The N14 Nissan Pulsar was touted the best new car of 1991 with highly rated engines and impressive build quality, and time has only served to enhance its reputation.
It wasn’t that 1991 was a slow year for the motor industry. Cars such as the highly rated Honda NSX sports coupe, the awesome four-wheel drive Nissan Skyline GT-R, BMW 325i, Honda Legend, Volvo 960, Mazda 929 and TR Mitsubishi Magna/Verada were among the cars launched that year, and there were plenty of new small cars that gave the Pulsar a run for its money.
Mazda’s 121 ‘bubble’ was new that year, as were the Nissan NX, Honda Civic, Hyundai Lantra, but it was the Pulsar that was rated the best of them all.
The Pulsar was offered in two body styles, a practical five-door hatch and a more conservative four-door sedan, both front-wheel drive. There were also a number of models offered as well, these beginning with the entry level GLi, the value-packed and popular Q, sporty SSS, and luxury Ti.
The styling came in for a little criticism at the time of the launch, but it was soft and rounded, and quite inoffensive. Its looks might not have been groundbreaking, but it has stood the test of time quite well and looks good on the road even today.
Importantly the Pulsar was rated highly for its build quality and had a solid feel. The quality of its production was regarded as among the best in its class and better than many higher priced cars of the same era. It seems the initial build quality has translated into reliability in service.
Two fuel-injected four cylinder engines were offered. One was a 1.6-litre unit that was standard on the GLi and Q. It was locally assembled and had a simple but effective form of variable cam timing on the inlet camshaft. Although not as complex as others it nevertheless gave the Pulsar plenty of bottom end flexibility for easy drivability and miserly fuel consumption, while at the same time delivering impressive zip at the top end. Peak output was put at 81 kW and 147 Nm.
The other engine, available as an option in the Q and standard in the SSS and Ti, was an imported 2.0-litre twin cam unit that boasted 105 kW and 179 Nm.
There was a choice of an excellent five-speed manual and electronic four-speed auto, which were well matched to the engines and user-friendly.
The Pulsar’s handling was widely praised with a nice balance and reassuring stability, while the ride was also well controlled if a little firm.
Inside, the Pulsar won many fans with the quality of its trim and plastic bits and pieces. Road noise levels were thought to be a little high and there was some criticism of the rear seat room, which was compromised by Nissan’s use of its vertical strut suspension system that cut into the rear accommodation space. But if you only need to carry two adults and a couple of kids there was more than enough space, and the impressive load space behind the rear seats more than made up for any perceived lack of rear passenger space.
The rather basic GLi Pulsar had an adjustable steering column, central locking and radio/cassette sound, the Q was much better equipped with four-wheel discs, power mirrors and steering and sports wheels, while the Ti was the best equipped of all with air-con, premium sound and cruise. The sporty SSS boasted alloy wheels, fog lights, sports suspension and a sports steering wheel.
An update in 1993 saw more features and a revised model line-up including with the LX, Ti, Q and SSS.
ON THE LOT
Pulsars are quite highly valued such is their popularity. 1991 GLi 1.6 hatches and sedans will be priced between $3000 and $4500 with autos $400 more. Q hatches from the same year will be valued between $3200 and $5000 with the 1.6, autos $400 more and 2.0 motors worth another $500. The hot SSS hatch will set you back between $4500 and $6200.
Moving ahead to 1995, the end of the N14 run, 1.6 Q hatches will be between $7000 and $9500, 1.6 Ti hatches between $7500 and $9500, and SSS 2.0 hatches from $8700 to $11,100.
IN THE SHOP
The trade prefers the performance of the larger 2.0-litre motor over the 1.6 which some people think is underpowered, but reports that both are durable and trouble free. Both engines have a cam timing chain, not a belt, which means regular replacement is not required and breakage is not something you have to be concerned about. Regular servicing is still needed though, and the timing chain does need to be periodically retensioned.
The gearboxes, both manual and auto, give long service and there are few reports of problems. Likewise with the drive shafts which are durable as long as they are properly serviced and the rubber sealing boots remain intact. Like the drive shafts on all front-wheel drive cars the boots keep out dirt and other road rubbish that can quickly chew up a drive joint.
The Pulsar body and chassis is tough and generally robust.
Owners of the N14 Pulsar are united in their view that it’s a great car.
Jean Trickey bought her 2.0-litre, auto, five-door hatch Ti new in 1991 and has done 69,000 untroubled kilometres in it. She says it’s a great car.
Graeme Wilson of Dromana also bought his Pulsar Q new in 1991 and has done 173,000 kilometres in it. It is regularly serviced and other than normal consumables like tyres (at 110,000 km), one set of discs pads, one battery (after eight years), two headlight globes, an interior light globe, and a turn signal flasher can, he hasn’t had to replace a thing. A slight oil leak from the reverse light switch is the only problem he’s experienced. Graeme uses his car daily, and regularly gets 6.7 L/100 km, and loves the flexibility of its hatchback layout.
Mt Macedon’s Brad Ball owns a 1994 Pulsar Q that is about to turn over a remarkable 310,000 km. It has been serviced every 10,000 km. It doesn’t burn oil, is on its original clutch and exhaust, and regularly gets 600 km on a tank full of fuel. Brad reports the only mechanical failure has been a broken CV joint at 297,000 km. He says it’s “awesome”.
• sturdy strong body
• miserly fuel consumption
• zippy performance
• responsive handling
• bland styling
• Mazda 323 – 1991-1995 – $4700-$12,800
• Honda Civic – 1991-1995 – $4000-$13,000
• Ford Laser – 1991-1995 – $3900-$10,300