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Used car review Nissan Pulsar SSS N15 1995-2001

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Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Nissan Pulsar SSS (N15) 1995-2001, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you're buying it.

The SSS badge is a proud one that dates back to the 1960s when Datsun, as it was then known, applied it to its sporty sedans.

Cars like the Bluebird SSS were standout tearaways back then, and the most recent SSS, the N15 Pulsar, was a similar standout in its time. The Pulsar SSS was the performance leader in its class.

The N14 model that preceded the 1995 N15 was popular with young buyers who wanted the day-to-day practicality of a hatch without giving away anything in the way of performance and handling. The SSS was the answer to their prayers.

MODEL WATCH

The N15 Pulsar was an all-new, fifth-generation, model released in 1995. It was longer and wider than its popular predecessor, with a longer wheelbase, which resulted in more leg and shoulder room from front and rear seat passengers.

Bigger, and better, the Pulsar was yet another Japanese car that could best be described as bland when it came to its looks.

Round, and a little dumpy, the N15 sedan was pleasant if not overly attractive, but the SSS wagon-styled five-door hatch took some time to get used to.

It was hard to know whether it should be called a hatch or a wagon, because it more closely resembled a wagon than anything else. One of the more cynical motor noters of the time described it as a “transvestite bread van”.

Quirky looks aside the SSS was a serious small sporting hatch with a handy power-to-weight ratio of 10.87 kg/kW in its base form, which was the key to its zippy performance.

Power came from Nissan’s SR20DE 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine that boasted four valves per cylinder and fuel injection. At its peak it put out 105 kW at 6400 revs and 179 Nm at 4000 revs.

That was enough to have the SSS racing to 100 km/h in a little over eight seconds. It would account for the standing 400-metre sprint in about 16.5 seconds, and reach a top speed in excess of 180 km/h. It was indeed a hot hatch.

All of that power was transmitted to the front wheels through a slick shifting five-speed manual gearbox. There was also the option of a four-speed auto, but quite why anyone would want one in a hot hatch like the SSS escapes me.

The Pulsar’s suspension was a mix of MacPherson Strut at the front and a multilink beam at the back. There were coil springs and anti-roll bars at both ends. Handling was sharp and precise.

The steering was rack and pinion with power assistance, and the brakes were discs all round with ABS standard.

The sporty picture was finished off with attractive alloy wheels, which came standard with the SSS.

Inside there were vibrant new colours for the cloth trim, along with a raft of neat standard features, including a premium four-speaker sound system with CD player, air-conditioning, sports seats, and power windows.

A minor Series II update freshened it in 1998 and that can be identified by a revised mesh grille with the Nissan badge fitted to a centre vertical bar.

ON THE LOT

The SSS is a popular car with younger enthusiasts who appreciate its blend of performance and economy, and that appeal keeps values on the up.

Expect to pay between $10,000 and $15,500 for the earlier models, add $500 for the later Series II.

IN THE SHOP

There’s not much that goes wrong with the N15 SSS. The body remains tight with the result that there are few squeaks and rattles, the interior trim wears well, and the plastics are good quality that don’t fall apart.

Mechanically the 2.0-litre motor is a gem and gives little trouble. Jerry Newman of Nissan specialists, the Cheltenham Service Centre, says the cam timing chain can rattle if the car hasn’t been serviced regularly and according to Nissan’s recommendations. Timing chain rattle can also develop at high mileage, but the noise is more a nuisance than a sign of impending doom.

Newman also says it’s important to use the Nissan recommended 7.5/50W oil or an equivalent, as heavier oils can tend to clog the engine internals and lead to damage.

The drivelines are generally trouble free, but be sure to check the CV joint boots that can crack and split. Let go they can lead to more expensive failure of the drive shafts.

OWNER’S VIEW

Dominic Sequeira owns a 1998 N15 Series 2 Pulsar SSS with 75,000 km on the odometer. It’s comfortable for daily driving, has plenty of grunt and is just the right size to weave in between gaps in traffic. He has had no problems with it, but says it can be thirsty if driven hard and it prefers premium unleaded.

Glen (surname withheld) owns a 1999 SSS manual 2.0-litre Pulsar hatch, which he says has been totally reliable. It is economical and has excellent performance around town and responds well to mild revving to give a nice ‘kick in the back’ for an engine of its size and age.

Kay Hamer-Finn’s 1999 SSS has done 90,000 km without the need for any major work. As president of the Nissan Datsun Sports Owners Club, Kay regularly competes in club events, and says her SSS has stood up well, it still has the original clutch, and there have been no engine problems to date.

