Nissan Pulsar review
The Pulsar is based on the stylish and impressive Qashqai, and is Nissan's automotive alternative to ‘sensible shoes’
Strong suits include a spacious interior that shames bigger cars in the class above, decent standard equipment levels, and a full-house of safety kit that delivers an impressive 5-star safety rating. Downsized engines perform adequately and are economical.
You won’t find much ‘sizzle’ in any part of the Pulsar driving experience but if you’re only looking for practical, refined and comfortable A-to-B transport, the Pulsar ranks among the best.
The Nissan Pulsar is the first mid-side family hatchback from Nissan since the firm killed off the dreary Almera way back in 2006. In the intervening years, Nissan’s had a runaway success with the Qashqai crossover, and is now using the same engines and on-board tech to create the five-door Pulsar, which is priced below the VW Golf and aims to challenge the Kia Cee'd, Hyundai i30, Toyota Auris and Ford Focus.
Unlike the Qashqai, which is built at Nissan’s Sunderland plant here in the UK, the Pulsar hails from sunny Barcelona. Its platform – which it shares with the latest Renault Megane - is a development from the platform underpinning the similarly-styled Tiida hatchback that Nissan introduced in China in 2011.
Although the Pulsar nameplate hasn’t been used in the UK before, previous Pulsar generations have sold well here in the past with Nissan swapping-in Cherry, Sunny and Almera badges.
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In this incredibly family hatchback 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.
The Pulsar was available with two engines from launch in 2014, a 1.2-litre DIG-T 115 turbocharged petrol and a 1.5-litre turbodiesel dCi 110 engine – although only the 1.2-litre petrol is available with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT automatic gearbox instead of the standard six-speed manual.
In May 2015 a ‘sportier’ 1.6-litre DIG-T 190 turbocharged petrol model joined the line-up, its extra performance backed up by model-specific upgrades to the suspension. In fact, this more muscular Pulsar leaves the factory with sharper steering, a stiffer chassis set-up and even a little extra bodyshell rigidity built in. The Pulsar DIG-T 190 is recognisable by minor styling upgrades inside and out, and it runs unique 18ins alloys with slightly wider tyres.
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The usual four Nissan trim levels feature across the Pulsar range: the Pulsar Visia sits below the Acenta, n-tec and top-spec Tekna models, which add extra comfort, safety and entertainment features. The only combination you can’t have is a basic Visia version of the 1.6-litre DIG-T 190 powered car.
All models from Visia upwards have a healthy standard spec including 5” colour TFT display in front of the driver, 6 airbags, Bluetooth/iPod connectivity, cruise control, air conditioning, tyre pressure monitoring and CD player.
Acenta trim upgrades the audio to a six-speaker system, and adds automatic lights and wipers, dual zone AC, fog lights, heated mirrors and a leather steering wheel to the kit list.
N-tec trim highlights are privacy glass, LED headlamps, NissanConnect infotainment and a reversing camera. Tekna trim fills the goody bag to bursting with leather upholstery and heated front seats, plus the full Safety Shield package with Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning and a surround camera system.
Engines, performance and drive
Nissan willingly 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 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.
Point the Nissan down a twisting back road and you’ll discover strong grip and direct steering. There’s no feedback through the wheel, though, and the car suffers a lot more body roll than either rival. Torque vectoring helps to resist understeer, while the progressive brakes and precise gearshift are easy to use.
Although the Pulsar is far from entertaining to drive, its refinement and space mean it deserves more credit among its talented rivals than the long-forgotten Almera ever mustered.
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If taking it easy, wind and road noise are well suppressed, but while the combination of soft suspension and 16-inch wheels soaks up big potholes and bumps, the Pulsar feels unsettled on rough surfaces. Still, the driving position provides good visibility.
The faster 1.6-litre turbocharged model arrived in 2015, but even the extra power and chassis tweaks haven’t turned the Pulsar into a truly entertaining car. Instead, decent ride quality and light controls remain the order of the day here. Performance-freaks will be heartened to know there’s a Nismo-badged hot hatch version of the Pulsar reportedly heading to the UK, too.
