Car reviews - Nissan - Pulsar - sedan
Spacious and well presented interior, value for money, CVT among the best, clear instruments, quiet and smooth cruising
Room for improvement
Soggy handling, front seat comfort on Ti variant, no USB socket on ST variant, parking sensors not available, no digital speedo or cruise control speed display
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29 Jan 2013
WE ADMIRE Nissan’s confidence in the re-born Pulsar sedan the launch drive program took in one of the most challenging and entertaining roads in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
On this road we found a car built for comfort and not speed, which we are sure will please a high proportion of Nissan’s target demographic, who will also be attracted by its almost unbelievably spacious cabin, which we are sure is bigger than a Lexus GS in the back!
Also pleasing for customers will be the price and equipment mix, which gets better the further up the three-tier range, topping out at $28,990 for the leather-lined, sat-nav equipped Ti.
We found the fabric seats of the ST-L were more comfortable than the slippery leather pews of the Ti, which also felt narrow, with a short squab providing little thigh support and a perched-on feel.
Compared with over-designed efforts in the Ford Focus and Hyundai i30, the Pulsar’s dashboard is simple but well presented, with an instrument pack that is refreshingly clear – just as well given the lack of digital speed read-out.
The multi-function display between the dials frustrates through its inability to show more than one type of information at a time, does not show the selected cruise control speed and has old-school digital clock style display.
A height and reach adjustable steering wheel on all variants makes finding a comfortable driving position easy, although a rotary seat back angle adjuster would be preferable to the Pulsar’s fiddly lever.
All the major switchgear falls naturally to hand and there is a solid feel to the ventilation controls, which are replaced by an easy to use digital dual-zone climate control panel in the Ti.
A glaring omission from the base ST is a lack of USB socket (iPod and MP3 player users must use the auxiliary input), but we liked the combined audio and sat-nav system of the Ti with its easy to read graphics.
The sat-nav display also shows the reversing camera image but no model is available with parking sensors, an oversight for a sedan with only average rear visibility.
A squidgy soft-touch surface covers the top of the dashboard and while some cabin plastics feel a bit low-rent, there is an air of quality and robustness about the Pulsar’s interior – although we did raise an eyebrow at the strange patterned metallic plastic on the ST-L’s centre console.
Besides a bin beneath the front armrest, a couple of cup-holders and ashtray-like covered recess are the only centre console storage options and the glove-box easily clashes with the front passenger’s knees – but hides a deep storage area.
The passenger seat, which is not height-adjustable, seems to be set too high, making this taller than average correspondent feel a bit claustrophobic from peering through the top of the windscreen and the roof lining being too close for comfort.
Ironically for a small car, the rear bench of the Ti is a better place to be than the front passenger seat, having acres of knee-room, a massive central arm-rest, a pair of air vents and quarter-light window improving the view out.
Three adults in the back would be a bit tight for shoulder room though.
A huge 510-litre boot is class-leading, bettering some cars from the two next sizes up, including the Holden Commodore, but practicality is hampered by the lack of folding rear seats for larger objects and a lump in the floor caused by the Australian inclusion of a full-size spare wheel.
Old-style goose-neck hinges will stall on a tightly-packed boot though, and the only way we could find to open it was via a button hidden in a recess by the driver’s knee.
Although it feels nippy round town and solid on the freeway, the Pulsar did not provide a fun factor on the aforementioned Yarra Valley road like a Ford Focus, Mazda3 or even a Honda Civic and was shaded by the new Toyota Corolla hatch.
It flops into corners and rather than offering any real feedback, starts to feel floaty as the (deceptively high) limits of grip approach before breaking into gentle understeer.
It is safe and competent enough, with well-weighted, pleasingly direct and accurate steering that lacks the vague rubberiness of an i30 or Elantra, but does not inspire confidence when pushed.
Let’s hope the SSS hot hatch fares better when it launches in a few months.
On 17-inch wheels, the Ti felt a little firm on potholed urban streets but utterly civilised from 70km/h and up, while the smaller wheels with higher profile tyres on the mid-range ST-L seemed to help the suspension better iron out city lumps and bumps.
The Pulsar proves that automatic continuously variable transmissions (CVT for short) are getting ever better and the unit in the Nissan ($2250 extra on the ST and ST-L, standard on the Ti) features numerous innovations that combine to give it a world-beating spread of ratios and make it one of the best operators in its class.
For example, instead of wildly revving the engine from standstill, a sharp take-off is achieved using the engine’s low-end grunt, making the Pulsar smooth and civilised to drive around town, while a 100km/h cruise is achieved at just 1700rpm, compared with around 2500rpm for the six-speed manual.
Hold the accelerator down hard for any length of time and the revs soon rise, to the accompaniment of boomy engine sound, a bit of vibration through the pedals and some transmission whine spoiling what is otherwise a quiet and refined driving experience.
Other than the CVT and high-rev engine histrionics, road and wind noise are well-suppressed.
The Pulsar’s brake pedal has a light, progressive action that, like the car’s general demeanour, results in a smooth everyday driving experience.
Despite producing a below-par 96kW from its 1.8-litre engine, the CVT Pulsars we drove delivered adequate performance and never felt as though they were struggling up hills.
However the Nissan lacks the kind of overtaking punch provided by turbocharged engines in the Volkswagen Golf or Holden Cruze, and lags behind the larger 2.0-litre units found in the Mazda3 and most Focus variants.
The trip computer of the test cars on the launch showed fuel consumption in kilometres per litre instead of litres per 100 kilometres, which we are assured can be changed in the settings.
Astonishingly, the CVT-equipped cars we drove from Melbourne’s CBD to the Yarra Valley and back displayed a figure that translated to 6.7L/100km, exactly matching the official combined consumption rate (manuals officially consume 7.2L/100km).
We only got a chance to waggle the six-speed manual’s gear lever in a stationary car but from this basic test we found the shift feel to be positive but a bit notchy, with a decently short throw and well-weighted clutch pedal.
How much the CVT contributes to the Pulsar’s efficiency is borne out by the manual’s official combined consumption figure of 7.2L.100km, a 7.5 per cent increase.
Australians will find plenty to like about this re-born Pulsar, which has brought the nameplate into the 21st Century by expanding on the original’s virtues of value for money and – hopefully – reliability while providing roominess that will have families wondering what the point of a bigger car is.
Those who enjoy an invigorating drive can look elsewhere but as practical, fuss-free daily transport, we can see why the Pulsar will be popular.
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