Nothing is guaranteed to put a smile on your face faster than a chirpy compact car that conceals a surprise or two.

From the outside there are a few subtle clues to the perkier personality of the Micra N-Sport. Carbon-style finish on the alloy wheels and door mirror caps, and a gloss black finish on the side mouldings and front and rear bumpers are among the giveaways.

If that is not enough, there is rear privacy glass and an N-Sport badge on the rear.

On the inside, the five-door, five-seater sports a mix of Alcantara and leather upholstery, white air vents, front seat armrest, black roof lining and sports-design floor mats.

But probably the biggest treat sits unseen beneath the bonnet. The test car came with a turbocharged 1.0-litre, 117 horsepower petrol engine whose perky performance is ideally suited to the lively nature of the car. Developed for use in models across the entire Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, the three-cylinder engine is a huge improvement on its predecessor.

Longer, wider and lower than the former model, the fifth generation Micra has strong exterior styling and a classy high-quality interior with large comfortable front seats and plenty of storage spaces.

But more important than its sleek design and upmarket ambience is its agility and confident handling.

The N-Sport model raises those qualities, with a six-speed manual gearbox, lowered ride height, revised suspension and sharper steering, making it even more spirited and fun to drive.

Every Micra comes with a high level of standard equipment, including intelligent emergency braking, a speed limiter, air conditioning, three ISOFIX child seat mounts, hill start assist and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

Equipment upgrades for the N-Sport model include a rear view camera with parking sensors and keyless entry with a push-button engine starter.

Nissan recognises there is a growing desire for supermini buyers to be able to customise their car to match their personality and the Micra is available with a wide range of personalisation options.

Optional extras available include an ‘Around View Monitor’, a new infotainment system, BOSE audio, automatic air conditioning and a safety pack, containing everything from intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian recognition and high beam assist, to traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning.

Other engine choices for the N-Sport model include a 100 horsepower petrol with both manual and semi-automatic gearboxes, and a 1.5-litre dCi 90 horsepower diesel.

Built in a plant west of Paris run by Nissan’s partner Renault, the new Micra is built on the same production line as Renault’s Clio and Zoe models.

Nissan set its sights high with the newcomer, aiming to position the car in the top ten sellers of an ultra-competitive segment of the European car market.

Of the millions of Micras sold worldwide since the name first appeared in 1983, more than half have been sold in Europe.

Nissan says the changes to the N-Sport moves it into the heart of the 'warm hatch' category of the B-segment, occupied by contenders such as the Ford Fiesta ST Line, Volkswagen Polo R-Line, Peugeot 208 GT Line and SEAT Ibiza FR.

With its energetic feel, high equipment level and economy, it is nicely prepared to compete.

Auto facts

Model: Nissan Micra N-Sport 1.0 DIG-T 117

Price: £19,010

Insurance group: 5E

Fuel consumption (combined): 47.9mpg

Top speed: 121mph

Length: 399cm/156.7in

Width: 174.3cm/68.4in

Luggage capacity: 300 litres/10.6 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 9.0 gallons/41 litres

CO2 emissions: 133g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles