What a difference Nissan has made to the Micra. Gone is the cardigan and slippers image of a dumpy little supermini that has been around since the 1980s and passed through four rather mundane generations. In that time, it has earned a following more for its economy than its looks, and has endeared itself to mostly rather elderly buyers. Now the fifth generation Micra has arrived, and it has turned from duckling to swan, unrecognisable from its predecessors. It has undergone a transformation from something of a supermini also-ran against notable rivals like the Fiesta and Clio, and is now up there amongst them as a much more serious contender, both for style and driving ability, as well as having a more youthful appeal.

The engine range for the Micra has been downsized, and the choice is now between a sub-100 g/km three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine or a 1.5- litre turbodiesel, both with five-speed manual gearboxes. A non-turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine joins the line-up soon. The diesel engine is the quickest, with a 0-62 mph sprint time of just under 12 seconds. It's not fast, but it does feel quite sprightly and has good economy and excellent refinement. It's a much more engaging drive all round than any previous Micra. The nicely weighted steering has a modicum of feel, but what's more impressive is the clingy poise of the car on corners, its decent body control and grippy handling. It's very noticeably more of a driver's car than its much more lacklustre predecessors. There are two tech aids, active ride control and active trace control, that adjust engine power and braking to help maximise stability on the bends, and they clearly work because you can push on hard along a twisty rural road and feel very confident in the car's precision through changes of direction. At a smidgeon under four metres long, the new Micra is just over 17 centimetres larger than its predecessor, eight centimetres wider and about five lower. It also has a longer wheelbase, and this all-round increase in dimensions has made the car noticeably roomier inside, although rear seat legroom is still a bit tight. Boot space has improved, up from 265 to 300 litres. That makes it one of the best amongst its peers for luggage room.

The new Micra is available in five trim levels, and all come equipped with an audio system with Bluetooth, plus a safety package of six airbags, lane departure warning and intervention, as well as autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection. Visia+ trim adds engine stop/start and air conditioning, while further up the range there is a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, cruise control, Apple CarPlay, a two-tone interior decor, air conditioning, parking sensors and a rear view camera. Options include a six-speaker Bose audio system with 360-degree sound. The current trend for personalisation in small cars is embraced in the Micra with a choice of ten body colours, four exterior packs and three interior decors, that all add up to 100 possible combinations to choose between. So has the transformed Micra zoomed straight to the top of the supermini class? Not quite. It still isn't quite as dynamic a drive as a Fiesta, but it is up there with the rest and merits the attention of anyone considering a car this size. That's a very big change for the smallest Nissan that not only replaces the outgoing Indian-built Micra, but also the British-built Note, too.

Prices £13,795 to £18,645
Bodystyles 5-door hatchback
Engines 0.9 petrol (89bhp), 1.5 diesel (89bhp)
Trim levels Visia, Visia+, Acenta, N-Connecta, Tekna
Also consider Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio
Model tested N-Connecta dCi 90
Price £17,345 Made in Flins, France
Bodystyle 5-door hatchback, 5-seats
Engine 1461cc, 4-cylinder, 8-valve, turbo diesel with stop-start
Transmission 5-speed manual
Layout Front-wheel-drive
Maximum power 89bhp @ 4,000rpm
Maximum torque 162lb ft @ 2,000rpm
Top speed 111mph 0-62mph 11.9secs
CO2 emissions 85g/km
Official fuel economy (urban/extra urban/combined) 80.7/91.1/88.3mpg
Fuel tank size 41 litres Range 796 miles
Insurance group 8 BIK rate 20%
Size (length/width with mirrors) 3,999/1,935mm
Boot space (minimum/maximum) 300/1,004 litres
Kerb/maximum towing weight 1,082/1,170kg
Euro NCAP crash test rating Not yet tested
Verdict Goodbye dumpy image, the Micra has been brought up-to- date with sharp styling, a neat interior and radically improved dynamics.