"This gets along a bit," said my mate in a surprised voice – and we were still only 500 metres from his front gate in the new Nissan Pulsar SSS hatchback!

The newly-released Pulsar SSS hot hatch rounds out the welcome comeback of the Pulsar nameplate to Australia. And, yes, it certainly does get along nicely, thanks to its 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged engine.

Price and equipment

The Nissan Pulsar SSS price starts from less than $30,000 (manufacturer’s recommended price), with an estimated drive-away of about $32,450.

All Nissan Pulsars in the extensive range are protected by a three-year 100,000 kilometre warranty and covered by Nissan’s 24-hour roadside assistance and capped price servicing.

Infotainment uses a quality six-speaker audio with MP3 capability, AUX-IN, USB / iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming with steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

On top of an aerodynamic exterior exhibited by the full Pulsar hatch range, the top notch Nissan Pulsar SSS is kitted out with fully integrated sports body outfit, comprising front and rear spoilers and side skirts.

Dusk-sensing Xenon headlights with auto levelling and washers set off a meaty frontal shape. However, unlike with many European hot hatches, there’s no getting away from the fact that they are add-on bits and pieces.

Spacious wheel arches of the standard Pulsar are filled out with 17-inch sports wheels in the SSS and the car carries a full-size 17-inch steel spare, which doesn’t take up too much space in the boot.

Engine

The great little 1.6-litre engine is not only installed in the Pulsar SSS, but also in the Pulsar ST-S. It produces 140kW of power and produces 240 Nm to torque at a usefully low 2000 revs.

Nissan engineers tell us their DIG (Direct Injection Gasoline) engine has seven-hole, high-pressure injectors placed directly inside the combustion chamber giving greater control over the combustion process. This, they say, means the engine develops about 20 per cent greater torque than a conventional turbo engine with multi-point fuel injection.

The engineers tell us this results in the performance of a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre engine with the fuel economy of a 1.8-litre motor in a package that’s no larger or heavier than a conventional 1.6-litre unit.

All Pulsar hatch grades come fitted with a standard six-speed manual transmission. Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic is an option in all grades. It has manual mode in the turbocharged Pulsar Hatch ST-S and Pulsar SSS.

Nowhere in the manufacturer’s specification sheet for the Nissan Pulsar SSS is there any mention of acceleration times or top speed: strange for a so-called performance car.

Nissan gives a recommendation of 98RON premium unleaded fuel for this high-performance engine. The official combined fuel consumption figure is 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres with the six-speed manual.

Safety

Safety is up with that of other vehicles of the ilk with Vehicle Dynamic Control, anti-lock braking and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution with Brake Assist. Driver and front passenger are protected by front and side airbags and all outer occupants by front-to-rear curtain airbags.

Driving

Entry to the passenger cabin is made easy by an Intelligent Key, while push-button engine start/stop follows in the tradition of the uber-expensive exotic sports car. Metallic-look premium dash and soft touch door trim convey a quality feel to surroundings.

With seating for five adults, occupants are accommodated comfortably in height adjustable seats with leather-accented trim, while the driver gains the advantage of tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and rear-view camera with guidelines displayed on a 4.3-inch colour screen. Also projected are satellite navigation with 3-D mapping.

Storage is about average for a car in this class with front centre armrest and front door map pockets with bottle holders. Under keen acceleration the gear lever shifts quickly and easily between cogs, the nippy performer overtaking slower traffic with ease and giving the driver confidence to slip into gaps in traffic not possible with the more mundane hatch. It’s a delight to drive in all circumstances.

On easy paced motorway driving at 110 km/h we were typically using 6.0 to 6.5 litres of 98 octane gasoline each 100 km and around town we were running in the eight to nine litre range. That’s pretty good for a high-performance hatchback that was given a bootfull on quite a few occasions.

Handling is sharp thanks to firmer suspension settings and we liked the steering feel and general 'seat of the pants' feedback. It’s not a full-on hot hatch in the manner of a Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Evo or the new kid on the block Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG, but the Nissan costs less and probably provides a compromise in handling / comfort that will appeal to many.

Verdict

The Nissan Pulsar SS gets along nicely, thanks to its 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged engine and it has the looks its admirers just love.