The Pulsar sedan is being closely followed by the Patrol heavyweight and the funky little Juke. Photo Gallery
Paul Gover road tests and reviews the new Nissan Pulsar at its international launch.
Hooray. The dismal days of the Nissan Tiida are finally over and the Pulsar is back. Even the SSS is returning to local roads, although not from the start of the Pulsar's return.
For now, the Pulsar program is all about a compact four-door sedan that is very Corolla-ish in the way it feels and drives, and also carries Toyota-style value pricing starting at $19,990.
The born-again Pulsar is slightly more conservative than the new Corolla, and definitely the Hyundai i30 which topped the small-car contenders in our 2012 Car of the Year run-off, but feels solid and sensible.
Nissan has big plans for its comeback car and knows there are plenty of Pulsar people - more than 300,000 cars are still on the road and the name rings a bell with 70 per cent of showroom shoppers - who never bought into the failed Tiida experiment.
"They said this day wouldn't come...," says Bill Peffer, the livewire new boss of Nissan Australia, introducing the car. "We're replacing the Tiida with this car and it's the right decision. The Pulsar is back and it will spearhead our product renaissance. This is the key to our future growth."
The Pulsar sedan is being closely followed by the overdue and very welcome Patrol heavyweight and the funky little Juke, as well as a Pulsar hatchback including the SSS. The rollout means something new every two months, with a total of 12 arrivals, over the next couple of years.
The $19,990 sticker is the right start in showrooms, particularly as the Tiida was overpriced from the beginning and $20,000 is a serious barrier for value contenders in the small-car class. How good is that bottom line? "It's the same price the car was, 16 years ago," says Peffer proudly.
Not just that, but Nissan has built a purchase plan that includes a $299-a-month deal on the Pulsar ST that guarantees the car's future value. At the end of the deal, buyers can leave the key and walk away, pay an agreed balance and own the car, or trade into a new Pulsar.
"We really think this is the way of the future," says Peffer. There are three Pulsar grades ST, ST-L and Ti, with a predictable walk-up through the standard equipment. Even the ST gets lots of stuff, with alloys, cruise control, led tail lights, a full-sized spare and three years of roadside assistance.
"This is no entry level car," says Peffer, although the Bluetooth system is only for a phone and not audio streaming. Moving up to the ST-L - from $23,650 - brings a leather wheel, colour for the audio system, front fog lights, LEDs in the headlamps and more.
Going all the way to the CVT-only Ti - think $28,990 - means a reverse camera, satnav with eco routing, leather seats, 17-inch alloys, Xenon lamps, and Bluetooth audio.
The Pulsar is nothing special by small-car standards, and definitely not by the all-new Volkswagen Golf that lands in Australia this year, but it ticks the right boxes. "The concept of this car was to go, bang, right back into the mainstream," says Grahame Cornforth, chief engineer of the car.
He says that - surprisingly - the new Pulsar has a lot of the old Tiida beneath its skin. But there has been lots of tweaking. "We've got wider and lower proportions. We've enhanced the comfort and perceived quality," he says, never referring to the Tiida but instead calling it the "predecessor car".
"We're going to a class-up approach with this car. There is a theme of comfort coming through." So there is a lot of attention to detail on the tyres, suspension and sound proofing to make it more like a new Corolla than a Tiida.
The engine is a 1.8-litre four cylinder with a longer stroke than previously, as well as things like diamond coating on some parts and variable valve timing. And the car gets electric power steering, as well as a lightweight constantly-variable transmission - the standard choice now for carmakers chasing efficiency - to make 6.7 litre/100km economy.
There is a six-speed manual, but probably only for genuine bargain buyers who want to avoid the extra cost of the auto. To zipper the technology, the 6.7 is way better than the 7.8 of the Tiida. "Our concept is to provide a car that's comfortable and competent. We want it to be stress-free yet deliver smooth handling," says Cornforth.
The Pulsar looks like a Pulsar, which is a good thing. It's more rounded than many of its rivals, but has a bigger-car look and feel. Inside, it's conservative - it reminds me a bit of some 1980s Nissans in the shapes and styles - but the good thing is that the layout works.
Nissan says there is measurably more space for rear-seat passengers, with more leg and shoulder room, and the big boot is claimed to trump a Camry with 510 litres. There is also plenty of soft-touch plastic inside and good attention to detail on the controls and final finishing.
Everything points to a five-star ANCAP result across the Pulsar line, thanks to six airbags, front-belt reminders and ESP. The car also feels solid and substantial and, pushing hard through corners, it feels safe and secure.
The new Pulsar is bang on target. It's going to be bought by people who want relaxed and predictable motoring, and they will get a big bonus in the cabin and boot space. The original Pulsars were compact funsters, which is what we expect in the upcoming hatch and particularly the SSS, but the sedan is a compact family car.
I come to the Pulsar after time with the new Corolla and i30 - as well as the Golf 7 in Europe - so it is facing a bar set pretty high. The preview drive is also short and limited to the artificial roads of a proving ground at Anglesea in Victoria.
But several things make an immediate impact. The Pulsar is very, very quiet and it also steps away much more smartly than a Corolla. The first proves that Nissan has done a lot of work on refinement and the second shows that its engine is strong and well matched to the CVT.
I find the cabin a bit old-fashioned in design, but there is nothing wrong with the way it all fits and works. And the back seat is nicely roomy. The Pulsar cruises easily at 110km/h, sits firmly on the road, and is predictable and solid - without much enjoyment - through corners. It also brakes well and there is good feedback through the steering.
In short, the return of the Pulsar is good news. It's not a landmark car, but it ticks the right boxes and it definitely buries the Tiida. Job done. Now we're looking forward to getting back into a SSS.
A car that promises an easy life, affordable motoring, and solid family values. Not the best in the bunch, but definitely worth a look.
Price: from $19,990
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 96kW/174Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or CVT
Thirst: 6.7L/100km, CO2 160g/km
Price: from $20,990
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 100kW/175Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto
Thirst: 7.3L/100km, CO2 171g/km
Price: from $20,990
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, 110kW/178Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto
Thirst: 6.5L/100km, CO2 156g/km