The Indian-built fourth generation of Nissan's now iconic minicar, the Micra, has grown just a trifle, shed some weight yet become a much more substantial car.At least that's how it felt to me during its South African launch on a dark and windy night down the west side, round the bottom and back up the east side of the Cape Peninsula this week. Yes, night... for some still-to-be-explained reason (though we asked) Nissan SA elected to send a dozen or so of the cutesy little cars out after dark.Shame!Whatever, at least this once, there was a focus on the headlights. Verdict: Damn good. As for the quality of the cabin's fit 'n finish, it looked OK under the interior lights... what did count was that the seats are comfortable, the roof high and even in the back you're going to have to be taller than 1.8m before head rubs headlining.GLOBAL EXPANSIONPretty good for a baby car. And Nissan has also managed to increase rear knee-room by, er, four millimetres. That'll do wonders for sales... though 130 000 were sold worldwide in 2010.The Micra, while only 3.78m long, 1.51m high and 1.66m wide, features large in Nissan’s global expansion plans as the company moves aggressively into the small-car market. Here in SA, I was told, the automaker is looking for sales of between 700 and 900 a month, depending on how the rental market reacts.“We have a mission,” Nissan’s corporate vice-president for Africa, Middle East and India, Gilles Normand (in SA for the Micra launch) told me. “The Micra is a turning point in our market – we’re known for our bakkies but we want to expand beyond that.”And expanding Nissan certainly is: Normand said the company has rebounded from the financial crises of 2008/9 and 2010 global sales were 19% up on the previous year. It has also recovered from the effects of the Japanese earthquakes and tsunami: “As of today (May 3) all our Japanese plants are back in production – though limited by parts supply problems.”'OUR BIGGEST EVENT'And there could be an even smaller Nissan for SA, Normand said, as trends in major markets demand ever more economical personal transport. “In India, the Micra is in in the middle of the market, sizewise,” he added.“For Nissan SA,” according to Fanie Smuts, the local operation’s senior product manager for cars and SUV’s, “this launch is probably the biggest event in our history.”He reckons the Micra’s main competition will come from VW’s Polo Vivo and Ford’s reborn Fiesta – the Figo – though he reckons the Nissan has them beat on affordability, comfort, city agility, safety and “greenness”. Other opposition includes Toyota’s Aygo and Yaris, Chev’s Spark and the Hyundai i10.The Nissan Micra has shed parts (by combining them into single units) and body panels in a drive to reduce weight (less weight, less fuel consumption) while other small cars have not – the 2011 Micra is 36kg lighter than its predecessor and at least 56kg lighter than its nearest competitor.THREE ENGINESIt’s Nissan's first of three models to use the new V (for Versatile) platform, the first to use an advanced, low emission three-cylinder engine and the first to be built in four countries - China, Thailand, India and Mexico.SA models will be available with a choice of three engines in four model grades - Visia, Visia+, Acenta and Tekna. Here’s how they read, with their prices; no auto box is yet available:Micra 1.2 Visia – R108 400Micra 1.2 Visia+ - R117 500Micra 1.2 Acenta – R127 500Micra 1.5 dCi (diesel) Acenta – R140 400Micra 1.5 Tekna – R143 400The 1.2 engine is capable of 56kW/104Nm, the 1.5 diesel 47kW/160Nm and the 1.5 petrol 73kW/134Nm. The 1.2 is rated at 5.2 litres/100km, the diesel at 4.7 and the 1.5 petrol at 6.3.Nissan says the latest Micra is bolder in looks than its predecessors, yet follows the same rounded design – think of a number of beach pebbles glued together - with a distinct arch over the cabin running into a roof spoiler whose rise starts about two-thirds the way along the roof. The nose and rear are totally new.Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes, two, four or six crash bags (depending on model), and pre-tensioning seat belts.Externally the models differ in subtle ways: the Visia has 14 inch steel rims and black doors releases and mirrors while the Acenta has a black B pillar, body-coloured door releases and mirrors and a chromed flash on the grille. Tekna variants have a chromed surround on the lower air intakes, front fog lights and 15-inch alloy rims.WEALTH OF STOWAGEStandard across the range are power-assisted steering with a tilt adjustable column. Remote-controlled central locking and power front windows are standard on the Visia+ and up and all Acenta and Tekna models have a trip data computer. There's aircon on all but the entry model 1.2 Visia; the Tekna has auto lightsThe Acenta adds power external mirrors and a higher-level entertainment system that includes a CD player and the Tekna brings with it a front armrest and height adjustable driver's seat, leather on the steering wheel and gear shifter, Bluetooth phone connection and six audio speakers.The ride is good, the 1.2 engine has sufficient power (well, certainly at the coast) for the Peninsula’s hills and the 1.5 is cheerfully sporty (no diesel was available at launch).The new Micra, Nissan says, provides a wealth of oddments stowage, is the most cost-effective to run and was designed from the outset to reduce stress levels of drivers in tight, congested, city streets.No argument there. And, once again, the headlights are great.