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Driven: The new Nissan Pulsar

Back in business: The 140kW turbocharged SSS leads the charge as the Nissan Pulsar hatch returns (click yellow button below for the review).

The Nissan Pulsar hatch returns to Australia, and SSS badge is along for the ride

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Nissan logo11 Jun 2013

THE Nissan Pulsar hatch is back after a seven-year absence, and it’s brought an equally well-remembered badge along with it: SSS.

Rolling into showrooms this week, the new hatch marks phase two of Nissan’s Pulsar revival, arriving as it does about five months after the sedan version.

Together, they are expected to take the sales race right up to arch-rivals such as the Holden Cruze, Hyundai i30, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla – the latter of which is Australia’s top-selling car in 2013.

Nissan these days is reticent to put its sales targets out there – previous management made a bold projection that it would overtake Mazda as Australia’s top importer by March this year, a mission it failed – but a quick calculation suggests its overall sales should be up there with the most popular.

It sold 5698 Pulsar sedans in its first five months on sale, and projects the hatch version will be slightly more popular. Should this occur, and should the sedan retain its sales rate, the monthly numbers will be right up there with the Cruze and i30, at the least.

In any case, Nissan looks to have the bases well-covered, with a starting price for the base ST version of $18,990 (plus on-roads) that undercuts all rivals by at least $500. It also undercuts its sedan sibling by $1000.

But, says Nissan, the entry point is only part of the story, because like Holden with the Cruze and Mazda with the 3, it will also offer two warmed-up turbo versions – the Pulsar ST-S and the SSS.

And while the return of the nameplate as a whole is important to the brand – it replaced the Pulsar with the Tiida in 2006 – it’s this comeback of the SSS that really has Nissan Australia’s collective pulse racing.

“The Pulsar name still resonates with Australian buyers,” said Nissan Australia managing director William Peffer. “So many consumers have commented how happy they are to see the Pulsar badge return.

“We’re especially excited about SSS because of what it means to the consumer base. When we surveyed last year, 71 per cent of the public remembered the Pulsar name, and we hadn’t sold one since 2006. Only 56 per cent of the population recalled Tiida, immediately after we discontinued it.

“And a lot of those people best remembered the SSS, and we hadn’t sold that car here in more than a decade.”

As with SSS versions of yesteryear, the new model is more warm than hot, with a 140kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo engine matched to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT automatic with manual mode.

It also gets stickier Continental tyres and a sportier damper setting, although Nissan has not gone into specifics.

Pricing kicks off at $29,240, while the CVT adds a further $2500. Standard equipment includes a bodykit, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, six-speaker audio system that includes Bluetooth streaming, touchscreen satellite navigation, a reversing camera, and keyless entry and start.

However, the purest bang-for-buck lies in a little further down the model tree, because Nissan will sell you the same turbo engine in a less well-equipped version called the ST-S.

This version loses the leather seats, touchscreen and navigation, Bluetooth streaming and reversing camera, but also costs $4500 less than the SSS at $24,990 (again, an extra $2500 for the CVT) but offers the same performance.

We clocked a zero to 100km/h time in the manual of eight-seconds. Nissan claims official fuel economy of 7.7 litres per 100km for the manual (7.8L/100km for the CVT).

It’s worth remembering that Holden offers 132kW/230Nm turbo versions of the Cruze called SRi and SRi-V for $22,490 and $26,490 respectively.

But while the hotter versions get the headlines, it’s at the lower and middle end of the range where the big sales volumes are. Both the base ST and ST-L are powered by the same 96kW/174Nm 1.8-litre engine as used in the sedan.

With the standard six-speed manual gearbox, Nissan claims fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km, falling to 6.7L/100km for the optional $2250 CVT.

The starting price of $18,990 for the ST undercuts the current small-car market leader, the $20,330 Mazda3 sedan and hatch, Holden’s freshly repackaged $19,490 Cruze sedan and hatch, Toyota’s still shiny-new $19,990 Corolla hatch, and Hyundai’s $20,990 i30 hatch.

Standard equipment includes cloth seat trim, power windows, air-conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker audio with an auxiliary port and steering wheel-mounted controls, a Bluetooth phone connection and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The ST-L is $3500 more expensive at $22,490 but adds a six-speaker audio system with a USB port, a colour screen on the centre console, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, upgraded cloth upholstery and a centre armrest for rear passengers. It also gains front fog lights and a subtle rear lip spoiler.

All Pulsars come with six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. The sedan gets a five-star ANCAP rating, and although the hatch has not yet been tested against the same criteria, expect the same result.

As with the sedan, the hatch underwent local testing and development to tune their ride, handling and steering feel for Australian tastes. All version get electric steering, MacPherson front strusts and a rear torsion beam.

The hatch is 4295mm long, 1760mm wide (excluding exterior mirrors) and 1520mm high, on a 2700mm wheelbase. Nissan hasn’t stated cargo capacity, although unlike the sedan the hatch gets 60:40 split-fold rear seats.

Nissan Pulsar Hatch pricing*
ST$18,990
ST (a)$21,240
ST-L$22,490
ST-L (a)$24,740
ST-S$24,990
ST-S (a)$27,490
SSS$29,240
SSS (a)$31,740
*Excludes on-road costs.

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