From £16,3407
Top of its class, if it’s a class for those who really want a Nissan but find a Qashqai just too racy

What is it?

Eight years after Nissan gave up making its conventional C-segment five-door hatchback, this is the Nissan Pulsar: a wholly conventional C-segment five-door hatchback.

Nissan’s boldness almost a decade ago, in favour of making crossovers like the Nissan Juke and Nissan Qashqai – the latter now built in triple-shifts at Sunderland, has been a resounding success Europe-wide. But not quite resounding enough to tempt everyone. 

It seems there are those, for whom a Qashqai – or any other crossover/SUV – is just a bit too daring. They want a conventional small hatchback, darnit. So Nissan is giving them one.

What's it like?

The Pulsar is based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance small platform (think Note, etc), but has an impressive 2700mm wheelbase relative to its conventional C-segment 4.3 metre length. There are MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. 

And it comes with lots of stuff: an LED headlight option, emergency braking radar, internet connection and DAB radio, automatic parking, a reversing camera that cleans itself, lane-departure and blind-spot warning, and more. All in a car priced from £15,000-£20,000; about 10 per cent less than a Volkswagen Golf, by Nissan’s reckoning.

Also by Nissan’s reckoning, the Pulsar isn’t really a Golf rival. Nissan is thinking more along the lines of a Hyundai i30 or Kia Cee’d. The kinds of cars whose makers, 10 years ago, tried to tempt buyers in with lots of stuff at low prices, but who now tempt them by offering pleasing baby-premium interiors, multi-link rear ends and extremely capable dynamics. 

The Pulsar doesn’t quite have all of those. Oh, it feels well-assembled enough inside, but the brightwork is a touch clumsy – real metal components don’t look like that – and there are too many hard plastics. 

Ergonomically it’s generally good, though – there are wide armrests on the doors and the driving position is sound. And there’s bags of legroom in the rear. The entertainment system and the like is mostly lifted straight from the Qashqai.

There are two engines first of all; a 1.5-litre diesel and a 114bhp 1.2-litre petrol turbo tested here. It’s the same engine as in the Qashqai, so is pleasingly quiet and only modestly powerful, but willing above 2000rpm – as is the experience generally. This is a pretty refined car.

The ride is generally smooth; better in the 1.2 than the heavier-engined, 1.5-litre, 109bhp diesel we’ve also driven. But look for anything beyond mediocre smoothness, towards the kind of mild involvement that make a Golf or Ford Focus – or even a Cee’d or i30 – compelling, and you’ll be searching a long time.

The steering’s light and inert (again, heavier in the diesel). It’s an easy car to rub along with. To sit in and drive, the Pulsar is one of the least interesting cars in the segment.

Should I buy one?

It’s hard for those who like cars to truly bond with. But not everybody cares about cars, after all and, crucially for Nissan, there are some fleet clients who won’t consider Nissan unless it offers an ordinary family hatch. Besides, cars of this type are still worth five million sales a year in Europe.

Back to top

So it makes the right noises and will bring in the right revenue. But for people who enjoy cars and driving, it feels like a product that Nissan knew it should have, rather than one it revelled in making.

Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T Tekna

Price £20,345; 0-62mph 10.7sec; Top speed 118mph; Economy 56.5mpg; CO2 117g/km; Kerbweight 1304kg; Engine 4cyls in line, 1197cc, turbo petrol; Power 114bhp at 4500rpm; Torque 140lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Add a comment…
maximilian 9 September 2014

Missed Opportunity

Nissan had a real opportunity to create a viable alternative to the Golf/Focus with this but have delivered a generic and entirely forgetful Japanese box with an interior ten years behind the rest. Mazda have managed to pull off a real looker with the 3 (and 6) and seem to understand European tastes, but I can't thinking Nissan have made a half-hearted attempt. I'm sure it will be reliable and well built but this is hugely competitive sector of the market and I can't see them grabbing a meaningful share with this one.
Shrub 6 September 2014

Better off as an MPV

Re-engineer this into a small/medium MPV to rival the Focus C-Max and Toyota Verso and you might have a useful addition to your model range.
erly5 6 September 2014

Can do better

Nissan abandoned this sector of the market because the Almera was outclassed by most of its competitors and sales had fallen through the floor. They boldly took a risk with the Qashqai which paid off handsomely. Ditto the Juke. So I was surprised at Nissan's return to this sector, and even more surprised that they didn't pull out all the stops with something more radical than this. Love it or loath it, just look at the success of the Juke. It's dimensions makes the Pulsar look like a more stylish replacement for the extremely unstylish Tiida (Versa in some markets) which was never officially sold in the UK. Nissan seems to have gone down the Micra route by producing a car that looks sub-standard and performs poorly in it's market segment.