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2013 Nissan Pulsar Review and First Drive

by Brad Leach -

  • PRICE RANGE: $18,990 - $31,740*
  • PROS: It’s a Pulsar – competent, well-made, lots of kit and sharp price; massive interior space
  • CONS: No split-fold rear seat; ‘low-tech’ engine; no diesel option
  • Safety Rating:  N/A
  • Green Rating: 
  • Fuel Consumption:  6.7L/100km
  • Write your own review

The ultimate compliment we can pay to the all-new Nissan Pulsar is…it’s a Pulsar. Competent, practical, spacious, good-looking, well-made and sharply-priced, the all-new Pulsar brings the curtain down on the un-loved Tiida model and returns Nissan to the pointy end of Australia’s small car race.

And it’s not only the Pulsar name-plate which returns – so does the price. As your Car Showroom correspondent remembers well, in 1996 Nissan was the first brand to shatter the $20,000 barrier with the fifth-generation model priced from $19,990…and now the all-new seventh-generation range debuts with the same starting sticker. 



Nissan Australia boss Bill Peffer hails from North America and he had barely slipped his shoes under the CEO’s desk in the corner office in Dandenong South (Victoria) before people started peppering him with tales of the Pulsar. Now it’s back and Mr Peffer asks: “What if you can take the best from the past and make it better?”

Well we’re about to find out because Mr Peffer has steered the hallowed nameplate (still recognized by 71 per-cent of new car buyers despite its seven year absence) back into Nissan dealerships. And the quietly-spoken American reckons Pulsar will quadruple – yes, quadruple – Tiida’s sales with 12,000 slated for the Australian market this year.

 

Nissan Pulsar Overview


Nissan has brought the all-new Pulsar back to Australia initially as a four-door sedan powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.8-litre engine driving through either a six-speed manual transmission or constantly variable transmission (CVT) automatic. Nissan Pulsar five-door hatchback models arrive in June, including the return of the legendary sports model, the SSS which will employ a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.
 


The Nissan Pulsar sedan lineup comprises entry-level ST, mid-grade ST-L and range-topping Ti (sound familiar Pulsar fans?). All are generously equipped with standard features including alloy wheels, cruise control, rake/reach adjustable steering wheel, Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and LED brake lights.

Amongst its extras, the ST-L model adds a bootlid spoiler, front fog lights, display audio, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever. Range-topping Nissan Pulsar Ti ups the ante further with unique alloy wheels, satellite navigation (with reversing camera), leather seats and more.

The full range is:

ST manual $19,990
ST automatic $22,240
ST-L manual $23,650
ST-L automatic $25,900
Ti automatic $28,590

And to launch the Pulsar, Nissan dealers and Nissan Finance have a special guaranteed future value lease offer. With a comparison rate of 7.5 per-cent, you simply stump-up 10.0 per-cent deposit and enjoy your all-new Pulsar from $299 per month. At the end of the lease period you can buy-out the lease at the guaranteed price and own the Pulsar, you can walk away and leave it or walk away from the Pulsar and into a new Nissan vehicle.

 

Nissan Pulsar Engine


All-new Nissan Pulsar employs an interesting all-new naturally-aspirated 1.8-litre petrol engine. Interesting because the all-new MRA8DE is a long-stroke design (90.1mm – which is longer than both Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic).

Nissan says the long-stroke configuration was selected because the improved combustion speed of the smaller combustion chamber increases temperature efficiency. Combined with the overlapping cycles of the twin variable valve timing, this all leads to greater fuel efficiency.
 


Maximum power is 96kW at 6000rpm and peak torque of 174Nm is delivered at 4800rpm.

Drive is via either a six-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic and, as is becoming common these days, the CVT models are the most fuel-efficient with combined cycle rated at 6.7l/100kms (7.2l/100kms for the manual).

Nissan Pulsar scores a new version of Nissan’s Xtronic CVT auto which is smaller and 13 per-cent lighter. Inside is a sub-planetary gear set and smaller pulleys which provide a wider gear ratio (7.3:1) for better performance and fuel efficiency (in the high ratio at 100km/h only 1700rpm is on-board…that’s quite and economical in anyone’s book).

A couple of quick comparisons with major Japanese rivals: Honda’s Civic sedan delivers 103kW/174Nm from its 1.8-litre engine, Mazda3 is good for 108kW/182Nm from its 2.0-litre powerplant and Toyota Corolla’s 1.8-litre provides 100kW/175Nm.

 

Nissan Pulsar The Interior


Nissan Pulsar sedan is a close relative of the North American Sentra model so no surprise it’s massively spacious inside. In fact the all-new Nissan Pulsar rivals mid-size vehicles like the Toyota Camry and Kia Optima for interior space. 


