The return of the Nissan Pulsar SSS nameplate has been met with mixed success.
The SSS warm-hatch returned to the Australian market just over 12 months ago following a 13-year hiatus.
The SSS variant has accounted for about eight per cent of total Pulsar sales since its July 2013 launch, and Nissan Australia says that while Pulsar sales have been skewed towards lower specification models, the figures for SSS are not far off its initial expectations.
Sitting atop the Pulsar range until the anticipated late-2014 arrival of the SSS sedan, the Nissan Pulsar SSS hatch starts at $29,790 in six-speed manual guise and $32,390 when partnered to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Those prices are up $550 and $650 respectively on the model’s launch prices. Nissan Australia says the increase introduced in August this year is part of the “normal course of business” with respect to factors such as inflation and exchange rates.
While its list price is now higher, Nissan dealers are currently offering 2013-build Pulsar SSS models from $26,490 driveaway, if ordered and delivered before the end of September.
The front-wheel-drive Nissan Pulsar SSS five-door hatch hints at its mild sporting flavour by employing a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with outputs of 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque.
The same engine can be had for $4300 less in the Pulsar ST-S hatch, which starts at $25,490.
Both turbocharged Pulsars have front fog lights, a chrome grille surround, a rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo and a multifunction leather steering wheel as standard.
The dearer SSS gains keyless entry and push-button start, dusk-sensing xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, leather accented seat trim, a 5.8-inch touchscreen media unit with satellite navigation, a reverse-view camera and Bluetooth audio streaming - which really should be standard on less-expensive Pulsars.
A model-specific body kit and decals complete the SSS’s exterior package, while underneath, suspension changes over the standard Pulsar ST and ST-L models comprise stiffer front and rear springs and dampers and an uprated front crossmember. Also common to the ST-S, the tweaks are accompanied by an increase in the weighting of the Pulsar’s electro-mechanical power steering.
Despite weighing 20 kilograms more than the ST-S, the 1304kg Pulsar SSS claims an identical combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres. Over our week with the car, mixing in highway and urban miles as well as several spirited blasts, the Pulsar SSS returned an on-test fuel consumption average of 9.7L/100km.
Sitting in the comfortable but not heavily bolstered driver’s seat, the Pulsar SSS’s interior feels basic but is highlighted by chrome and silver detailing around the air vents, centre console and doors as well as by ‘Pulsar’-stamped sill plates.
Moulded bottle holders and several handy storage areas are a nice bonus too, as are red-accented front and rear ‘SSS’ floor mats.
Oddly, the sporty Pulsar is also equipped with some of the biggest sun visors this side of a commercial van and there is only one map pocket on the back of the passenger's seat.
The somewhat bulbous body of the Pulsar hatch allows it impressive levels of rear occupant comfort, with excellent leg and headroom. The accommodation is further enhanced by the inclusion of rear cup holders and centre console-mounted rear air vents.
On the road, the Pulsar SSS’s more sports-focused suspension delivers a firm but comfortable ride and provides good body control and composure even when pushed.
Feeling light and nimble through twisting back roads, the Nissan Pulsar SSS – aided by grippy 50-profile Continental tyres – changes directions with levels of competency not far off genuine hot-hatch territory.
Unfortunately, a slow steering rack and little feedback through the wheel dulls the relationship between car and driver, and its brakes are equally lean on feel to the driver's foot.
Teamed with the light but accurate clutch and gearbox pairing in our manual test car, the overall combination makes around town driving easy but hinders the Pulsar SSS from ever being a thoroughly entertaining driving experience.
This is even more of a pity because the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine is a reasonably potent little thing.
Pulling soundly from 2500rpm, even in sixth gear, the gutsy turbocharged four-cylinder offers ample mid-range torque. It does sound strained approaching its 6800rpm redline, but pottering along in traffic or maintaining coasting speed is easily achieved with engine revolutions kept at or below 2000rpm.
During low-speed driving, our commute was occasionally joined by some parcel tray buzz or rattle.
The Pulsar’s standard three-year/100,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance offering aids its long-term ownership appeal. The SSS is also covered under the myNissan capped-price servicing scheme with 10,000km services ranging from $258.16 to $657.06. That's decent, but well above the likes of the Holden Cruze SRi, which costs $185 per service for the first three dealership visits.
Making things tougher again is that the Pulsar sits in a local market already jam packed with quality hatchbacks, including those with a slightly more sporting nature such as the Mazda 3 SP25 ($25,890), Hyundai i30 SR ($27,990) and the aforementioned Cruze SRi ($22,890).
That said, the Pulsar SSS remains a model that some buyers will warm to, but we'd suggest a test-drive of some of its contemporaries.
Images by James Ward.