Nissan Pulsar 2013: Road Test

words - Matt Brogan
Can the all-new Pulsar meet the heavy expectations placed upon it? Or is it a case of too little too late?

Nissan Pulsar ST and Ti
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $19,990 (ST) / $28,990 (Ti)
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): CVT $2250; Metallic Paint $495
Crash rating: TBC
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 6.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 160
Also consider:  Holden Cruze (from $21,490 - $31,790); Kia Cerato (from $19,390 - $29,455); Mitsubishi Lancer (from $19,990 - $65,990); Proton Preve (from $18,990 - $20,990)

The Pulsar nameplate has been missing in action for seven years. During this time we’ve borne the Tiida hatch and sedan in all its ‘glory’, living in hope that the return of the Pulsar badge would restore the Japanese marque to the esteem in which it was once held.

But does the all-new Pulsar meet the heavy expectations placed upon it?

It’s a loaded question, really, and to answer it entirely we need to delve a little further into just where the improvements have come, and where costs have obviously been cut.

On launch the pre-production Pulsar we drove received a positive review, but after further consideration (and more than a few kilometres in the car on home ground), it seems the route selected for the car’s launch may have shown it in a flattering light. A few weeks with the crew has cast a few shadows.

But, let’s start with the good news.

Build quality, panel shut lines and interior comfort headline the act. The Pulsar looks and feels every bit as good as its competitors in this respect, with amenity levels that aren’t far off the pace, either.

The base grade ST omits a USB input and Bluetooth audio steaming, but ticks just about every other box with cruise control, Bluetooth telephony, (manual) air-conditioning, AM/FM single-CD audio system with 3.5mm auxiliary input, power windows and mirrors and a trip computer included as standard.

Stepping up to the top-spec Ti and the Pulsar adopts 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, leather accented upholstery, a proximity key, 5.8-inch touchscreen audio and satellite navigation, a reversing camera, and dusk-sensing Xenon headlights. (There’s also a mid-spec ST-L, not tested).

Seating is especially well-cushioned but not at the expense of support. The cloth upholstery itself is also of a higher grade than most rivals we care to mention, though the leather is on par. Outward visibility presented no issues to speak of while ergonomic and material tactility also ranked high on the scoreboard.

Fuel economy was another highpoint. On test our Pulsar had no trouble achieving 6.0L/100km on regular 91 RON unleaded petrol. That’s 0.7L/100km below the ADR combined cycle average -- and this from an engine we might add was barely run-in.

The boot is massive at 510 litres and despite being longer than the Tiida it replaces, the Pulsar is a cinch to park thanks to a decent turning circle (10.7m) and über-light steering.

The dash and instrumentation illuminate with clarity and night, the HVAC system is super effective and the large door apertures and considerate hip-point will make the Pulsar a deserved hit with those buyers affected by restricted mobility.

Then there’s the not so good news.

Nissan’s long stroke MRA8DE 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine develops just 96kW at 6000rpm but is comparable on torque with most in this class at 174Nm (at 4800rpm). Its power figure, however, is one of the lowest output figures in its class with even the 1.8-litre Holden Cruze achieving 104kW.

It shows, too, and though Nissan have tried to alleviate some of this shortfall by offering its ‘Xtronic’ continuously variable transmission (CVT) in place of a regular automatic, the combination is not a happy one.

On test the CVT proved lethargic in its response to throttle input and in its reaction to changes in grade. The transmission never felt prompt or intuitive, even in Sport mode, which seemed only to hold ‘gears’, offering little in the way of added performance or drivability.

And though it may sound like we’re missing the point of the Pulsar with these observations, it’s worth noting that the transmission also seemed to ‘hunt’ during steady throttle application on flat ground. It’s an issue not noted in our launch review, the difference in calibration between the pre-production vehicles sampled here and our own test vehicle as obvious as they are disappointing.

The suspension was also a mixed bag. We can commend the comfortable ride but note that this comes at the cost of confident handling. The Pulsar would corner with reasonable fluidity, but its soft ride unnerved the car’s line after any rapid change in direction – such as an evasive manoeuvre. Indeed, at times it was unstable enough for us to feel 'uncomfortable'.

We also felt the electric steering was far too light. It is also vague and easily deflected on-centre. Sure, the car was easy to park and manoeuvrable at low speeds, but it didn’t firm once on the open road, meaning you had to hold the car on line at all times, lest it followed the road’s camber onto the verge.

Add to these issues the fact that the Pulsar does not yet have an ANCAP safety rating (and the rear seat is not split-fold) and there is some cause for concern – especially in a segment where so many rivals offer a more competitive balance between power and economy, ride and handling, and practicality and comfort.

Of course not everyone is going to be fazed by delicate dynamism and sedate performance, and likewise the Pulsar’s impressive fuel economy, comfortable ride and generous amenity are worth more than we might give credit. But with competition so tight, and pricing so aggressive, the Pulsar’s return to a segment it once dominated could be off to a shaky start.   

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Published : Friday, 22 February 2013
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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