Nissan is back in the family hatchback game with the Ford Focus-rivalling Pulsar – a conventional and value-packed wingman to the smash hit Qashqai. Just don’t mention Almera…
GAVIN BRAITHWAITE-SMITH | SEPTEMBER 2014
It was Nissan that shook up the family hatchback class in 2006 – by leaving it. The old Almera was a forgettable thing that didn’t stand a chance against the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. So Nissan canned it, invented the crossover sector, launched the Qashqai and the rest has been a huge top 10 UK best-selling success.
And now Qashqai has made Nissan a firm held in high regard by family car buyers again, it’s having another crack at the five-door hatch. The Pulsar is an entirely conventional straight-laced sister car to the Qashqai, with more sober styling and, inside, a major focus on room and practicality.
It’s striking value. Prices start at £15,995 and even that Visia gets touchscreen infotainment, air con, alloys and cruise control. The £18,995 n-tec will pair with your smartphone and let you plan routes on Google Maps in front of your TV then send it to the car. Try doing that in a Golf.
With engines, Nissan’s keeping it simple with two choices; a petrol, and a diesel. Both 115hp 1.2 DiG-T and 110hp 1.5 dCi are familiar; Nissan’s teasing up with the promise of a 190hp 1.6 turbo a little later. The launch engines will sell best though… so what’s the Pulsar like with them?
What’s the Nissan Pulsar like to drive?
It’s a comfortable thing, that’s for sure. The Nissan Pulsar’s long wheelbase (2700mm) may help to deliver class-leading levels of space, but it also means the five-door hatchback rides in a way that would shame many larger cars with more premium aspirations.
Even with 17-inch alloy wheels found on the range-topping Pulsar Tekna, the Nissan smooths out all but the worst road surfaces, giving us the impression it could mount a strong case for some serious mile-munching. We’ll caveat this by reserving judgement until we’ve driven the Pulsar in the UK.
The excellent ride is the highlight of what is in truth a pretty unremarkable car to drive. The Pulsar’s relatively tall stance means that it tends to lean quite heavily through corners, although Nissan’s Active Trace Control does a good job of mimicking a limited slip diff to control things when powering out of a bend.
We’ll use the word ‘powering’ advisedly, because the Nissan Pulsar doesn’t feel remotely sporty, even with the almost comical addition of carbonfibre-effect print on the lower section of the rear bumper. The 11.5 seconds it takes the 1.5 dCi turbodiesel to accelerate to 62mph provides enough evidence to suggest the Pulsar is more lethargic than lethal weapon.
In actual fact, it’s the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine which feels the keener of the two, giving the Pulsar a more energetic and spritely feel. What it gives up in terms of economy, the petrol engine makes up for in driver satisfaction and provides hope that the much-mooted Pulsar Nismo could be a real cracker.
In the meantime, the Nissan Pulsar remains pleasant enough, if largely forgettable. Enough to shake up the sector? Perhaps not, but we suspect a large proportion of five-door hatchback buyers will favour economy and practicality over dynamics. As an all-rounder, the Pulsar is unashamedly competent – good in all areas.
Does the Pulsar have what it takes to shake up the C-segment?
Put aside any thoughts that the Nissan Pulsar will send shockwaves through the sector, because it won’t. The first and lasting impression of the car is one of a facelift, not an entirely new model. Harsh, perhaps, but whilst the Nissan Qashqai leaves you with a feeling of getting more for your hard-earned cash, the Pulsar leaves you feeling a little shortchanged.
Sure, the rear legroom is impressive and the size and space offered by the boot is generous in the extreme. But how many five-door hatchback buyers get excited about these two factors? Yes, they may help once in the showroom, but does rear legroom drive dealer footfall?
The sector has changed almost beyond recognition since Nissan left in 2006. The Almera felt dated then and whilst some genuinely impressive tech and good levels of spec may be appealing, there are just two many fresh and exciting competitors for the Almera – sorry, Pulsar – in 2014.
And even those which aren’t necessarily exciting, i.e. the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30, the warranty packages help to give the cars the edge. The Pulsar faces a tough challenge, although given the level of spec, space and tech, Nissan shouldn’t too many problems shifting 10,000 units in the first year.
MR verdict: 2015 Nissan Pulsar
The Pulsar is a vanilla family hatchback compared to the wonderful Qashqai crossover. It does nothing new and its key rivals remain more interesting cars.
It does ride well though, and the value package is excellent; just what fuss-free buyers are looking for. And it’s for they who the Pulsar has been created for: Nissan’s showroom banker for those to whom the Qashqai is too edgy or pricey. Good business sense but it hasn’t led to a car any better than average.
Rivals: Nissan Pulsar
- Ford Focus
- Volkswagen Golf
- SEAT Leon
- Toyota Auris
- Honda Civic
The current Ford Focus is a good car; the forthcoming facelifted one could be excellent. The Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon certainly are – the latter a cut-price version of the former – and Japanese car fans will find the Toyota Auris is the best all-rounder, if a slightly dull one. Or what about a Kia Cee’d, for Japanese integrity and reliability plus a bit more design spark and lower list prices?
Specification: Nissan Pulsar
Engine: 1.2 DiG-T turbo petrol, 1.5 dCi turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Price from: £15,995
Price for the choice model: £18,995 (1.2 DiG-T n-tec)
Power: 115hp (1.2 DiG-T), 110hp (1.5 dCi)
Torque: 190/260 lb ft
0-62mph: 10.7/11.5 seconds
Top speed: 118mph