I don't pretend to be a car reviewer. But I do know a thing or two about fuel economy and how to drive efficiently.
So when Nissan invited me to have a closer look at the Micra during the media launch in Montreal, I decided to use my time behind the wheel to find out what kind of mileage it could deliver using plain vanilla ecodriving techniques that any driver can use in real world conditions.
The results -- in mixed city and highway driving -- were surprisingly good:
- 5.1 L/100 km - SV Manual transmission (55 mpg Imperial / 46 mpg US)
- 5.6 L/100 km - SR Automatic transmission (50 mpg Imperial / 42 mpg US)
(See below for details and disclaimers about these results.)
Fuel economy is the top search here
I'm far from the only person interested in the Micra's fuel economy: it's the number one search of visitors to this site.
That should come as no surprise, with gas prices near record highs in Canada -- and in Quebec, where the Micra is expected to sell particularly well, prices are perpetually higher than the national average. So fuel economy is definitely top of mind, and people want to know how just economical Nissan's newest economy car really is.
Unfortunately for Nissan, it faces a double-barrel problem when it comes to talking about the Micra's m.p.g.
NRCAN ratings changed for 2015
The first problem is that, as a 2015 model year car, the Micra is one of the first vehicles subject to Canada's updated fuel economy test methods. NRCAN has expanded on the old 2 cycle test which produced "optimistic" fuel economy ratings that many drivers felt were difficult or impossible to achieve.
The updated test method now puts the vehicle through 5 laboratory test cycles that include faster acceleration, higher speeds, a wider variety of temperatures, and higher accessory loads (eg. air conditioning). This produces arguably more "real world" ratings that many drivers will be able to get -- and even beat -- in every day driving.
This finally brings Canadian ratings in line with the U.S. EPA, which went to 5 cycle testing for the 2008 model year.
The Micra's 5 cycle official fuel economy ratings are:
* Combined = 55% city, 45% highway
Transmission City Highway Combined * 5-speed manual 8.6 L/100 km
33 mpg (Imp.)
27.4 mpg (US)
4-speed automatic 8.8 L/100 km
32 mpg (Imp.)
26.7 mpg (US)
The problem for Nissan is that all of its competitors are 2014 models, meaning they're still advertising the older, more impressive looking fuel economy ratings. So, until the 2015 model switchover and everyone is using the same ratings, the Micra is going to look bad by comparison.
It's safe to say the general public isn't going to know about this.
It's already easy to find misinformed online chatter about the Micra's "poor" mileage. And educating the public on the ratings issue isn't something that can be done in a simple sound bite.
Little car, (relatively) big engine
Nissan's second problem is that even when comparing the Micra's fuel economy against its competitors on a level playing field, it falls at the thirstier end of the spectrum.
That's because to keep costs down (the company's primary goal), the car shares its 109 hp, 1.6L engine with the larger Versa sedan and Note hatchback. (In other countries, a less powerful but more efficient 1.2L engine is available, either naturally aspirated or supercharged.)
With a more powerful engine than most of its classmates (e.g. 82 hp in the Chevy Spark; 74 hp in the Mitsubishi Mirage), it's no surprise that fuel economy is nothing to crow about, relatively speaking.
But in the hands of a motivated driver, the Micra is capable of decent real world numbers. It's absolutely capable of beating the new ratings.
Ecodriving in Montreal? C'est impossible, non?
Montreal drivers have a reputation for a certain "joie de vivre" behind the wheel. Let's just say they are not known to dawdle. So is it even possible to keep up with normal traffic and also drive efficiently?
Of course it is!
Riding shotgun and acting as navigator and general Micra encyclopedia during this test was Andrew Wilton, Nissan's marketing manager for the company's small car line up. I think he would agree that our Micra was definitely not a rolling road block. I went with the flow. (Right lane flow on the highway portion of the drive.)
Wilton himself is no stranger to ecodriving techniques: he told me he and a co-worker have been known to engage in friendly mileage competitions when they happen to be driving the same Nissan model on their similar commutes. And Wilton says he typically scores better numbers, even with similar travel times.
We drove the exact same route twice, first in a Micra SV with the 5-speed manual transmission, next in an SR automatic.
The almost round trip covered 34.1 km and included a mix of downtown traffic, ex-urban and highway driving.
