Pulsar is surprisingly well-sorted for what is a rather conservative small sedan
Powertrain and performance: 1.8-litre petrol four, 96kW/174Nm, Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with sport mode, front-drive, Combined economy 6.7 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4615mm long, 1760mm high, luggage capacity 510 litres, fuel tank 52 litres, 16-inch wheels on 195/60 tyres.
We like: Build quality, feels solid on the road, medium-car passenger and luggage space.
We don’t like: Nissan pulling a swifty on Kiwi specification, transmission lacks manual-hold facility.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
The Pulsar name was launched 32 years in New Zealand, and after dabbling with others for its small-car line in recent years (Sentra, Tiida), Nissan has brought it back.
This one’s a completely new model sourced from Thailand. It’s been launched first in sedan form, but a hatchback version will join it next month. Later in the year, there will also be another retro-badge in the range: a hot(ish) Pulsar SSS, with a 140kW 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Pulsar is surprisingly well-sorted for what is a rather conservative small sedan. You can’t expect too much sportiness from a vehicle with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – Nissan calls its version of the technology ‘Xtronic’. But the Japanese maker has been doing CVT longer than most in its mainstream cars and it’s got this type of gearbox working pretty well.
The 1.8-litre engine is strong down low, which certain helps the CVT do its thing without too much revving. The Xtronic seems very well calibrated for lively performance while avoiding over-revving: the only real downside is the lack of control. While most CVTs have a manual-hold mode or shift paddles, this one does not. At least it’s honest.
All you get is a pushbutton Sport mode, which increases the revs dramatically and provides extra engine braking when required. Unless you’re really pressing on (unlikely in a Pulsar) it’s best avoided, as Sport is simply too aggressive for normal driving.
The steering is devoid of feel but impressively consistent and accurate: there’s none of the odd change in assistance you often get with electric power steering systems. The chassis, too, is nicely balanced and responsive for a mainstream small car. The body structure feels particularly rigid, which pays dividends over demanding New Zealand backroads.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
Despite the flagship Ti badge, this Pulsar is missing a few pieces of equipment you might be expecting.
It has leather upholstery and it is very well made: soft materials where it counts and tight panel gaps. But it’s one of the few cars I’ve driven lately that still has an old-style key (not a flip-out) and there’s no keyless entry or start – which has been very much Nissan’s thing in recent years. The air conditioning is manual. No automatic control for lights or wipers. There’s a sharp 4.3-inch colour information screen, but it’s operated by separate buttons rather than touch. No parking radar either, which would be handy in a sedan with a high bootline.
Sounding too snobby for a small sedan? Perhaps, but it’s stuff I was expecting in a brand-new Nissan wearing a Ti badge.
Indeed, we seem to be short-changed on this car compared with our Australian counterparts. Over there, the Pulsar Ti has dual-zone climate air, sat-nav, automatic lights and larger wheels. In fact, our Ti seems to be very close to their mid-range ST-L (a badge not offered here) in all but the leather trim. Perhaps a curious case of badge-engineering. But ironic for a car whose advertising tagline is ‘more’.
Where Pulsar does over-deliver is in space and practicality, even in sedan form. The wheelbase is a full 100mm longer than a Toyota Corolla sedan and that pays off in generous rear legroom. It’s tall too, which add to the impression of interior space.
While being perceived as a small car will be the key to sales, in fact this new Pulsar is edging up towards what we might have called a medium car a few years ago. It’s just 35mm shorter than the Suzuki Kizashi, for example.
The boot is a staggering 510 litres – so more cavernous than some big-six sedans. That’s a lot of space to work with, but it’s also let down by a couple of details. The first is the exposed boot hinges, which will crush your suitcases if the cargo area is fully laden (unlikely with this volume, I grant you). The second is more serious: there’s a ski-hatch but the rear seat does not fold.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
The Pulsar is a well-engineered and well-built machine, but it hardly tugs at the heartstrings – especially in sedan form. This smart-but-staid three-box model will appeal mainly to business users and older private buyers, where it has the potential to please anybody downsizing from a medium-sized car.
The engineering basics are good, but some of the detail is disappointing. But given the surprising amount of polish in the chassis and build quality of the sedan, the more image-conscious and stylish Pulsar hatchback might just be worth the wait – especially that SSS.
Air conditioning: Manual
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Head-up display: No
Keyless entry/start: No/no
Parking radar: No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: Ski hatch only
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes