Neat styling, good build quality
Room for improvement
Sluggish performance, average refinement levels
By GAUTAM SHARMA 11/08/2000
NISSAN has opted to give its new Pulsar the mini-Max treatment.
Viewed from the front, it could be mistaken for a Maxima that has shrunk in the wash.
It features essentially the same grille and headlight treatment as its larger sibling and even its overall proportions are remarkably similar.
The Pulsar is the first Nissan to be sold in Australia built on the MS platform that has spawned several new models internationally.
It shares its floor, engines, transmission, steering, suspension and braking system with the European Almera hatch and Tino people mover.
Only a sedan variant has been launched here initially, with the hatchback not expected to lob until 2001.
This should not prove too big a handicap for Nissan, as the sedan variant has accounted for about 80 per cent of Pulsar sales in recent times.
Four specification levels are offered: LX, ST, Q and the up-spec Ti.
The Pulsar has grown in every dimension: it is 150mm longer, 5mm wider and 50mm higher than its predecessor. Incredibly, the Pulsar is now bigger than the Nissan Primera - which in Europe is classed as a larger car.
The wheelbase remains unchanged yet interior space is greater thanks to a wider cabin.
In relation to Australian models, the Pulsar is bigger than the Toyota Corolla in several dimensions as well as shading Holden Vectra in some measurements.
Under the bonnet, the new Pulsar features either a 1.6 or 1.8-litre engine. Both units are equipped with double-overhead camshafts, 16 valves and micro-finished rotating components, which help cut frictional losses.
All except the base model use the 1.8-litre powerplant, which produces 92kW at 5600rpm and 161Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
Nissan has equipped both engines with variable valve timing in a bid to provide better response across the rev range.
But despite its impressive on-paper credentials, the Pulsar proved a somewhat disappointing performer on the road.
The automatic test car provided seemed strangely sluggish, both off the mark and at cruising speeds.
This may be partly attributable to its tall gearing and relatively high kerb weight of 1220kg - about 100kg more than its predecessor.
The apparent sluggishness was exacerbated by the four-speed auto's reluctance to shift down even under fairly heavy throttle applications.
Although Nissan quotes fuel economy figures of 8.0L/100km around town for the automatic, the need to work the engine hard to extract reasonable performance may result in higher consumption in practice.
Refinement levels are reasonable, but by no means class leading.
A surprising amount of wind noise makes its presence felt at cruising speeds and tyre roar is also noticeable when traversing coarse bitumen.
Ride quality is acceptable, but the torsion-beam rear axle can be found a bit wanting over corrugations and suburban speed humps.
The chassis delivers capable handling, but it must be said the Holden Astra feels tauter and more agile.
Pulsar's braking power is beyond reproach and the Ti model benefits from the added safety levels provided by the standard anti-lock system.
The styling of the new Pulsar is bolder than the previous model, borrowing unashamedly from the Maxima.
The vertical-vaned chrome grille is flanked by large, complex surface headlamps that offer up to 50 per cent better night-time illumination.
Its flanks are more rounded than before, while its higher bootline gives the car a slightly more wedge-like profile.
The overall look is attractive and the improved aesthetics are matched by a more upmarket interior.
Facing the driver is a neat, thoughtfully laid-out dashboard featuring high quality plastic finishes and a new two-tone charcoal and light grey theme.
The up-spec models feature white-faced instruments, which create a vaguely sporting ambience.
The seats are comfortable and generously bolstered at the side to locate and support rather than grip in a vice.
Rear seat space is exemplary for the class with adequate head and legroom, even for relatively tall occupants.
Older drivers will appreciate the higher hip point of the front seats.
This makes it easier to enter and exit the car, since the seat base height is higher than the previous model, making it easier to swing out the legs.
There is an assortment of cubbyholes and compartments in which to store odds and ends and the sunglass-holder built into the dashboard is a clever touch.
The new Pulsar's longer overhangs help increase boot space to 380 litres, about 23 litres (or six per cent) more than before.
Golfing couples will be pleased to know it is now possible to stow two golf bags and buggies in the boot.
Another practical touch is a plastic shopping bag retaining hook fixed on either side of the boot lining to prevent your groceries flying around.
However, the lack of a split/fold rear seat is a somewhat surprising omission. At least the Ti model gains a ski hatch.
Nissan is at pains to point out the new Pulsar offers superior crash protection thanks to a body shell 30 per cent stiffer than its predecessor.
A new front-end structural design using hexagonal tubing aims to dissipate crash energy through the frame, while side impact loads are directed across the floor via strengthening beams.
In addition, the roof and B-pillars are reinforced to provide better impact protection.
The Pulsar comes extremely well equipped, with a driver airbag, CD player, air-conditioning, remote central locking with immobiliser, power mirrors and power steering and driver's seat height adjustment standard in all models.
The range-topping Ti also gains automatic climate-control, alloy wheels, power windows, passenger airbag, anti-lock brakes, seatbelt pretensioners and velour trim.
Automatic transmission is the only factory option; cruise control is not available.
Those seeking to distinguish their Pulsar from the crowd can order a dealer-fit body kit comprising side skirts, front and rear spoiler and rear valance.
The cost includes painting and fitting by the dealer.
There are two choices for dealer-fit alloy wheels (both of which are the same 14-inch diameter as the standard wheels).
Overall, the Pulsar is a reasonably competent package that does most things well, although it does not excel in any facet.
The new model's more spacious cabin adds to its practicality but the accompanying increase in bulk has taken some of the pep out of the formerly sprightly Pulsar