You have to wonder about car companies that dump a name that has become popular and replace it with a name that no one knows. Ford did it with the Laser, a top selling small car, and then had to watch as its small car sales dropped dramatically, and Nissan did it when it replaced the popular Pulsar with the oddly named Tiida.
The Pulsar nameplate dates back to 1980 and over the years earned a reputation for solid reliability, good value for money and economy of operation. By the time the N16, the last of the line, was released in 2000 it was a well-equipped, good-sized small car that performed well, was economical and gave little trouble.
If it had a problem perhaps it was that it had become tired. It was a car for those of us with grey, or no, hair, and not hip enough to appeal to younger buyers.
The N16 Pulsar sedans were built in Japan and were the first launched in 2000, while the five-door hatchbacks came from England and arrived in the middle of 2001. It was no beacon of contemporary style, admittedly, but it was good looking with pleasant proportions and clean lines. Perhaps it was too ‘nice’ and didn’t have the sort of edge young buyers wanted.
There were four versions of the sedan at launch, starting with the LX and working up through the ST, sporty Q and luxury Ti. When the hatchback came a year later it added ST and Q versions to the range.
Like all cars the Pulsar grew larger over time and the N16 was quite a bit bigger than the models that went before it, but that extra size translated into decent interior room. Rear passengers may have suffered a little for space, but those in the front seats enjoyed generous room. Like the exterior there was nothing flashy about the Pulsar’s interior. It had everything you wanted, was laid out logically, and was comfortable.
Mechanically the Pulsar was quite a conventional front-wheel drive model. There were two engines on offer. The LX entry-level model had a 1.6-litre double overhead camshaft four with fuel injection, which gave 83 kW and 140 Nm.
It was an economical engine, but the 1.8-litre engine that powered the rest of the range had a little more zip and made the best buying. With more performance, thanks to its 92 kW and 161 Nm, the 1.8-litre enabled the Pulsar to stay on the pace in the heavy going around town. Both engines were available with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed auto.
On the road the Pulsar was light and nimble making it a breeze around town and easy to park. Out on the road it was quite composed with a supple suspension that was able to soak up most of what was thrown at it without being upset. The ride was compliant and comfortable for a small car, and its handling was well balanced and secure. It was a good all-rounder.
ON THE LOT
The LX sedan was the price leader when the N16 was new and can now be had for $8000-$12,000, but the models with the 1.8-litre engine make better buying. They’re not only more pleasant to drive with the extra power available from the larger engine, they will hold their resale value better when it’s time to sell.
ST sedans can be found for $8000-$15,000, similar hatches for $9500-$15,500. The sporty Q sedan will cost $9500-$18,000, hatches $10,500-$18,000. For a luxury ride go for the Ti sedan, which sells for $10,000-$15,000.
IN THE SHOP
The Pulsar has a good reputation for build quality and reliability. Nothing serious seems to go wrong with them, which makes them a good used car buy. When checking look for a service record to make sure of a regular maintenance routine. The Pulsar engines have a chain taking care of the cam timing so there’s no servicing needed.
Many Pulsars were used by the rental industry, which usually means they accumulated kilometres quickly and were sometimes driven by uncaring drivers. Bear it in mind that any Pulsar with a higher than normal odometer reading could well have been a renter. Negotiate hard to lower the asking price on a car that appears to have a rental background.
IN A CRASH
All models have a driver’s airbag, but some also have an airbag for the front passenger, and ABS anti-skid brakes.
AT THE PUMP
The N16 is generally an economical little car, and well worth considering if you want to cut your fuel bills. On average it should do around 7.5-8.5 L/100 km in general use.
• Pleasant looks
• good performing 1.8-litre
• low fuel consumption
• well built
• little goes wrong
• good all-rounder
• Toyota Corolla – 2001-2006 – $10,500-$18,000
• Holden Astra – 2001-2006 – $9500-$19,500
• Mazda 323 – 1998-2003 – $6000-$17,500
THE BOTTOM LINE
Well-built and reliable small car that will cut your fuel bills.