Click image to enlarge. Or see Google Maps, Montreal - http://goo.gl/maps/EB60t
- Starting in the Old Port area, to Rue Notre Dame E
- Rue Dickson to Av. Souligny
- Trans Canada/25 to Exit 1 on Ile Charron
- Return to Rue Notre Dame E by the same route
- Except finishing at W Hotel instead of Old Port, via a short hop on 720 W / Ville Marie
The test: conditions & ecodriving techniques
- were admittedly pretty ideal
- warm weather (around 25 C / 77 F) and dry roads
- comfortable for windows-down motoring at city speeds
- minimal A/C needed with windows up at highway speeds
- mid-day traffic (on a weekday)
- the cars were both warm at the start of each loop (which helps the numbers, because cold starts mean higher fuel consumption until the drivetrain has completely warmed up)
Ecodriving techniques used:
- no fancy hypermiling here -- no pulse & glide or switching off the engine to coast
- in fact, the engines stayed on at all times, even at long traffic lights
- just basic, plain vanilla techniques that anybody can use, like...
- smooth, moderate acceleration;
- early upshifts with the manual transmission (including into top gear where possible, even in the city);
- anticipating traffic and choosing the best lane to avoid unneccessary slowdowns (preserving momentum);
- watching ahead for slowdowns & stops to avoid rushing in and braking hard
- mostly right lane on the highway (going with the flow of traffic on that side)
- on this particular route, that meant very fuel economy friendly highway speeds around 80-90 km/h (~50-55 mph)
Conclusions and caveats
One of the nice things about the Micra is that all trim levels get the factory trip computer which displays both "instant" and "average" (resettable) fuel consumption.
However, we don't yet know how accurate that display is (not surprisingly, factory gauges are often optimistic). This test just wasn't long enough to be able to calibrate it against a fill-up.
Clearly though, the numbers are much better than the car's official ratings of 7.7 and 7.8 L/100 km (combined), even allowing for a big margin of error on the display.
The major takeaway is that the new 5 cycle fuel economy ratings will be easily achievable/beatable by many more drivers in the real world.
EG: Micra reviewer David Booth, perhaps better known for his leadfooted style than eco-conscious philosophies, reported 6.5 L/100 km with the 5-speed over 100 km of mixed driving.
Example 2: Reviewer Michael Bettencourt of the Globe & Mail reported 7.0 L/100 km in his review. I contacted him by e-mail for additional info and he replied:
Manual vs. automatic, what's up with that?[This was in the automatic] after two or 3 different drivers behind the wheel of the car on a warm and muggy 28 degree day (32-ish with humidity, so lots of AC use too). And pretty safe to assume no hypermiling/eco-driving techniques used, certainly on my portion with it, though it was not thrashed either. We cruised on the highway for a while at 120 km/h.
It may seem unusual that the 5-speed Micra got 10% better fuel economy than the automatic despite having almost identical ratings. But it's no surprise when you understand the way manual transmissions are operated during fuel economy testing. The result is it's almost always easier to beat a manual's rating by a wider margin than the automatic's rating.
"50 MPG Micra" for everyone?
Does this mean you're going to get 50+ mpg (Imperial) from your Micra?
- E.G. in the dead of winter, these numbers would have been much worse.
- E.G. in hotter weather with the A/C on all the time, consumption would have been worse.
- E.G. if you typically drive short trips from a cold start, your fuel economy will be worse.
- E.G. if your commute includes a lot of stop-and-go, your numbers will be worse.
- E.G. if you regularly drive above the highway speed limit your results will be worse.
- E.G. if you drive on very hilly roads your numbers will be worse (probably).
- E.G. if you drive like a typical car reviewer, your numbers will almost certainly be worse!
- E.G. ...
In other words, your mileage may (will) vary.
It's probably fair to say the "average" driver (non-eco, non-leadfoot) would have gotten results somewhere in between mine and the other journalists in the same conditions.
On the other hand... it is also absolutely possible to get even better fuel economy than we saw in Montreal.
You might have Goldilocks-style "just right" driving patterns, or you could use additional driving techniques beyond just the basics used during my drive. I'm hoping for some more seat time in a Micra to find out more.
See also: Head to head: 2015 Micra manual vs. automatic MPG/fuel economy comparison