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 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 have joined the range this year, including a 1.6-litre turbocharged DIG-T engine, producing 187bhp.
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
Engines, performance and drive
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.
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.
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. A faster 1.6-litre turbo has joined the range producing 187bhp, but even extra power hasn't turned the Pulsar into a truly entertaining car. Instead, decent ride quality and light controls are the order of the day here.
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.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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.
The higher-powered 1.6-litre DIG-T petrol engine is the worst offender in the range, producing 138g/km of CO2 which means annual tax stands at £130. Nissan claims this version is capable of 47.9mpg.
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 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.
Inside, lessons learned from its upmarket brother have been incorporated, 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, while 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.
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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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.
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 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.
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 hobbled by a high lip, and a Qashqai-style false floor wouldn’t go amiss.
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.
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 25th out of 32 in our dealer survey.
Yet while there are question marks over the Pulsar’s durability, there are no such worries about its safety credentials, as all cars get six airbags, stability control and a programmable speed limiter.
Further peace of mind comes with Nissan’s award-winning Safety Shield technology, which includes a standard-fit low-speed collision avoidance system on Acenta models and above. Go for the n-tec and you’ll benefit from all-LED headlamps, while the range-topping Tekna gets lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and a surround view camera set-up.