Pleasing return by Nissan Pulsar

| Image 1 of 4 |
The Nissan Pulsar returns as a capable all-rounder after an absence lasting several years. Photos: David Thomson

After a seven-year absence, the Nissan Pulsar is back in new car showrooms around the country. David Thomson makes a timely (re)-acquaintance.

If one were to catalogue the reasons for Nissan's slow but steady 10-year slide down New Zealand's passenger car sales ranks, then the appearance of models such as the quirky Tiida would surely figure in the story.

Launched in 2006 to replace the well-respected Pulsar, the oddly-named and underwhelming machine was a relative sales flop: Pulsar, in its final full year on sale (2005), bagged more than 1600 sales; Tiida managed barely a quarter that number in 2012 before quietly exiting the new car listings to make way for the reincarnated Pulsar at the start of this year.

Available initially in saloon configuration, the new Pulsar has just been joined by a hatchback variant. However, the four-door variant, in top-range Ti specification, is the subject of this appraisal.

The saloon is a larger car than you might expect given its name plate, closer perhaps to the old Primera than to the early-21st century Pulsar sedan in size. It is neatly rather than boldly styled, though the chrome highlighting, front fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED driving lights and discreet boot spoiler give the Ti model an appreciable visual lift.

A close study of the car's exterior shape and dimensions gives quite a clue as to what lies within, especially aft of the B-Pillar: a relatively long wheelbase translates into masses of rear leg-room, but that plunging roofline means taller passengers may find it a little tight in the back; a slightly frumpy tail hides what is, by class standards, a cavernous 510-litre boot. There is even room for a full-sized spare wheel, which these days counts as a welcome novelty in this class.

Nissan has missed a trick, though, in failing to better connect the wide, deep boot with the cabin space. Sure there is a load-through ski-flap, but the absence of a split-folding arrangement for the rear seat-backs means the car cannot handle the carriage of long bulky items. An exterior push-button release for the boot lid would also be useful.

The roomy feel apparent in the back carries over to the front.

Metallic highlighting around the gearshift, air vents, instruments, and on the steering wheel give the front of the cabin a visual lift. Overall, though, the look of the dash and centre console is neat, but quite conservative.

Equipment levels are very good, especially given the highly competitive $33,490 price tag for this flagship variant of the sedan line. Along with the exterior dress-up items, the Ti specification includes cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather-accented trim (including some genuine leather), Bluetooth connectivity, USB and iPod connectivity for the six-speaker sound system and keyless entry.

As is the norm now, the safety specification extends to front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and full electronic stability programming. Just a few days after completing this road test, the Pulsar achieved the maximum five-star rating in the Ancap crash test programme.

There are fingertip controls on the steering wheel for key audio and cruise control functions, and a range of handy storage cubbies, including a small central bin between the front seats, a sunglasses holder and a decent glovebox. The front seats, which are comfortable but a little lacking for lateral support, adjust for height as well as rake and reach. The steering wheel also adjusts for reach as well as tilt.

Forward, three-quarter and side visibility are all good, but rear visibility is compromised somewhat by the car's solid rear haunches.

Mechanically, this version of the Pulsar is fairly bread-and-butter, with a 96kW/174Nm 1.8-litre engine driving the front wheels via a six-stage CVT transmission. Nissan was one of the first mainstream manufacturers to venture down the CVT path, and its experience with these systems is used to good effect in making the most of the engine's relatively modest outputs.

Performance is never especially brisk, but it is respectable, even without resorting to the so-called sport mode that can - if used around town - keep the engine revving higher than feels natural.

There's also a ''low'' mode that provides more engine braking, and which proved quite handy descending some steeper city streets. Out on the open road, the Pulsar settles into an easy highway gait, with the engine ticking over at an economy-friendly 1500rpm at 100kmh on the flat.

Light steering assists with easy manoeuvrability on city streets, but its lack of heft and feel limits the potential for driver engagement on winding back roads.

The car's underlying chassis dynamics are actually pretty sound, with decent turn-in, grip and balance through moderate and slow-speed bends. The suspension also soaks up bumps pretty well, and road noise is well contained.

All of this adds up to a car that is a capable all-rounder with strengths that will appeal most obviously to an older, more conservative buyer.

 

Pleasing return by Nissan Pulsar
At a Glance

NISSAN PULSAR TI SEDAN

For: Big boot, roomy cabin, sharply priced.

Against: Average performance, flexible load carrying could be better.

Verdict: A solid return to form by Nissan in this class.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: $33,490

Engine: 1798cc 16-valve four-cylinder, maximum power 96kW@6000rpm; maximum torque 174Nm@4800rpm.

Transmission: Six-stage constantly variable transmission, front-wheel drive.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, BA, EBD, VDC.

Safety rating: Five-star Australian Ncap.

Wheels: 16-inch alloy rims, 195/60 R16 tyres.

Fuel and economy: 91 octane unleaded petrol, 6.7 litres per 100km on combined cycle, capacity 52 litres.

Dimensions: Length 4615mm, width 1760mm, height 1495mm.