Road test: Nissan Pulsar Hatch offers reliable confidence
THERE'S an elephant with the Nissan Australia room. Is it the car or is the name, Nissan Pulsar?
The answer will come with time, but the immediate success of Nissan's Pulsar has been monumental.
Launched in February, Pulsar now has 7% of a massive small car market. Compare that to car it replaced, the Tiida, which had 0.7% at the same time last year.
But that "unfair share" as Nissan Australia's boss William F Peffer Jr calls it, is about to get bigger.
The hatch range has just arrived to bolster the sedan. Among the four new models is the much-loved SSS variant with a turbocharged petrol engine - the first time we've seen it in showrooms since the turn of the new millennium.
Base ST and ST-L models have the 1.8-litre engine, while ST-S and SSS get a 1.6-litre turbo.
Although the headline act comes via pricing. Nissan has started the range from $18,990, undercutting the genre's big sales guns - the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30.
Pulsar, along with Holden Cruze and Kia Cerato, are what many are calling "super smalls".
Interior space is expansive. Four adults can be transported without the need for human origami, while three across the back bench wouldn't be a major imposition.
There is no need to dive for the manual for interior guidance. Nissan has created a simplistic and easily navigated dash design which uses plenty of plastics, but they don't look tacky or cheap.
Seats across the range, from the cloth ST through to the leather-clad pews in the SSS offer excellent support which would be appreciated on long journeys.
Quiet with excellent driving manners, the cabin is well insulated from road and tyre noise.
On the road
Across the line-up, the Pulsar is difficult to fault.
It's not a dynamic offering which inspires you to push the performance boundaries but rather a reliable and confident car.
Nissan has achieved a deft balance in the steering. There is excellent feedback for the driver and its direct attributes are rewarding in corners.
In both manual and automatic versions, the hatch felt surprisingly more nimble and likable in the performance stakes than the sedan (it's between 15-25kg lighter). The manual provides quick and clean shifts, while the CVT partners well with the 1.8-litre derivative and will work right up to the redline with linear power delivery.
While turbocharged, the SSS is not in hot hatch territory. It is punchy and offers excellent acceleration for overtaking and getting off the line but it won't rival some of the big Europeans - but then again it's more than 10 grand cheaper.
What do you get?
Standard equipment on the ST includes 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker audio with MP3 capability and AUX-IN, Bluetooth phone connectivity (no audio streaming), power windows and a five-star safety rating.
One rung up and the ST-L gets front fog lights, a rear spoiler, extra two speakers, 11cm colour display, better cloth trim, snazzier dash features and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Get into the ST-S and it adds larger alloys as well as the turbo donk, while the SSS gets automatic Xenon headlights, a body kit, larger colour display, sat nav, rear view camera, Bluetooth audio streaming, leather trim, dual zone air con and plush button start.
Key players include last month's number one seller the Toyota Corolla (from $19,990), Mazda3 (from $20,330), Holden Cruze (from $19,490) and Hyundai i30 (from $20,990).
Those wanting flexibility will love the hatch.
Unlike the sedan, the back seats have a 60-40 fold (although they don't drop completely flat) which is handy for sports equipment and bulky items.
Through the centre console there are some good storage spots and two cup holders while the boot is reasonable but not class leading.
Fuel consumption is thrifty with both engines, an even the turbo is below eight litres for every 100km.
Insurance should be at the cheaper end of the scale.
Nissan has capped price servicing, but its scheme is one of the more expensive ones going around.
This is expected to be revisited within months.
Don't expect the styling to light your excitement fire.
It's nice enough, but conservative and inoffensive.
Even the SSS variant with a body kit and larger alloys is far from shouting its sporting credentials - then again this was part of the appeal historically.
What matters most
The good stuff: Interior space is expansive, compliant ride and handling, quiet cabin, full-size spare.
What we'd like to see: Bluetooth audio streaming across the range, cheaper servicing (but that's coming), more exhaust noise from the SSS.
Servicing and warranty: Three years/100,000km with 24 hour roadside assistance. Servicing is every six months or 10,00km. Capped price servicing for up to six years/120,000kms (whichever comes first). Average price over 12 services is $297.18 (1.8-litre), $334 (1.6-litre turbo).
Nissan is backing a winner with the hatch variant of the Pulsar. It drives well, offers excellent interior space and also has good value pricing.
Those factors should be enough to lure base-model buyers who have to go without the likes of flash colour touch-screens and Bluetooth audio streaming which are standard on many other similar competition variants.
Model: Nissan Pulsar Hatch.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatchback.
Engine: 1.8-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 96kW@6000rpm and peak torque of 174Nm @ 4800rpm; 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder 140kW @ 5600rpm and 240Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 1.80litre - 7.2 litres/100km (m); 6.7L/100km (a). 1.6 - 7.7L/100km (m); 7.8L/100km (a).
CO2: 1.8-litre 169g/km; 161g/km. 1.6-litre 185g/km; 187g/km (a).
Bottom line: ST $18,990 (m), ST-L $22,490, ST-S $24,990, SSS $29,240. (Automatic is $2250 extra on ST and ST-L, $2500 more on ST-S and SSS).