Does a cheaper hatch make a better Nissan Pulsar?
Nissan’s launch of the Pulsar sedan earlier this year may have revived the badge, but its resurrection of the much-loved Nissan Pulsar Hatch was always the hot-ticket item.
Nissan is now hoping the all-new Pulsar hatch will gain fast traction in the highly competitive small car segment, thanks to Australia’s ongoing affection for five-door hatches.
Cost is already set to be the Pulsar hatch’s trump card. Not only is the pricing geared to undercut most rivals; Nissan is even bettering the cost of its Pulsar sedan stablemate by $1000.
Available in four trim grades with two petrol engines, the Pulsar hatch range kicks off at $18,990 for the Pulsar ST (tested), which is already reasonably well equipped.
Highlights include 16-inch alloy wheels; cruise control; steering wheel audio and phone controls; a four-speaker sound system with Bluetooth connectivity; power everything; air conditioning and remote keyless entry.
Under the bonnet sits a naturally aspirated 96kW/174Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine borrowed from the sedan range and shared with the second-tier $22,490 ST-L hatch.
The higher grade $24,990 ST-S and range-topping $29,240 Pulsar SSS score a more powerful 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged petrol unit with 140kW and 240Nm of torque.
However, the price advantage enjoyed by the base model ST isn’t reflected in the SSS, which will go head-to-head with the latest Holden Cruze 1.6-litre turbocharged SRi-V with its $26,490 price tag.
As in the Pulsar sedan line-up, all hatch variants come standard with a six-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), which adds $2250 to the price of the ST and ST-L and $2500 to the ST-S and SSS versions.
While the new-generation Nissan Pulsar hatch is unlikely to set the world on fire when it comes to styling, it could at least be considered a contemporary design that’s unlikely to polarise opinions.
Meanwhile, larger, more aggressive wheels and a sports body kit distinguish the snazzier SSS model from its less powerful siblings, along with that all-important ‘SSS’ badge.
Inside, the Nissan Pulsar hatch is anything but flash. Instead, we get a relatively simple design that blends soft-touch materials with a spattering of metallic-look highlights that ultimately fall short of key rivals.
Clearly though, comfort has remained high on Nissan’s agenda.
The cloth seats are well cushioned and more importantly, well bolstered. They’re also more comfortable than the leather upholstery in the top-shelf SSS, which are firmer and surprisingly less body hugging.
The driving position is good too, with plenty of adjustability in the seat and the steering wheel.
Visibility is another strong point of the Pulsar hatch. The low beltline provides excellent forward and side vision, while the large, drooping-style rear window makes it easy to see out the back.
One of the big selling points of the Pulsar sedan is its extraordinarily generous rear legroom and the hatch also doesn’t fall short in that department.
Boot space is reasonable and there’s the usual 60/40 split-fold second row seats that disappointingly don’t fold flat into the floor, thereby limiting load space versatility.
It’s a lovely free-spinning unit and mated with the silky smooth six-speed manual gearbox it puts the fun back into driving – even in the entry-level Pulsar hatch.
We also tried the same car with the optional CVT auto and while it doesn’t deliver the same degree of driver satisfaction as the manual, it works well enough and is more refined than others we have tested.
The Pulsar SSS we tested is an entirely different proposition, particularly in manual guise. With considerably more power and torque on tap (up 44kW/66Nm) than its 1.8-litre siblings, it’s a lot more willing right from the get-go.
The sweet spot is around 4500rpm, where the boost is most telling, although the power delivery is wonderfully linear right across the rev range.
Peak torque kicks in from 2000rpm, so there’s plenty of low-down pulling power in all six forward gear ratios, making for effortless high-speed overtaking, even in sixth.
The SSS gets the same smooth-shifting manual transmission as the ST, but it’s infinitely more engaging behind the wheel of the hero model.
We also tried the SSS with the CVT and while it also gets a manual mode that does it’s best to mimic manual shifts with ratio steps, the power delivery feels noticeably less responsive.
Like the sedan, the entire Pulsar hatch line-up benefits from Nissan’s local testing and suspension tuning program, which has delivered excellent ride comfort and decent cornering ability.
We drove the car on a variety of different quality roads during the launch program with the car providing nothing less than a supple ride at all times even over broken surfaces.
The Pulsar Hatch SSS is the only model to receive a unique suspension tune and while it’s noticeably firmer than the lower grades, it maintains its ability to iron out compressions and bumps.
It’s also quiet, with minimal engine noise making its way into the cabin even when pushed.
Equally praiseworthy is the Pulsar’s speed sensitive electric power steering. There’s an almost perfect level of weighting right from the straight-ahead and sufficient feedback to let you know what the front wheels are doing.
Again though, the SSS version’s steering is more heavily weighted at speed, but lightens up at low speed for easy parking jobs.
While the relatively short drive program at this week’s Pulsar launch didn’t allow for accurate fuel consumption readings, Nissan claims 7.2L/100km and 6.7L/100km for the six-speed manual and CVT for the 1.8-litre models, respectively, while the turbocharged ST-S and SSS variants claim 7.7L/100km for the manual and 7.8L/100km for the CVT.
Safety is also well covered, with the entire Nissan Pulsar Hatch range equipped with six airbags, vehicle stability control, anti-locking brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
It’s not perfect, but the all-new Pulsar Hatch provides a compelling value-for-money proposition with standout interior space and comfort combined with a strong list of standard features, along with refined and willing drivetrains.
2013 Nissan Pulsar Hatch pricing - before on-road costs
Pulsar Hatch ST manual - $18,990
Pulsar Hatch ST CVT - $21,240
Pulsar Hatch ST-L manual - $22,240
Pulsar Hatch ST-L CVT - $24,740
Pulsar Hatch ST-S manual - $24,990
Pulsar Hatch ST-S CVT - $27,490
Pulsar Hatch SSS manual - $29,240
Pulsar Hatch SSS CVT - $31,740
CarAdvice will also be publishing a full review of the Pulsar SSS later today.