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Pulsar hatch has Euro birthright
Despite the sedan being built in Japan, the Nissan Pulsar hatch was made in the UK
14 Jun 2001
By JUSTIN LACY
NISSAN has finally added a hatchback version to its best-selling Pulsar range, after a wait of nearly 12 months since the sedan was released.
The Pulsar hatch is only available in ST and Q variants, missing out on the sedan's base LX version as well as the range-topping Ti grade.
The ST is priced at $21,690 for the five-speed manual and $23,590 for the four-speed auto, while the Q comes in at $23,990 and $25,890 for manual and auto respectively, making the hatch $700 more expensive than its sedan counterparts.
On sale from June 20, the sixth generation hatch is powered by the same 92kW, 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine found in the Pulsar sedan. The powerplant is unique to the Australian market as the European 1.8-litre engine only puts out 82kW, despite running on premium unleaded petrol.
Like the sedan, the hatch is based on Nissan's global MS - or Medium Small - platform, which also spawns the medium-sized Primera, Almera Tino mini-MPV and upcoming X-Trail compact 4WD.
In keeping with its sedan sibling, the new hatch is longer (+64mm), wider (+16mm) and taller (+53mm) than its predecessor, giving it improved headroom front and rear as well as a 15 per cent increase in luggage capacity to 355 litres. The wheelbase and front track remain the same, while the rear track is up by 20mm.
The newcomer is built at Nissan's Sunderland plant in the UK and was designed for the European market where it is sold as the Almera.
As such, there are some notable differences between the UK-built hatch and Japanese-built sedan.
The indicator stalk is located on the left side of the steering column in the hatch, which is the norm for European cars but creates an interesting distinction for two models from the same family, playing in the same market.
The frontal styling also separates the two models immediately as the new hatch adopts the "nostril" grille treatment used on a number of Nissan's European models to establish a corporate identity for its range.
"We decided to differentiate the models in this market by having the sedan for the traditional Pulsar buyer and target the younger buyers with the hatchback, but that's not to say we won't get a bit of crossover within the range," Nissan national marketing manager Philip Brook said.
Features specific to the hatch include two storage nets in the luggage compartment and a carry hook located in the front passenger footwell for shopping bags - called a "curry hook" in the UK as it is used for carrying takeaway food - while the remote for the keyless entry system is in the key head rather than on a separate fob as with the sedan.
Standard equipment for the ST hatch includes air-conditioning, central locking, electric mirrors, radio/CD player, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, engine immobiliser and 15-inch steel wheels with full plastic covers.
The Q models adds electric windows, luxury seat trim, leather steering wheel, external temperature indicator, silver inserts for the dash, centre console and gear knob, 15-inch alloy wheels, rear roof spoiler and body coloured bump strips and side mouldings.
Safety equipment for both models extends to dual front airbags and front seatbelt pretensioners, but ABS is not available - even as an option.
Last year the Pulsar was Australia's fifth highest selling car with 21,740 units sold, just behind Mitsubishi's Magna V6 with 23,270 sales. With the arrival of the hatch Nissan is hoping to strengthen its hold on the small car market and at the same time overtake the Magna for fourth position.
Nissan's target for the hatch is 8000 units per year, contributing to total Pulsar sales in excess of 25,000 units.
Sales of the N16 sedan have increased 42 per cent over the previous N15 model, so Nissan is expecting a similar lift for the hatch variant. Historically, the hatch has accounted for around 30 per cent of Pulsar sales.
Nissan is planning a heavy media spend to market the new Pulsar hatch, headed by a television commercial that features a hip young designer making an impression in the corporate world as he works on the hatch to make it equally hip and funky. There will also be new print media advertisements and a direct mail campaign to thousands of existing owners.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:THE styling of the new Pulsar hatch is clearly European-inspired, particularly from the rear where there is more than a hint of the Renault Clio and Peugeot's new 307.
From the front, the grille and bumper treatment give the hatch a tidier profile, creating depth rather than width - which makes the sedan seem too large of body for its track and therefore disproportionate.
The engine on the test car was extremely tight with less than 1000km on the clock, so it was difficult to get an accurate impression of how well it coped with the slight increase in weight of the hatch over the sedan.
As it was, the car struggled to maintain highway speed on the rolling hills outside of Melbourne, even when dropped back to fourth gear.
The take-up point of the clutch takes some getting used to as it engages straight off the floor and makes the point of smooth transition between the clutch and throttle harder to find. Without sufficient revs on board it is easy to stall, although it should improve and be somewhat easier to drive as the car loosens up.
The steering is heavier than the sedan and the suspension tune firmer, in-line with its more sporting focus. The ride is noticeably more controlled but it still tends to be soft at the end of its travel and can pitch and float over undulations.
There was a reasonable amount of tyre noise but it was amplified by the overall quietness of the cabin, which felt solid and tight.
The extra features in the Q model befit the sporting nature of the hatch, as it looks the part with its body colouring, attractive five-spoke alloy wheels and rear spoiler.
The leather steering wheel and metal-finish inserts of the interior also push it closer to the hot-hatch category, which is left vacant in this Pulsar range until Nissan can find a suitable successor to the SSS.
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