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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.
The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine makes the 0-60mph dash in a relatively leisurely 10.7secs and is flat-out at 118mph. The bigger 1.5-litre diesel shares the same top speed but takes almost a second longer to reach 60mph. It’s worth noting that if you choose the diesel for its good economy over long distances, you’ll save on fuel but lose a noticeable bit of refinement.
The newest 1.6-litre petrol option brings the 0-62mph time down to a quite respectable 7.7secs, and raises top-speed to 135mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The most economical Pulsar is the 1.5 dCi diesel, which achieves 78.5mpg and ducks under the 100g/km of CO2 mark with 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 £1,350 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 1.2-litre petrol is also cheaper to buy outright than the diesel.
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The 1.6-litre DIG-T 190 option is predictably the least efficient, yet even this model returns a credible 49.5mpg and has CO2 emissions from 134g/km. Maximum claimed range on a full tank is 571 miles for the 1.2 petrol, 484 miles for the 1.6 petrol, and a whopping 793 miles for the diesel – but as you’ll have stopped for coffee at least three times in that distance the benefit will be purely fiscal.
Insurance for the Pulsar ranges from group 10 for the 1.2-litre petrol, but only if you choose a spec level that includes Forward Emergency Braking – that means Acenta, n-tec or Tekna. The basic Visia doesn’t have this feature, and the insurance is bumped up a couple of groups to 12 as a result. It’s the same story across the engine range.
The Tekna spec DIG-T 190 has the highest group rating, at 18. In fact, opting for Tekna spec with any of the engine options bumps the rating up by one group.
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All in all the rates are competitive though, with the Pulsar undercutting the Volkswagen Golf by a couple of groups or more across the board.
It’s early days, but it’s likely the middle-of-the-road Pulsar will suffer at least middle-of-the-road depreciation. So don’t expect it to hold onto its value as well as a more prestigious rival like the VW Golf, but equally you should expect it to do a little better than the Korean brands.
The diesel version, with its range-topping fuel economy, is likely to be in most demand as a used buy so its values should be strongest after three years.
Equipment levels are decent across the range, so splashing out on absolutely all the bells and whistles with the Tekna trim level will not necessarily return a significant dividend at resale time.
Interior, design and technology
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 1.2 petrol and 1.5 diesel Pulsar only being available with 16-inch or 17-inch wheels – the larger 18ins alloys on the 1.6-litre DIG-T 190 certainly help to balance the looks. On the other hand, big wheels jeopardise the commendable ride quality, so it’s a sensible compromise on Nissan’s behalf.
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Lessons learned from the Pulsar’s crossover cousin have been incorporated inside too, albeit with patchy results. The ‘floating’ centre stack is distinctive, and the steering wheel is taken straight from the Qashqai, but the woodgrain-effect finish on the dash panel looks a bit tacky and the interior light switch located above you looks straight out of the eighties.
The plastics aren’t up to the standard of those found in the new Ford Focus or SEAT Leon, either, although the thoughtfully laid-out switchgear works with slick precision. The cabin is solidly screwed together, too, and well up to the rough and tumble of family life.
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There’s plenty of standard kit, including Bluetooth and a USB connection. You also benefit from climate and cruise control, plus keyless entry. Further highlights include the Qashqai-style colour TFT display located between the speedo and rev counter, and gloss-black centre console finish.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
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You have to choose the n-tec or Tekna specification if you want a sat-nav on the Pulsar, but you shouldn’t be disappointed by the latest NissanConnect infotainment system, which has smartphone integration built-in.
It works with iPhone, Android and Blackberry operating systems and allows you to run various smartphone apps through the central touchscreen display on the dash. So if you’re a social media addict you can keep up to date on the move – or access more practical applications like Google or TripAdvisor.
Supplementing the central touchscreen is a 5” TFT display between the dashboard dials that shows turn-by-turn info in sat-nav equipped cars, as well as other useful stuff like audio track details and Safety Shield status.
