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Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan vs Mazda 3 SP25 hatch

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan vs Mazda3 SP25 hatch.

If a hot hatch is out of the question, look at a warm sedan. Richard Blackburn checks one that goes for power, the other poise.

value

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

From $26,690

Well-appointed for a small car, it has standard satnav, rear camera and parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, leather accented trim and dusk-sensing xenon headlights. Capped servicing is $838 over three years, at intervals of 12 months/10,000km. But if you average 15,000km, you'll be up for a fourth service at a steep $491.

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

From $25,190

It's cheaper than the SSS yet matches the Nissan's standard satnav, climate control, reversing camera and rear parking sensors. It misses out on leather trim and xenon headlights. Mazda plays the same game on capped price servicing, with service every 12 months/ 10,000km — three years cost $924 but if you drive the average, you'll need a fourth service for $326, plus fluids and filters at $126.

design

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

If you spot an old SSS, it's likely to have an exhaust the width of a paint can, but this model is conservatively styled inside and out. There are a subtle bootlid spoiler, body skirts to make it look lower to the ground and 17-inch alloys. Inside, the only real hints it might be a bit sporty are the push-button starter and some faux-carbon highlights on the centre console and door trim. It is roomy, though.

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

The SP25 styling is subtle, with Mazda opting against even a badge on the latest model. There are a spoiler and alloy wheels, while fog lamps lift the look above the standard Neo. The interior doesn't differ much from cheaper models but feels sportier, with better instrumentation and more supportive seats.

technology

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

The SSS gets a 1.6-litre turbo in lieu of the sedate 1.8-litre in other Pulsars. It doesn't elevate the SSS to hot-hatch performance territory but it is a lively performer when kept in its sweet spot. With 140kW/240Nm, it pulls strongly from rest and in gear but without exhaust-note excitement. Thirst is on the high side for its size (7.7L/100km for the manual) and it uses premium unleaded.

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

The SP25 goes for a bigger engine rather than the Nissan's turbo boost. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder puts out 2kW less than the SSS but has a little more torque. By the seat of the pants, the Nissan feels a little livelier off the mark but the Mazda is no slouch. It turns the tables on fuel efficiency, using just 6.0L/100km on the official cycle - 22 per cent less.

safety

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

The standard Pulsar sedan scored five stars and 32.67 points out of 37 in ANCAP crash tests. It has six airbags and standard reversing camera, but the seat belt reminders cover only the front seats and there are no crash avoidance aids such as blind spot warning or lane departure.

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

The Mazda trumps the Nissan with a crash score of 36.40 out of 37 points. It gets six airbags and has seat belt reminders for the rear seats. It also has a $1500 safety pack that gives you blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and automatic low-speed braking.

driving

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

The punchy turbo engine creates the potential for a fun drive but the rest of the Pulsar package is built for comfort not speed. It rides well around town and the light steering makes it easy to manoeuvre — point it at a twisty section of road, however, and it soon disappoints. The soft suspension and overly light steering mean the car doesn't inspire confidence at higher speeds, while it's easy to spin the front wheels on slippery surfaces.

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

The SSS has more power than poise — the Mazda feels the opposite. The well tied-down suspension and sharp, precise steering create the impression that it could handle more power. The ride is firmish but not uncomfortable in city driving, while on the open road the SP25 is an engaging and rewarding drive.

Verdict

Nissan Pulsar SSS sedan

Mazda3 SP25 hatch

The Pulsar engine is a ripper but, as an all-round package, the sporty Mazda emerges a clear winner.