So let’s start at the back. A 510-litre boot is enormous in this league but unfortunately the all-new Nissan Pulsar doesn’t offer a split-fold rear seat (only a small ‘ski-opening’ in the centre).

Then there’s the rear seat - incredibly spacious. We set the drivers’ seat to our position them clambered into the back and – boom! – there’s legroom akin to Holden Commodore/Ford Falcon. Very impressive.

Up-front the driver enjoys a nice three-spoke steering wheel (adjustable for rake/reach) and height-adjustable seat for a nice driving position. Instruments are Nissan’s usual high quality display - electroluminescent with backlighting and Ti models add a 5.8inch colour screen with 3D mapping. 



Audio is a six-speaker CD system but only Ti models get Bluetooth audio streaming.

All around are quality soft-touch trim materials (we preferred the ST-L material over the ST) and metallic-look highlights.

 

Nissan Pulsar Exterior & Styling


Nissan Australia currently sources vehicles made in Japan, England, Spain, Thailand and adds North America later this year when the all-new Pathfinder debuts. And, to be honest, the well-worn car industry ‘global styling theme’ isn’t currently the Nissan way (which is a good thing).

Sure there are some harmonies in badging and the like, but pleasingly the all-new Nissan Pulsar doesn’t really look similar to say the Maxima, the Altima or any Renault model. 



Across the range, the all-new Pulsar adopts a very up-market front-end with a nice chrome grille and large wrap-around headlights with LED highlights.

There’s a contemporary and purposeful silhouette punctuated by a low beltline and large glasshouse, while the rear is sophisticated and nicely detailed.

 

Nissan Pulsar On The Road


Car Showroom sampled Nissan Pulsar ST manual, ST-L automatic and Ti models during a full day on the roads from the Melbourne CBD to the Yarra Valley and return.

Over the twisty stuff the Pulsar’s independent front end and Torsion beam rear suspension gave a good account with comfortable ride and refinement on all surfaces. Steering precision was also nice at low speeds, but at the very limit the all-new Pulsar’s steering and suspension isn’t quite as sporty as say the Mazda3 or Volkswagen Golf. This will be good news for some who find the Mazda and VW duo just a tad too firm/spicy. 



Nissan’s1.8-litre petrol engine is an honest performer which, even when mated to the CVT, provides reasonable acceleration for overtaking and freeway merging. Sporty drivers will prefer the better response of the six-speed manual which sees the Pulsar rev strongly all the way to the red-line and beyond.

We liked the good all-round visibility when parking and – like the best of the previous Pulsars – the new model is very easy top operate.

 

Nissan Pulsar Challenges


While the 510-litre boot is large, the lack of a split-fold rear seat will limit Pulsar’s practicality for some sports enthusiasts – baffling. And good as the 1.8-litre engine is, Pulsar’s powerplant isn’t from Nissan’s department of ‘Cutting Edge Technology’.

Like Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the all-new Nissan Pulsar isn’t available with a diesel engine (Mazda3 offers the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel in both sedan and hatchback models).

 

Nissan Pulsar Verdict


No way to sugar-coat things: Nissan and its Australian dealers have been belted by the failure of the Tiida – the equivalent of Volkswagen stuffing-up the Golf or Toyota butchering the Corolla. Fortunately, with Carlos Ghosn at the helm, the alliance company (Renault-Nissan) is populated by some of the most talented people in the global automotive industry so the ‘come-backer’ was always going to hit the sweet spot…and it has.
 


Two successive American CEOs at Nissan Australia (Dan Thompson and now Bill Peffer) have taken decisive action and - backed by the product planning and engineering teams in Japan and Thailand – Nissan has delivered a new Pulsar which is a cracker.

How well have they listened to customers and dealers? Very well it seems because the $19,990 starting price is right from Pulsar’s glory days in the late 1990s and the iconic SSS – part of Nissan’s local automotive folklore – also returns when the all-new Pulsar hatchback lineup which arrives in June.

Expect a massive boost in Nissan’s Australian sales this year.

 

Nissan Pulsar The Competition


Holden Cruze comes closest to the Nissan Pulsar for interior space but it’s pricey at $21,490 starting price and the 1.8-litre petrol engine is a tad lethargic.

Honda Civic also starts north of the Pulsar at $20,490. Like Nissan, Honda powers the Civic with a low-tech 1.8-litre engine which – again like the Pulsar – gets the job done for performance and fuel economy (maybe the Japanese brands are onto something here?).

Toyota’s all-new Corolla starts at $20,990 and – here’s a first for Corolla – looks very sharp. Typical Toyota, the Corolla is built like a Swiss watch and refinement levels are in the European league.

But Mazda3 remains the pick of the Japanese for ride/handling. At $20,330 starting price the ‘3’ is an impressive package.

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