For over 13 years the much-loved Nissan Pulsar SSS has been conspicuously absent from Australia’s burgeoning hot hatch market.
But the iconic badge has finally made its comeback, knocking out the old 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine and replacing it with a punchier 1.6-litre turbo.
Priced from $29,290 (plus on-road costs), the Pulsar SSS sits at the top of Nissan’s new-generation small-car range, just as it did all those years ago.
Only back then, the warmed-up hatch wore a price tag of just $23,470.
Nissan says the significant premium placed on the Pulsar SSS is more than justified by its considerable upgrade in power and torque, along with its impressive inventory of standard equipment.
It would have been a tougher sell if Nissan was to push the SSS on looks alone. Apart from a slightly racy sports body kit, unique 17-inch alloys and a chrome-tipped exhaust pipe, there isn’t a lot to distinguish the SSS from its less powerful Pulsar hatch siblings.
Inside, the upgrade is more obvious. There’s leather trim, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen display with satellite navigation and a rear-view camera, which are unique to the SSS grade.
They join xenon headlamps, front foglights, leather-bound steering wheel and six-speaker audio unit with Bluetooth phone and music streaming.
More significant is the 140kW/240Nm 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant, which produces 35kW/61Nm more power and torque than the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre of the last SSS and 44kW/66Nm more than the 1.8-litre in the entry-level Pulsar hatch.
For the bargain hunters, it’s also the same engine that you’ll find in lower grade ST-S – essentially a stripped-out version of the SSS, which sells from $24,990.
Right from the get-go, the Nissan Pulsar SSS feels different. There’s a subtle change in the exhaust note, more weight in the steering and the engine feels a lot more potent.
Throttle response is satisfyingly sharp too, with peak torque from just 2000rpm ensuring plenty of punch off the line.
And there’s no shortage of ‘go’ further up the rev range either, as the free-spinning engine finds its sweet spot at around 4500rpm when the boost comes on song.
It also doesn’t seem to matter what gear ratio you’re in, as even in sixth there’s always sufficient grunt on tap for safe, high-speed passing.
Sadly, though, there isn’t much in the way of a performance-style engine note, at least from inside the cabin.
Nissan hasn’t released acceleration figures for the SSS, but we’ll cover those details in a more comprehensive test of the car down the track. In the meantime, we reckon it feels like a 7.0-second car – at least in manual guise.
That would make it considerably quicker than the 2000 model SSS, which needed 8.8 seconds to cover the 0-100km/h sprint.
The front-wheel-drive Pulsar SSS gets an ultra-smooth shifting standard spec six-speed manual transmission – one of the highlights of this car – but we also tried the optional CVT automatic version.
Unlike the CVT available in the lower grades, the SSS version gets a ‘manual mode’ that does its best to mimic a manual transmission by distinctive steps between the gear ratios.
However, it’s noticeably less engaging than the proper six-speed manual and the power delivery feels slightly restrained.
Crucially, the Pulsar SSS gets its own unique suspension tune, and while it’s noticeably firmer than the rest of the hatch range, Pulsar’s commendable ride comfort is maintained even over harsh surfaces.
It’s also surprisingly well composed in the corners, displaying minimal body roll, good chassis balance and never really feeling like it’s working that hard – even at pace.
It’s not quite a full-blooded hot hatch, nor is the SSS priced like one. But for just over $29K you get yourself a decent dose of performance in a capable and comfortable all-rounder.