The standard audio system has a CD player and four speakers, but upgrading to Acenta spec or above gives you a six speakers.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
OK, it’s a little boxy and not that pretty to look at, but the Nissan Pulsar has a genuinely Tardis-like interior which families will consider a great trade-off. Shoulder-room, headroom and legroom are all excellent for this class of car, and in some cases better than models in the class above.
It feels roomy too, with loads of space, big door apertures, and a decent boot, which expands massively with the split-folding seats stowed. If space is your priority in a family hatch, look no further.
While boot space is good, storage elsewhere in the cabin is only average: unlike the Qashqai, the Pulsar doesn’t get an electronic parking brake to free up space in the centre console. There is a decent glovebox however, and reasonably-sized door bins.
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The Pulsar might look like a fairly ordinary family hatch, but in terms of interior space, it’s actually a rival for cars like the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat.
Inside, the Pulsar’s boxy body and class-best 2,700mm wheelbase pay dividends.
With 692mm of legroom, the Pulsar claims to have the most generous rear seat accommodation of any C-segment hatchback, and even enough room to embarrass certain D-segment cars. Passengers crammed into smaller family hatch alternatives will look on with envy.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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Occupants in the back have plenty of head and legroom, while the absence of a transmission tunnel means even passengers sitting in the middle of the rear bench get plenty of space for their feet.
It feels airy and spacious too, with plenty of natural light to brighten the grey cabin ambience. Wide-opening doors help, and the car feels wide enough to seat three adults across the rear seat for short trips. There’s a full complement of ISOFIX fastening points, as you would expect.
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Open the tailgate and you’ll find a generously proportioned 385-litre boot, which can be extended to 1,395 litres with the 60:40 rear bench folded flat. However, the load bay is scuppered slightly by a high lip, which can get in the way when you’re removing luggage.
It’s helped by the fact that the car sits quite low to the ground, but nevertheless a Qashqai-style false boot floor to raise up the contents wouldn’t go amiss. Compared to its rivals, the Pulsar offers a little more boot space than a VW Golf, and noticeably more than a Ford Focus.
If you want to use your Pulsar to pull a trailer, don’t opt for the auto gearbox as it limits the towing capacity to a rather unimpressive 500kg. The manual gearbox cars can pull 1,200kg, although we’re not convinced the experience would be much fun.
Reliability and Safety
The Pulsar shares many of its mechanical components and electrical systems with the Qashqai, which landed a very respectable 21st place in our 2014 Driver Power survey and 47th in 2015.
Yet while the crossover scored strongly for comfort and in-car technology, its patchy build quality came in for some criticism. Just as disappointing was the performance of Nissan’s franchise network, which finished 28th out of 30 in our dealer survey.
While there may be question marks over the Pulsar’s durability, there are no such worries about its safety credentials. All variants get a full complement of six airbags, stability control and a programmable speed limiter as standard.
Further peace of mind comes with Nissan’s award-winning Safety Shield technology, which includes a standard-fit low-speed collision avoidance system called Forward Emergency Braking on Acenta models and above.
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Go for the n-tec and you’ll benefit from all-LED headlamps and a reversing camera, while the range-topping Tekna gets the added benefits of lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and a surround view camera set-up.
The Pulsar also scored a top 5-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and was praised in particular for offering the same high level of protection to occupants of disparate shapes and sizes. This included NCAP’s 18-month old toddler-sized crash test dummy - which should offer reassurance to parents.
All Nissans come with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty, which is about average for this class. If you want more cover, it’s worth remembering that the Hyundai i30 comes with a five-year warranty and the Kia Cee’d has a seven-year warranty.
Nissan’s fixed-price Service Care offer applies to the Pulsar, with minor services costing from £149 on petrol models and £159 on diesel cars.
Major services are £219 and £249, and Pulsar service intervals come every 12,500 miles for petrol models and every 18,000 miles for diesels.