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Nissan Australia wants to return to passenger cars with its own Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla rival

Nissan hasn't had a hatchback in the affordable small-car space since it axed the Pulsar in 2016.

Nissan Australia’s boss has revealed he wants a small car for the brand’s Aussie line-up to take the fight to rivals such as the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.

Speaking recently to CarsGuide, Nissan managing director Stephen Lester said that while it was clear the popularity of SUVs wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Australians are still buying small cars.

Mr Lester said the hunt was on to source a suitable vehicle from within the company’s alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi.

“We could use a small hatch or small sedan - it’s still a viable part of the Australian market,” he said.

“We’ll see through the global product planning team if one is fit for purpose in Australia, and can be worked on and developed for us. So far we haven’t been successful, but one thing I would say is we have no ambition to make this into a passenger car company, though - the horse has long since bolted as far as the importance of SUVs in the Australian market are concerned.

“But that doesn’t mean segments are irrelevant. So, we need something that fits well in our line-up.”

When asked if that it would be Mazda3-sized, Mr Lester said it would be, but the car would have to be a premium offering.

“Yes. Small entry is what makes sense, “ he said.

“Australian consumers’ tastes are very sophisticated and their expectations are very high, so you can’t just pull something off the shelf and say 'oh well'”.

Nissan Australia has been without a small car to rival the Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla since it axed its Pulsar hatch locally in 2016 and then the sedan in 2017 following struggling sales.

Nissan’s second-generation Leaf arrived in Australia last year, and while it is a hatchback and about the same size as a Corolla or Mazda3, it’s an electric vehicle and priced well above those small cars at $49,990 before on-road costs.

It seems Nissan Australia’s new small car could come from the Renault side of the alliance perhaps in the form of a rebadged Megane hatch which could satisfy the need for a premium look and feel. A high-performance version with a Nissan badge could be well placed to also take on the Hyundai i30 N hot hatch.

“It has to have a certain amount of features, and safety rating is important,” Mr Lester said.

“It has to be something that’s packaged very well because Australian consumers have always had a love affair with well-designed interiors and exteriors on their vehicles.”