It is probably the most difficult thing in the world; making a low-cost car that is actually appealing. While the Micra Active is a stripped down, low-cost form of the Micra, the Wagon R Stingray, conversely, is an embellished version of the popular Wagon R. These cars were separated by a whole segment but now the austere form of the Micra and the jazzed-up Wagon R compete at the same price point, which of course makes for an interesting comparison.
So, what has changed? The Micra Active is essentially a re-badged pre-facelift Micra that loses a few of its bells and whistles such as climate control and alloy wheels on the top-spec variant. Its not just cosmetic though, the Active also loses a substantial 10bhp from its engine as part of the re-tuning process (more on that later). On the other hand, the Wagon R Stingray can be thought of as a Wagon R that offers a more contemporary front design with a fully revised grill, projector headlamps and a bolder bumper. Apart from that, the car is pretty much unchanged in profile and, at the rear, the tail-lamps get pseudo chrome treatment. Under the hood, the Stingray comes with absolutely no changes and retains the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder heart of the standard Wagon R.
What are they like to drive?
Both these cars are very easy to drive in the city but the Micra Active has an edge over the Wagon R, owing to its better engine. Nissan has re-tuned the engine to deliver faster responses and it has worked. Dont let the decrease in power deter you. Despite the decrease in power (the car previously made 76bhp), we found this new state-of-tune to be much peppier than the previous car. The 67bhp 1.2-litre petrol feels peppy and flexible for a small engine and the well damped vibrations mean you can hardly tell it is a three-cylinder motor. Since it has a larger engine than the Stingray, the Micra has better pulling power too. It pulls quite well from low speeds and revs strongly all the way to the top. There is a fair bit of engine noise that starts at moderate engine speeds (at about 2,500rpm), and in lower gears, gearbox whine intrudes into the cabin making city driving a slightly noisier affair than it is in the Wagon R.
The Stingrays three-cylinder engine isnt bad, but when compared to the Nissan, it falls short of refinement and low-end power. In stop-go traffic, the Maruti feels a bit jerky at lower speeds and the vibrations (inherent to three-cylinder engines) are more pronounced here too. A typical city overtaking move from behind the Stingrays wheel generally requires a downshift to a lower gear, while in the Active, you will find yourself doing this less oftenthanks to the wide spread of pulling power in the Nissans engine. Between the two, you will appreciate the super-light clutch on the Wagon R but, in terms of gearshift quality, the gearbox still feels vague when compared to the Active.
Ride & handling
Both these cars will spend most of their time driving around city roads, and in a metro like Mumbai that is peppered with potholes, an absorbent ride is quite vital. The Stingray and the Active share similar suspension set-ups but they are quite distinct in the way they behave on the road. The Maruti has a reasonably pliant suspension that, at slow speeds, handles broken and patchy tarmac better than the Micra. And its reasonably silent too. But, if you approach moderate potholes at over 20kph, there is a fair bit of thudding that enters the cabin and the vertical movements are more than what you would be comfortable with. The car feels fidgety at times. The Nissans suspension is a bit jarring too, but, go faster, and it rides much better.
When it comes to handling, both cars have a light steering wheel and a tight turning radius that is well suited to city driving. But, they become too light at higher speeds, and you may find yourself unintentionally changing lanes on the highwayespecially in the Stingray.
What are they like inside?
Both cars have very distinct interiors that vary vastly in terms of their overall design and functionality. Enter the updated Wagon R and the first thing you will notice is the all-black treatment dished out to the dashboard as opposed to the dual-tone dash on the standard Wagon R. While the dual-tone theme of the standard Wagon R adds a touch of airiness to the cabin, the Stingrays black theme does look sportier. The piano-black accents on the door trim adds a touch of class too. Besides this, the bespoke blue-backlit dials make the cabin a bit more interesting. On the other hand, the Micras cabin looks a tad boring, but it lives up to its motto of drive easy live better when it comes to ergonomics and functionality. As a driver, you will appreciate the Actives great all-round visibility. In fact, the Active is one of the very few modern cars where you can actually see the bonnetthanks to its bulbous design element that flanks its edges. This will make it easier for newer drivers to park.
Apart from a cubby hole near the gear lever, the Maruti lacks open areas on the dash. Instead, you get twin gloveboxes. This does tend to get inconvenient at times when you want to quickly stash away a few coins or a pair of sunglasses. Also, the door pockets are too narrow to fit even a wallet in there. Move to the rear and you realise there is quite a difference between the two Japanese cars. While the Stingray offers fantastic under-thigh support, it just isnt wide enough to accommodate three abreast comfortably. At just 1475mm, the Wagon R is substantially narrower than the Micra (1665mm) and this restricts the possibility of a third passenger. Boot space is by far the smallest here, but the Wagon R comes with a 60:40 split on the rear bench, giving it good versatility. So, while the Wagon R is the best here to ferry a family of four, its narrow width just isnt good enough for five, for which the wider Micra Active is the best suited. But, there is a catch. The Active may be more conducive towards carrying five people, but its limited under-thigh support on the rear seat means it may not be as comfortable on longer drives. And visibility with those tall headrests is also poor. That being said, as a city runabout, the rear bench wont produce many complaints.
Buying & owning
The new Wagon R Stingray is available in three trims, ranging from R4.1 lakh for the LXi to R4.66 lakh for the VXi ABS variant. The top trim gets ABS as an option and a single driver airbag. On the other hand, the base Micra Active (XL) is priced very aggressively, at R3.5 lakh, but feels very Spartan with no wheel caps, tachometer or audio system. The top-of-the-line XV S trim with the added safety package costs significantly more, at R4.71 lakh, but it still is a great value proposition. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Wagon R Stingray is slightly more fuel efficient in the city than the Active, returning 12.4kpl compared to 11.8kpl of the Micra. On the highway though, its the Nissan that has the edge and travels 17.5kpl compared to the Wagon Rs 17kpl.