David Sporle says the N15 was a good car, but not great. It was where the cost cutting measures started to show, with Nissan deleting things like fully adjustable seats, leather around the gear stick, and other small touches that made the previous Pulsar feel like a $30,000-plus car.

Ian Bock bought his Nissan Pulsar SSS new in 1999. It now has done 113,000 km and has been very reliable, although he was disappointed that the front discs needed replacing at 63,000 km. It returns an average of 9.73 L/100 km.

LOOK FOR

• quirky wagon like styling

• larger size means roomier interior

• sizzling performance

• safe handling

• impeccable reliability

• timing chain rattle

RIVALS

• Honda Civic VTi-R – 1995-1999 – $11,500-$20,000

• Seat Ibiza GTi – 1995-1997 – $7500-$14,000

• Toyota Corolla Sprinter – 1994-1996 – $7000-$11,500

VERDICT

75/100

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 6 comments

  • i have a 97n15 1.6 n i have had the head removed n serviced .i need a shiemetic diahgram to assist in assembly as i didnt remove it .also i have been told to replace both timing chains.

    jason newing of lethbridge park Posted on 01 April 2014 2:21pm
  • My 1999 Nissan Pulsar N15 has just clocked 500000kms, yes, that's right half a million kilometers! It's still has the original motor, starter motor, alternator, and the air conditioning still works well (never been re-gassed). It's only just starting to show signs of valve guide wear. Except for major items like clutch repairs (on its 3rd clutch now), CV joints and changing the gearbox at 420000 kms, all servicing has been done in my garage. I'm no mechanic, but regular oil & filter (only Castrol Magnatec has been used), spark plug and fuel filter changes have kept the mighty Pulsar on the road. I've been changing oil every 5000kms since the car hit 220000kms. Would I buy one again? YES, in a heartbeat!

    Nigel of Wollongong Posted on 10 September 2013 9:27am
  • I bought my 1999 SSS new and it has been utterly brilliant. I still love driving it to this day and it has been super reliable. No issues whatsoever after over 124K's and only ever replaced the front discs. It's still even on it's original rear tail light bulbs! Seats are very supportive, no rattles or squeaks - basically still drives like new. The SSS swallows a lot of cargo if needed and that the seats fold perfectly flat is very handy. I added genuine front fog lights from the UK Nissan Almera Gti which fit perfectly and transforms the look of the car. As much as i'd love a new car - just for the sake of it, i cant seem to bear to part with my SSS!

    PeteC of Sydney Posted on 04 June 2013 2:06pm
  • The sure don't make cars like this anymore. I've had mine for coming up to 9 years. About to upgrade soon, only because im embarrassed by its age. The car has just clicked over 280,000k. Oil is vital recommended 7.5/50W, it says recommended, but should state 'needed' otherwise noisy start up is experienced. I have replaced the clutch at 230,000 and starter motor around 200,000. other than that its trouble free..

    Claude of Pakenham Posted on 18 May 2013 9:21pm
  • We purchased ours brand new in 1998. I have owned several cars but this one is by far the best in terms of reliability and solid feeling after over 14 years and 226,000 klms. Major repairs consisted of replaing the driveshaft due to the cracked rubber CV joint boot, starter motor and crimped clutch cable. However the cost of these repairs were very reasonable - well under a $1,000 for even the most expensive repair We're still very happy with the performance, steering, handling, comfort and reliabilty after all these years. The exterior designer wouldn't win any art prizes but then you cannot see the outside of the car when you're driving it. The interior is still quite appealing particularly with the black on white dials on the instrument panel.

    John Wilson of Canberra Posted on 27 February 2013 6:16pm
  • Purchased I999 SSS second-hand (43,000km) months old. Obviously first owner gave it his all. I had test driven the sss 6months prior at Nissan dealership and was very impressed with the power. Up until Jan 2009 the car had only done 83,500km and now up to 143,000 in the last two an a half years the car has only had minor service, has traveled on very rough terrain and is still running like a dream. I once travelled from Toowoomba to Charleville on one tank of fuel. I have dragged a Statesman Deville for a kilometre (moving start) and pipped him at the post..wow what a little pocket rocket. The car is extremely comfortable, handles exceptionally well, is fuel economical and gives me all the power I require. My husband told me it may be time to update.....I said to what? I am keeping the car..it will have to have a major problem first.

    Julie of Toowoomba, Qld Posted on 22 June 2011 5:30pm
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