Nissan Pulsar review
All-new Nissan Pulsar takes Nissan back into the midsize family hatchback class, with top safety tech and practicality on its side
The Nissan Pulsar is the first mid-side family hatchback from Nissan since it killed off the dreary Almera way back in 2006. Since then, Nissan’s had a runaway success with the Qashqai crossover, and is now using the same engines and on-board tech to create the Pulsar, which is priced below the VW Golf and aims to challenge the Kia Cee'd, Hyundai i30, Toyota Auris and Ford Focus.
In this incredibly competitive class, the Pulsar’s main attributes are class-leading interior space, above-average refinement, and a suite of driver aids grouped under the ‘Nissan Safety Shield’ umbrella. It’s available with two engines from launch: a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol which is predicted to be the biggest seller, and a 1.5-litre turbodiesel dCi engine. Only the petrol is available with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT automatic gearbox instead of the standard six-speed manual. New engines will join the range from 2015.
The usual four Nissan trim levels feature in the Pulsar range: the Pulsar Visia is topped by the Acenta, n-tec and top-spec Tekna models, which add extra comfort, safety and entertainment features. Although the Pulsar is far from entertaining to drive, its refinement and space are sure to mean it deserves more credit among its talented rivals than the long-forgotten Almera ever mustered.
Our choice: Nissan Pulsar 1.5 dCi n-tec
Nissan’s clearly played it safe with the Pulsar’s looks, copying the ‘V-shaped grille’ and contoured bonnet from the Qashqai, though there are LED headlights available to give some visual interest. Despite the ‘boomerang’ taillights, roof spoiler and contoured surfacing down the car’s flanks, it appears boxy and rather awkward from some angles. Part of this is due to the Pulsar only being available with 16-inch or 17-inch wheels – larger alloys would cetainly balance the looks. On the other hand, big wheels jeopardise the commendable ride quality, so it’s a sensible compromise on Nissan’s behalf.
Inside, that boxy body - and a class-best 2,700mm wheelbase – pays dividends. With 692mm of legroom, the Pulsar claims to have the most commodious rear accommodation of any C-segment hatchback, and even enough room to embarrass D-segment cars like the Ford Mondeo or Kia Optima. It feels roomy too, with loads of space, wide-opening doors, and an decent 395-litre boot which expands massively to 1,395 litres with the split-folding seats stowed. If space is your priority, look no further.
If style and design are more up your street, the Pulsar is very unlikely to excite inside. The steering wheel, dials, ‘NissanConnect’ six-inch touchscreen display and climate control buttons are all lifted from the Qashqai and X-Trail. The undeniably intuitive but rather inert interfaces are then transplanted into a dashboard that lacks flair and, in the lower regions, good-quality plastic. The driving position is sound however, if a little high given this car is supposed to be separate from a crossover in terms of its set-up.
Nissan wilfully admits that when developing the Pulsar, it didn’t aim for the fun factor of the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus, Instead, it targeted the refinement of the VW Golf and Audi A3. In most respects, it has largely succeeded. Apart from a flutter of wind noise from the large door mirrors above 65mph, the Pulsar is very quiet at a cruise, especially with the 113bhp petrol engine instead of the slightly noisier 109bhp diesel.
The engines are mostly well-mannered, though overly tall gearing forces them to labour harder than they otherwise might when accelerating, and blunts performance. Neither engine feels as spritely as we’d hope, denting the car’s fun factor. Faster 1.6-litre turbo versions are on the way in 2015, but even extra power won’t turn the Pulsar into a truly entertaining car. Instead, decent ride quality and light controls are the order of the day here.
The Pulsar is too new to have a Driver Power rating yet, but it should be fairly pain-free to own. The new Qashqai on which it is closely based finished 21st out of 150 cars in the 2014 vote, but Nissan itself was rated a disappointing 21st out of 33 carmakers.
The Safety Shield technology should make it a safe proposition. In addition to lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, a 360-degree view parking camera and automatic city braking, the Pulsar is the first car in its class to offer moving object detection, which uses sensors around the car to spot unseen hazards like animals or children when manoeuvring.
The driver is alerted if something is moving towards the car’s path, and should provide peace of mind when parking. However, you have to pay north of £20,000 to bag a Pulsar with the Safety Shield system, which means the majority of units sold in the UK won’t carry it. Plus, if you’re looking to take advantage of the Pulsar’s fine cruising refinement, you’ll have to do without radar-guided cruise control, which is available on the VW Golf.
The Pulsar might look like a fairly ordinary family hatch, but in terms of space, it’s actually a rival for cars like the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat. Squeezing 2,700mm into the wheelbase gives the Pulsar plenty of passenger space, with 692mm of legroom a clear class best.
It feels roomy too, with plenty of natural light to brighten the grey cabin ambience. Wide-opening doors help too, and the car feels wide enough to seat three adults across the rear seat for short trips. Storage inside the cabin is average: unlike the Qashqai, the Pulsar doesn’t get an electronic parking brake to free up space in the centre console.
The boot is competitive with 395 litres in five-seater mode and 1,395 with the seats stowed. That naturally lags behind the larger Qashqai and its 430/1,585-litre boot.
The most economical Pulsar is the 1.5 dCi diesel, which achieves 78.5mpg and ducks under 100g/km of CO2, offering a tax-busting 94g/km. It’s only available with a manual gearbox, however. For an automatic shifter, you’ll need the 1.2 DIG-T petrol and its Xtronic CVT.
It adds £1350 to the Pulsar’s price, and hurts efficiency, dropping the 1.2-litre engine’s claimed figures from 56.5mpg and 115g/km to 55.4mpg and 119g/km. The petrol is also cheaper to buy outright than the diesel.