This trio adds spice to the suburban shopping trolley. Most of us have to live in the real world, doing the school run and trips to the shops -- but we hanker for something more than A to B transport.
The desire to get the kids to school and then zip up a favoured back road to the coffee shop isn't restricted to the Lycra-clad, Cadel-wannabes either. So we're looking here for a machine that carts the kids, cavorts through corners and doesn't bust the domestic budget.
A hot hatch -- a la Golf GTI and Focus ST -- means dropping about $40K, or more than $10K over what we're to spend. So that brings us to “warm hatches” -- Holden's Adelaide-built Cruze SRi-V, Nissan's new Pulsar in ST-S guise and Hyundai's Veloster Turbo, each with rear seat access and decent features lists. But which one gets all the jobs done best and still puts a smile on the driver's face?
The Pulsar ST-S is priced from $24,990, but tick the box for the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and it jumps to $27,490. Nissan couldn't get us a CVT ST-S -- examples also were absent at the car's launch, so stay tuned. The Thai-built ST-S gets cloth trim, leather-wrapped reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel, 17-inch alloys, trip computer, USB and Bluetooth-equipped sound system (phone only, but tough to navigate) but lacking satnav and climate control.
The Cruze SRi-V five-door is priced from $26,490, plus $2200 for the six-speed auto. It gets folding heated exterior mirrors but doesn't have satnav unless you have one built this financial year. Still, there are heated front seats, climate control, rear parking sensors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and seat trim, keyless entry, auto headlights and the new MyLink infotainment touchscreen.
Unique for its door arrangement -- one for the driver, two on the kerb side -- the Veloster SR Turbo tops the heap at $31,990 in six-speed manual guise, $33,990 as an auto. The Korean runs on 18-inch alloys but seats only four. There are some extras to justify the price -- satnav, tyre pressure monitor, keyless entry, glass roof, heated external mirrors, leather trim, alloy pedals, climate control and automatic headlights among them -- but its six-month/7500km service interval is ridiculous.
The ST-S sit between Nissan's base Pulsar and topline SSS. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine uses a single-scroll turbocharger and intercooler. The tech is simple and suitable. The manual is remarkably easy to drive with light, positive shifts and clutch action.
A 1.6-litre turbo four also propels the Cruze. Power delivery is less frenetic than the previous 1.4 and makes the car an easier drive and, potentially, less thirsty. Unlike the simple torsion-bar rear end on the Pulsar, the Cruze SRi-V gets a Watts-type suspension for greater control. It has electric-assist steering, as do its rivals.
Paddle-shifters for the six-speed torque-converter auto would improve communication greatly between engine, gearbox and front wheels. The Veloster's 1.6-litre turbo four is mated to a conventional automatic (the non-turbo variant has a quick-action dual-clutch box) that saps some power, though paddle shifters help to return some lost horses.
The executions are quite different. The Pulsar is an almost boring car that quickly gets lost in traffic; similarly there's little to reflect its performance potential within or without. The dashboard is simple, the seats barely sporty and trim is modest, but it is the roomiest here.
Lifting its game, the Cruze has a bright dash and mixes textures and colours -- it's busy but looks almost special. The car appears to sit low, the wheels are bold and it's ablaze with badges. People will know you're driving something, if not hot, then more than lukewarm.
The Veloster works four-up for a short distance but its strength is as a 2+2 or two-seater with some cargo room. Like it or love it, the design is practical and arresting and certainly looks as if it's worth more than the sticker price.
All have a five-star ANCAP ratings. None are underdone on the features front, but the Pulsar lacks auto headlights, a standard rear camera (it's a SSS-only fitment) or rear parking sensors. It had to get cheaper somewhere.
The Cruze has auto lights, reversing camera and rear parking sensors but no standard spare. A tyre sealant kit and compressor are standard, a 16-inch steel spare wheel optional. Reversing sensors, a reversing camera and automatic headlights are all on the Veloster's safety feature list. Its spare is a space-saver.
The Pulsar impresses with its supple ride and suspension refinement, absorbing road bumps quietly and efficiently and rarely upsetting passengers. Problem is that it wallows on long, winding and poorly sealed roads and this is aggravated by slow steering (extra turns lock to lock) that quickly trims your enthusiasm.
Steering feel is too light and while this works in the 'burbs, the vague feedback's at odds with the engine's urge. But that engine is the most relaxed in its turbocharged delivery with a predictable power band and meaty mid-range for overtaking.
The Cruze feels built for a quick run through the hills, with quicker steering and a more agile feel in the corners. The ride is firmer and more composed than the Pulsar and while it can be pushed quicker, it lacks the Pulsar's suspension compliance. Dropping the tyre pressure took the hard edge from the ride quality. The engine is stronger and more urgent than Pulsar's, but also harsher and noisier.
On paper, the Veloster has more power and mostly delivers on the promise. But it's not significantly quicker and the ride is much firmer, uncomfortably so on poor roads. That firmness endows some fine handling but it needs a smooth road to show its potential. The steering is Hyundai's best (take that anyway you want), equalling the Cruze in feel and rack speed.
The stylish Hyundai can carry four as long as none in the front are overly tall and those in the rear are pre-tween if style wins over substance. The Pulsar's little turbo is a pleasant powerplant but the manual gearbox won't find favour and we suspect the CVT will flare engine revs.
The Nissan has a comfortable, spacious and quiet cabin, good ride quality and a sharp price. The Cruze wins as the outstanding all-rounder. It can get the daily jobs done, as well as providing fun.
Price: from $28,690
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km; 1 year roadside assist
Capped servicing: $740 total for 3yrs
Resale: 56 per cent
Service interval: 9 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 132kW/230Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.9 L/100km 95 RON
Dimensions: 4.5m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)
Price: from $24,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km; 3 years roadside assist
Capped servicing: $1823 total for 3 years (service goes to 6 years)
Resale: 51 per cent
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 140kW/240Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; FWD
Dimensions: 4.3m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)
Price: from $33,990
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km; 1 year roadside assist
Capped servicing: $1164 total for 3 years
Resale: 52 per cent
Service interval: 6 months/7500km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 150kW/265Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Dimensions: 4.3m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.4m (H)