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Car reviews - Nissan - Pulsar - LX 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Looks, practicality, versatility, economy, fun to drive, easy and inexpensive to run and maintain
Room for improvement
Dreary cabin, not the quality advance it should have been over its N14 predecessor

Nissan logo25 Jun 2003

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

NISSAN makes some exceptional small cars. The smallest Datsuns of the 1970s may be dreary but they are exceptionally reliable. The many 120Ys and Sunnys still chugging about proves the point.

The early 1980s ushered in the Pulsar, Nissan's first front-drive small car. It proved economical but not especially durable.

The Holden-engined, MK3 version of 1987 fixed this, offering exceptional performance, reliability and value.

Four years later, the pretty Pulsar MK4 collected a host of "best car" awards. Fast, frugal and refined, it makes an exceptionally good used small car.

The MK5 built on the Pulsar reputation when it arrived in October, 1995, trading form for function with its unusual wagon- like hatch styling. There is also a neat but bland four-door sedan. Showroom traffic was slow to start with but a drop in Pulsar pricing set sales rates racing - buoyed by the limited edition Plus packages - free air-conditioning, alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.

Compared to previous models, today's Pulsar has more width, length and a longer wheelbase housing compact suspension for improved interior space, especially legroom, and on-road abilities.

The LX is the most popular and least expensive version. It slots below the Q hatch, which strikes a fine sporty/value balance, the 2.0-litre SSS hot-hatch and the well equipped SLX sedan.

In early 1998 the Series 2 heralded some minor trim and price adjustments across the Pulsar range.

Take the LX, for instance. The Series I features power steering and central locking while the Series II adds a driver's airbag, CD player, air-conditioning, keyless entry and a trip computer.

The Pulsar LX's interior is from the conservative school of design very efficient but with dark tones and no flair.

So the Pulsar's cabin will not rival that of an Audi but at least it is functional with good build quality, sound ergonomics, space for five adults, comfortable seating and easy controls.

The instrumentation is a model of clarity, all-round vision is good and the luggage area is impressive regardless of body configuration.

Nissan makes sweet engines and the Pulsar's twin cam, 16-valve four is no exception. A variable cam timing device - similar to Honda's VTEC system - allows a thick spread of torque at low as well as high revs.

It is a lively heart that beats within. Acceleration is brisk from the traffic lights to beyond the national speed limits. It cruises effortlessly with thrifty fuel economy thrown in.

Distinctly Continental road manners are also part of the Pulsar's allure, since it is Nissan's European small car ambassador.

Well-sorted suspension helps make this Pulsar fluent in ride and handling. The Nissan is stable even when encountering rough surfaces in mid-corner. It sits calm and controlled.

The suspension's long wheel travel smooths out the ride while strong brakes inspire confidence. So does the combination of good vision, a light gearshift and power steering when it comes to parking.

Watch out for signs of accident damage - plenty of P-platers pick the Pulsar as their first car - or neglected service intervals. Although reliability is a Pulsar strength, it pays to get a thorough mechanical check-up before buying.

Sure-footed dynamics, a spirited engine and impressive fuel economy add up to an exceptionally well-rounded small car.

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