2013 NISSAN PULSAR REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $28,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 6.7 l/100km
“Wot’s in a name?” Last year Nissan had high hopes for the revival of the Pulsar name for its small car warrior.
Its return was certainly a concession that the girly Tiida nameplate was never going to cut it with Australian buyers (of either sex).
With “Pulsar” back in town, big sales were - and are - anticipated.
Certainly, Nissan is on a march with good products and lots of visibility. But its solid growth over the past two to three years has mostly come off the back of its manly Navara range, the appealing X-Trail and Dualis, and tiny Micra.
It must be its hope, surely, that the Pulsar will give it the firepower it lacks in the booming small car segment to propel it past Mazda to number one fully-imported brand in Australia.
Well the Pulsar sedan is now here, so what do we think? We put the range-topper, the Pulsar Ti, through the TMR mangle.
Quality: The design may be dull, but the materials are rather good as is build quality.
The patterned silver trim on the centre stack might look dated, but it has a robust feel and appears scratch resistant.
A soft touch dash pad also helps lift the perception of quality inside the Pulsar and the switchgear is typical Nissan - a cut above the rest.
Comfort: The leather-upholstered front seats are comfortable for long journeys, but the steering wheel could do with slightly more reach adjustment.
The lack of height adjustment on the passenger seat also seems like needless penny-pinching on this, the range-topping model in the Pulsar range.
But climb into the back seats and there no complaints with accommodation there, nor with rear seat space.
There’s legroom in abundance for backseaters, and although headroom feels a little tight by comparison, two average-sized adults will find stacks of space.
Because of the Pulsar’s narrow body there’s not quite enough width to accommodate three adults across the rear bench, but three kids will fit without too much of a squeeze.
What’s more, the standard rear air-vents on the back of the centre console will keep back seat occupants cool in hot weather.
Equipment: The Pulsar Ti is the flagship of the range, and it comes generously equipped.
There’s Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB audio input, cruise control, auto-on headlamps, keyless entry and ignition, parking sensors, trip computer, sat-nav, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control and xenon headlamps.
Storage: The Pulsar’s boot is positively massive at 510 litres, and its depth and width means you could almost comfortably slide a bar fridge in there (were it not for the fairly high loading lip).
All well and good, except for one tiny detail - the rear seats don’t fold down.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Pulsar’s powertrain and drivetrain are its weakest points.
There’s only one engine available - a 1.8 litre naturally aspirated petrol four with 96kW and 174Nm - and on the Ti grade a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is the sole gearbox offered.
Both are lacklustre, the transmission more so than the engine.
The engine’s power output is below most of its peers (although torque as about on par), but it’s the CVT gearbox that works against it: it’s slow to react to changes in accelerator position, and easily confused by hills.
Point it at a slope and it shuffles through its ratios as it figures out which gear is best. And it’s worse on steep roads.
It’ll eventually sort itself out, but often just as you crest the top.
Kickdown performance is also poor and overtaking at highway speed requires a lot of forethought - and plenty of space.
Were the CVT’s calibration better thought-out, performance would surely be improved. As it is, the Pulsar is more than a little bit slow.
It’s a disappointing transmission, and that’s surprising given we normally rate Nissan’s CVTs highly. The Xtronic CVTs in the Murano, Maxima, X-Trail and Dualis, all at the better end of the CVT scale, but the Pulsar’s trans is most definitely not.
Refinement: Lots of tyre roar from the Ti’s 17-inch alloys on coarse bitumen, and the engine note is buzzy and harsh at high rpms.
It’s better behaved on smoother roads, with no squeaky trim and reasonably good sound and vibration suppression. Wind noise is also hard to detect.
Suspension: The Pulsar’s suspension is tuned with comfort in mind, not handling.
The springs and dampers are relatively soft to soak up bumps, and on rough roads it’s comfortable without being boaty.
But on a tight corner there’s an over-abundance of body roll, and if you hit a severe enough mid-corner bump with an outside wheel, the suspension can bottom out.
The steering is also too light and uncommunicative, with an inconsistent feel around dead-centre. It’s a breeze to twirl it from lock-to-lock though, which makes driving in cramped urban quarters like carparks an easier task.
Braking: The brakes could do with a touch more bite in the top half of the pedal’s travel, but give the pedal a decent stomp and braking performance is more than acceptable.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Standard safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and ABS.
Passengers are held in by three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and height adjustment at the front), and protected by front, front side and full-length curtain airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Under Nissan’s capped price servicing scheme, a typical service for the Pulsar ranges in price from $212 to $280. Major services cost between $439 and $529.
Service intervals are set for every six months/10,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Ford Focus Titanium sedan ($32,990) - A far more polished product than the Nissan, and one that comes with more luxury as standard - and a wonderful twin-clutch automatic.
The Focus also possesses absolutely razor-sharp handling that makes the Pulsar look positively soggy by comparison, however rear cabin space and boot space are well below that of the Pulsar Ti.
But it’s also four grand more expensive than the Pulsar. (see Focus reviews)
Holden Cruze SRi-V sedan ($28,990) - The top-spec Cruze retails for the same money as the Pulsar Ti, and now has a powertrain and chassis that delivers bigtime out on the open road.
With a 1.6 litre turbo four-pot under the bonnet huffing out 132kW and 230Nm, the Cruze SRi has plenty of straight-line go. Its locally-tuned suspension is also one of the best balanced in its segment, with superb comfort and surprising grip.
The Cruze’s back seat isn’t quite as commodious as the Pulsar’s, nor is its build quality up to the standard of the Nissan. However, it is a far more pleasant vehicle to drive. (see Cruze reviews)
Hyundai Elantra Premium ($28,990) - The Elantra sits about midway between the Cruze and the Pulsar.
It’s not as sharp as the former nor as frustratingly slow as the latter, and although its interior isn’t as solid as the Nissan, the performance from the Elantra’s 110kW and 178Nm is adequate.
It’s also fairly spacious inside, but not to the same extent as the Pulsar.
With an ultra-competitive five-year/unlimited km warranty and capped-price servicing, the Elantra is a safe choice if not an exciting one. (see Elantra reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If all you’re after is the most interior acreage for your money, the Pulsar will serve you well.
And, in Ti grade tested here, the Pulsar comes with plenty of gear in a robust package.
But it’s the soggy driving experience behind that CVT transmission that lets it down.
Where it’s good - like space, comfort, and fit-out - it’s good. Its problem is its dynamics.
Some won’t care, but we seem to remember the previous Pulsar as near the head of the small car pack for driver engagement. Our expectation of the new model was that it might have been better.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 2013 Pulsar Sedan ST (manual) - $19,990
- 2013 Pulsar Sedan ST (auto) - $22,240
- 2013 Pulsar Sedan ST-L (manual) - $23,650
- 2013 Pulsar Sedan ST-L (auto) - $25,900
- 2013 Pulsar Sedan Ti (auto) - $28,900