The 2015 Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan follows in the wheel tracks of last year’s five-door hatchback version, leveraging the ‘triple-S’ brand – well regarded to many rose-tinged Australian viewpoints – for all its worth.
Historically, though, the SSS motorsport heritage is a little patchy. And Nissan Australia’s road-going ‘triple-S’ forebears compared to today’s crop were frankly lukewarm models of modest (if spritely) sporting aspirations endowed with strong engines, if not a whole lot else.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but, realistically, the modern SSS doesn’t have a much to live up to. In halo brand terms, it’s no Nismo, GT-R or Zed. And that’s regardless of how bold the racing stripes – the only added enhancement – on last October’s limited-edition SSS Heritage Edition hatchback, a tenuous homage to 30-year-old Bathurst folklore, were.
But while sporting expectations for the new flagship of the four-door Pulsar range are modest, its performance as a value-laden small car is loftier. Last year we rated the SSS hatchback a solid 7/10 prior to Nissan slashing the five-door pricing in Pulsar’s Series II update in April.
The SSS sedan arrives as more car – in terms of size and metal, if not specification – with very sharp pricing indeed.
The six-speed manual version of the SSS sedan, at $26,990 plus on-roads, represents a $1000 premium over the same-spec hatchback. Meanwhile, the Xtronic CVT auto variant – as tested here — wants for $29,290 plus on-roads, an extra $800 over the five-door. The SSS pairing’s delayed arrival a year after they were originally announced, and two and half years after the four-door Pulsar’s initial launch, is no doubt reflected in the sharpness of the price points.
It’s a lot of car for money because it’s, well, a lot of car. It’s loaded with all of the standard equipment as fitted to the now-defunct luxury-infused Ti variant the SSS effectively replaces as the range-topper. These include Intelligent Keyless Entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate control and leather-accented seat and door trims.
Many of the SSS sedan’s features, however, can be had in the more affordable mid-range ST-L sedan, including sat-nav with 3D mapping, the 5.8-inch infotainment touchscreen, USB and iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. A welcome addition is reversing sensors and reversing camera.
Like the rest of the four-door Pulsar range, the SSS comes with a five-star ANCAP rating and includes dual front, dual side and dual curtain airbags.
And at 4620mm in length, the four-door SSS is over 30 centimetres longer than the five-door, the main benefit of which is experienced in extra cabin space. And yet with weighbridge tickets of 1297kg (manual) and 1335kg (CVT), the sedans are, surprisingly, seven and five kilograms more lightweight respectively. So no compromises in efficiency and performance then…on paper, at least.
That performance is anchored by the now-familiar 140kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged four shared with the SSS hatch and Juke. For a sub-$30K prospect, again, the form guide looks very enticing indeed.
More enticing, perhaps, than the SSS sedan’s bulbous body enhancements. The front-end treatment is fussy, though the auto-levelling/dusk-sensing xenon highlights and LED daytime running lights are suitable range-topping jewellery. However, those tacked-on side skirts look to be a bit of an afterthought. The rear end, with LED taillights, appears to have the largest rear bar Nissan designers could feasibly fashion. It’s styling in excess, and even normally substantial 17-inch alloy wheels (other Pulsars get 16s) appear underdone.
Inside, the cabin feels incredibly spacious, exacerbated by its generous overall length and its positive effect on second-row legroom. Importantly, for a categorical ‘small car’, it has the kind of all-round interior ‘breathing space’ some buyers might otherwise associate with mid-size sedans – if that sounds like you, don’t part cash one segment larger without sampling the Pulsar sedan breed.
It’s neat, solidly built, has exceptional noise isolation from the outside environment and is far from low rent. However, from the quality of the materials to the functionality of its only modestly sized infotainment touchscreen, it’s an acceptable rather than segment-benchmarking effort.
The seating is soft rather than supportive, the driving position comfortable instead of purposeful, the controls functional without being properly engaging. In short, there’s not much sportiness going on to support the SSS badge of honour on the bootlid – no celebration that you’re inside the hottest small Nissan on the block.
Equally, the SSS can’t match the equipment count with genuine prestige. The leather-accented seat and door trims are slightly plastic-y to touch and the sat-nav is rudimentary, though the reverse-view camera plus rear parking sensors are a godsend for a car with an overall exterior length that’s difficult to sense from behind the wheel.
Novel, too, are the sun visors so enormous that they can obscure the entire forward view through the windshield from taller drivers.
It would, however, make a fine, utilitarian family car. The second row is impressively comfortable, its materials resilient to small-children and yet offering ample accommodation for large adults.
Rear air vents, a centre armrest with cupholders, and split-fold 60:40 rear seat flexibility feature. In terms of core functionality, though, there’s not a lot on offer in the SSS that isn’t catered for by the entry $19,990 ST.
On road, the sporting credentials of the SSS become questionable very quickly. Unless, that is, you consider sportiness as a measure of sheer acceleration. The 1.6 responds to throttle inputs cleanly and pulls with gusto in the mid-range beyond 2500rpm, offering fine point-and-shoot ability when merging, overtaking or lunging for gaps in urban traffic.
However, there’s nothing exhilarating about the experience. Get a hustle on and the CVT picks the engine’s most energetic rpm point — around 4000rpm — and holds on for dear life. Only under prolonged full-throttle application will the CVT allow the engine to creep towards its 5600rpm power peak.
So brisk acceleration is accompanied by a mono-tonal engine drone that’s patently un-sporty. And unlike some CVT designs, there’s no attempt to simulate forward ratio upshifts in automatic mode, the effect of a solitary ‘gear’ and engine note masking the sensations of road speed. The manual mode, via the baulky console shifter, serves merely to catch the engine off the boil rather than to enhance driver engagement.
It’s a reasonably quick car then, though not much fun. And its one party trick comes at a cost at the pump: during a leisurely loop mixing stop-start traffic with highway cruising, it returned mid-nine-litre average fuel consumption.
Similarly, the uprated suspension tune provides a firmer ride quality while imparting little in the way of bona-fide sportiness in characteristic. At once, the ride seems to err towards slightly loose body control and tends to float over road undulations while, strangely, the suspension thuds and wallops against road imperfections such as separation joints and potholes. Surprising – you’d expect a sheen of compliance given those 50-series tyres.
Handling is actually reasonably spirited, though the slow and not terribly communicative steering does rob the driver of a sense of confidence you might otherwise expect from a warmed-over small car. Ditto the brakes, which have good cold operation bite but lack a proper progression ideal for occasional weekend back road punts.
Pocketing $2300 and opting for the more affordable manual version may provide an extra degree of driving engagement – travelling in a straight line, at least – but even then it’s devoid of the sort of right stuff deserving of a properly ‘sporting’ mantle.
From an ownership perspective, the Pulsar SSS gets a three-year/100,000 warranty with capped price servicing ranging in price (at current rates) from $258.16 (regular service) through to $657.06 (100,000km service only) over a six-year/120,000km period.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s a lot to like for many buyers’ tastes. The Pulsar offers a blend of space, equipment, comfort and refinement few other small cars – particularly those with four doors and bootlid – can match for relatively sharp money.
The high-spec Pulsar automatic sedan’s comfort zone is essentially the middle of the road on Easy Street, the extra herbs under the right foot for practical purpose rather than driving enjoyment. That’s it’s a lukewarm performer with a strong engine reflects true SSS tradition.
Click the Photos tab to see full imagery of the 2015 Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan, taken by Glen Sullivan.