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

Our Verdict

NIssan Pulsar
Nissan's V-Motion grille marks the Pulsar out as a Nissan, but it's debatable whether you'd be able to name the car if this was covered up

Nissan's return to the European mainstream isa competent family hatchback - but it shares a market with cars that go far beyond that

Matt Prior
5 September 2014
Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T Tekna

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 Juke and 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.

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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.

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

5 September 2014
Nissan had to get out of this segment because their Almera was rubbish and didn't sell.
They proved they could produce clever, class-leading cars like the Qashqai and do well in the UK. So they applied that thinking to the Pulsar... or did they? Apparently not. Like the Micra, they seem to have aimed low. Which is a great way to achieve your aims, but not to achieve success on any worthwhile scale.
This is a nice enough 'white goods' vehicle for undemanding users, and would make a great hire car, but I'm disappointed for Nissan that they couldn't, perhaps even didn't want to do better than just challenge Hyundai and Kia. And since the i30 and Cee'd are both arguably more stylish and have longer warranties, I'm not sure they've even managed that.

5 September 2014
Another on for the driving schools and the hat wearers with cushions on the parcel shelf.

5 September 2014
I'd rather a 308 with the 3cyl pure-tech engine; quicker, less emissions, much nicer interior - strange that Autocar don't consider this in their rival comments. Nissan have obviously targeted this at the, shall we say, less-developed markets.

5 September 2014
Can't see anything wrong with this car. It's looks very 'grey' which will appeal to all those in this segment. Comparisons to Almera? Almera aimed at the cheaper end of the C segment whereas this looks as if will easily compete higher up the price bracket. It looks like every other car in this segment but will have almost guaranteed reliability, should be well put together with higher grade materials than Nissan offered in days gone by. It might not be a best seller but I'm sure it'll take many sales away from other manufacturers. From a personal point of view would I take this over say a Hyundai i30 or Kia C'eed? Definitely. Over anything French? Oui. Over anything German? Depends on price. What it also shows is how far Toyota have dropped.

5 September 2014
but a lot of it is most certainly French, scotty5. What's in a badge?

5 September 2014
scotty5 wrote:

Over anything French? Oui. .

So you'd rather have a car built on a Renault platform, using Renault engines, over a Renault? Good logic there.

Personally, if I had to pick a C segment car, I'd go for a Mazda 3 saloon, the only remaining non-'premium' 4 door in the segment. A good looker to boot, like a mini Mazda 6!


5 September 2014
20 grand for a 1.2 ???

Lord knows what the Nismo model will cost (the Almera GTI replacement I've been waiting 15 years for)

5 September 2014
I really get the impression that Nissan doesn’t really care about anything below it’s Qashqai. Witness all the hot air by Ghon, and Palmer about the Micra, Note and now this the Pulsar.
Andy Palmer waxed lyrical about this car and how it was a competitor to the Golf. Even as a massive Nissan fan I knew that was a tall order to pull off.
I hate it when the big wigs come out with rhetoric like that.

Glad the guy’s gone to be honest.
As for the car itself. Well as a designer I’d say pretty mediocre. Weak front end. Not the best profile. But a rear that has a bit of character. Interior aint the quality up to Golf standards either I suspect.

So so frustrating seeing as though they had 6 plus years to perfect.

5 September 2014
...simply designed to be a presence in a large market place rather than trying to lead it. Familiar platforms and component sharing from sibling models will ensure profitability, which was probably the only goal for this tool.

5 September 2014
I must admit I felt cautiously optimistic about this car when it was first featured in Autocar, as the noises which were being made suggested they'd put a lot of effort into getting the dynamics etc sorted. Unfortunately, it sounds like they were merely noises. It has the feel of a placeholder car about it judging from what has been said - enough to establish a presence in the market, like Matt says, but nothing more. For a company which has up to now made a thing of being distinctive, that's a disappointing step to take. Especially when other manufacturers, including those from Korea, are really raising their game. Sounds like Nissan has work to do already...


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