NISSAN’S Pulsar sedan is back and ready to take a big slice of Australia’s hotly contested small-car segment with its spacious interior and sharp $19,990 (plus on-road costs) starting price.
After disappointing sales of the Tiida that replaced the Pulsar in 2006, Nissan Australia fought hard to bring back the Pulsar nameplate – which is now unique to Australia – for this larger new Thai-built model.
A distinctly styled hatchback version – with a turbocharged sports variant that will reprise the iconic SSS designation – will join the line-up three or four months from now.
The Pulsar is a vital piece of Nissan Australia’s aggressive growth strategy, and Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Bill Peffer said he hoped the Pulsar could take the fight up to Toyota’s Corolla, which shifted 38,799 units last year for a 19.6 per cent segment share.
If that happened, Nissan, which sold 79,747 cars in Australia last year, could potentially overtake both Mazda (103,886 units in 2012) and Holden (114,665 units in 2012) to become not only Australia’s top full-line importer but second biggest car brand here.
“We would love to be number one (in small cars), but it depends on what our competitors do,” said Mr Peffer.
“I am sure they are just not going to roll over and let us take sales from them.”
Mr Peffer said Nissan was aiming to quadruple its small-car sales compared with Tiida, which sold just 3059 units last year.
He said Nissan has received thousands of expressions of interest in a special pre-sale offer of monthly lease payments from $299 and guaranteed future value.
Nissan has a packed Australian launch schedule this year with the V8 Patrol luxury SUV, Altima mid-size sedan, Juke crossover, Pathfinder seven-seat SUV and a diesel variant of the popular Dualis compact SUV.
Recent motor show concepts have also previewed the next-generation X-Trail and Murano SUVs that will keep the Nissan product pipeline pumping in the future.
Mr Peffer said the well-regarded Pulsar name still has a 71 per cent awareness rate with the Australian public and it is no accident that the $19,990 starting price matches that of every Pulsar generation between 1996 and 2006.
Of the big players in Australia’s small-car segment, the Pulsar is one of few models with a base variant combining air-conditioning, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, a multi-function steering wheel, remote keyless entry and a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone connectivity, MP3 and iPod compatibility.
Further building the value case for Nissan is the fact that mid- and top-spec Pulsar variants are priced at least $1000 lower than popular equivalents from Mazda, Toyota, Holden, Hyundai and Ford.
Value becomes even stronger higher up the three-tier model line-up, culminating in a $28,900 top-spec Ti variant that offers almost unmatched levels of equipment for the money.
The mid-range ST-L ($23,650 manual or $2250 extra for an automatic CVT) adds a colour audio system display, LED daytime-running lights, front foglights, a rear spoiler and upgraded interior materials including a leather steering wheel and gear selector.
The Mazda3 Maxx Sport ($24,490 manual) goes further with desirable equipment including sat-nav and Bluetooth audio streaming, while the Hyundai Elantra Elite ($23,590 manual) has dual-zone climate-control, but the Pulsar is competitively positioned at this price point.
Nissan has fitted top-spec Ti variants ($28,900 with standard CVT) with sat-nav, leather upholstery, dual-zone air-conditioning, dusk-sensing Xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels and a reversing camera.
An Elantra Premium runs close with an almost identical price and similar spec that substitutes the Pulsar’s sat-nav and Xenons for a sunroof, heated seats and electric driver seat, while a similarly well-specified Corolla, Mazda3, Focus or Cruze costs upward of $30,000.
However, no Pulsar variant is available with parking sensors, automatic wipers, heated seats or electric seat adjustment, while paddle shifters are not available to manually override the CVT.
At 4615mm in length, the Pulsar sedan sits with the Holden Cruze at the larger end of Australia’s small-car segment.
However, it beats all-comers in its class with a cavernous 510-litre boot (but no fold-down bench) and promises leading rear passenger space, helped by a wheelbase that is 15mm longer than the Cruze.
Fuel consumption from the naturally aspirated 1.8-litre petrol engine is middling for the segment at 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres with the six-speed manual gearbox or 6.7L/100km with the CVT.
Variants fitted with the CVT are more efficient as it enables the engine to remain in its operating sweet spot, running at just 1700rpm while cruising at 100km/h.
Power is relatively modest at 96kW, with most major competitors delivering more than 100kW, while the 174Nm of torque is par for the course.
But, unlike the Pulsar, higher-priced variants of the Cruze, Mazda3, Corolla and Focus include even punchier engines.
The Pulsar also struggles against the Cruze, Focus and Hyundai i30/Elantra for fuel efficiency, although the segment’s biggest sellers, the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, are generally thirstier. An exception exists in more expensive Mazda3 SP20 variants with hi-tech SkyActiv drivetrains that offer more power yet sip just 6.1L/100km with an automatic.
All Pulsars come with six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, but no ANCAP crash-test rating has yet been revealed.
Both the sedan and upcoming hatch have undergone local testing and development to tune their ride, handling and steering feel for Australian tastes.