Street-Spotted: Nissan Micra

Commuter cars of the 1980s all seemed to be boxy hatches, and even today it’s still easy for a lot of people in the US to walk past this car without giving it a second thought.

In reality, the US never received this car.

The first-generation Nissan Micra was indeed one of those vehicles that automakers with a presence in the US and Canada only sold in one country. Most of the time it was Canada that missed out on some US model, but sometimes it was the other way around.

The Micra landed in Canada in two- and four-door flavors in 1984, offering small engines and a choice of a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic gearboxes. Generous helpings of power were not on the menu, with the 1.2-liter inline-four churning out just 56 hp and 69 lb-ft of torque.

One curious change from the European and Japanese-market versions were the upright and boxy sealed-beam headlights that altered the look of this hatch somewhat, which had otherwise featured a fairly chiseled if not aerodynamic look. In fact, the design itself was initially pitched to Fiat for the Uno hatch, but the Italian automaker decided to go with an even boxier shape at the time. You might also note that this car has the DOT-style side indicators on the rear side panels—that’s definitely not something the European or JDM models featured.

“Micra may be a small car, but the Nissan engineers thought big when it came to features and technology,” ad copy of the time promised. “As a result, Micra will not only surprise you with its roominess and standard features, but also in the way the entire car has been carefully thought out to deliver the absolute maximum of everything it has. Whether you’re traveling across town, or across country, you’ll quickly come to appreciate that Micra has been designed with the Canadian driver’s needs in mind.”

Given the fact that the Micra was front-wheel drive, it’s probably debatable just how much of the Micra was designed with the Canadian driver in mind, but the small and narrow wheels were perhaps an asset in winter driving.

When it came to roominess, the four-door models certainly bought the Micra some versatility, but its dimensions and interior space would probably stun modern VW Golf owners today. The Micra hails from a time when hatchbacks were actually small, and weren’t trying to become coupes or small crossovers.

While the Nissan Micra battled an extended cast of characters in Europe and back home, the list of competitors in Canada was far less expansive, and included the Dodge Colt, the Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac Acadian, and Hyundai Pony—another imported car never sold stateside. And the Chevy Sprint, if you recall those.

The first-gen Micra turned out to be a solid success in Canada, but Nissan did not import the second-gen model to the country that debuted for the 1992 model year. The Micra returned to Canada only with the fourth generation, in 2014.

First-gen Micras, especially ones in this condition, aren’t all that easy to find in Canada today. We saw this example in the center of Montreal looking surprisingly spiffy, as if it had never even heard of a Canadian winter, and it’s safe to say that finding another one in this condition would necessitate a trip all the way to the west coast—only the Vancouver climate had a chance to preserve some Micras.

Have you seen any rare hatchbacks from the 1980s on the road lately? Let us know in the comments below.

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