. Cam timing was by chain, and Micras had a reputation for stretching the chain, but that was mostly on the 1.2s. That said, someone once told Shed that chain stretching became a problem for Nissans after Renault took over that part of engine production. Either way, the mantra was that unless the chain was incredibly loud, you should leave it alone, because fitting a new one was an expensive exercise. The clutches weren’t cheap to replace either.
Generally, however, Micras have always been associated with low running costs and except for the things we just mentioned, the 160 SR wouldn’t kill you on that score. Some ignition units worked, some engine mounts didn’t play along, and some driver’s door locks seized up, but repairs were generally easy and inexpensive. The level of specification was high, as was the official combined mpg which sailed easily into the forties, even under duress. With gentler use, you could get up to 50 mpg. With a pair of blinders on, you might even pretend it wasn’t ugly. What you couldn’t wish for was the regular sight of other cars pulling up in front of you from a side road, their drivers concluding that you were wading through K12 bog stock.
Nissan Micra 160SR | Shed of the week