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Tony O'Kane | Jun, 12 2013 | 11 Comments

2013 NISSAN PULSAR HATCH REVIEW

What's Hot: Zippy turbo engine, rear seat space, solid value
What's Not: A bit plain, CVT not up to Nissan’s usual standard, lifeless steering
X-Factor: Excuse the unassuming exterior: in turbo form the Pulsar is a very capable warm hatch.

Vehicle style: Small hatchback
Price:
$18,990 (ST hatch manual) to $29,240 (SSS manual)
Engine/trans: 1.8 petrol four (ST and ST-L), 1.6 turbo petrol four (ST-S, SSS)

Fuel use listed l/100km: 7.2 (Pulsar ST manual), 7.7 (Pulsar ST-S manual)
Fuel use tested l/100km: 8.5 (Pulsar ST-L CVT), 10.9 (Pulsar SSS manual)

 

OVERVIEW

The Pulsar range is now complete. Nearly five months after the arrival of the Pulsar sedan, Nissan’s new small car is finally available in hatch form.

Australian motorists, with fond memories of the previous Pulsar range (which departed our shores back in 2006), are expecting big things of this new arrival.

And happily for Nissan, the hatch is indeed a better car than the sedan.

A lot of that added appeal comes from the availability of a turbocharged 1.6 litre engine, which is not offered in the sedan. Perky and powerful, it adds substantial punch to the Pulsar’s on-road performance.

Certainly, the range-topping turbocharged SSS will grab the attention of buyers. At just under $30k it’s a pricey proposition, but worth the coin thanks to a fat feature set.

But one rung down sits the ST-S. It’s also turbocharged and shares most of its mechanicals with the SSS, yet costs just $24,990. If you can live without the extra luxuries of the SSS, the ST-S is undoubtedly the one to get.

 

THE INTERIOR

“Plain and inoffensive” is the Pulsar’s formula, at least when it comes to interior design. The big, organically-styled dash lacks panache and visual 'wow factor, but it’s clean, functional and ergonomically sound.

The instruments are clear, the steering wheel is a comfortable shape and there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces on the upper dash and door trims.

The perforated leather trim on the SSS is nicer than most other leather upholsteries in this segment, and preferable to the cloth trim in the lesser Pulsar models.

It also gives the impression that it will last forever. Build quality is very solid, and with nary a squeak or rattle heard during launch, it certainly feels durable.

The seats are fairly flat yet give reasonable support, however we’d prefer a little more reach adjustment in the steering column.

Back seat space is the Pulsar hatch’s trump card. Along with the Cruze and Subaru Impreza, the Pulsar offers plenty of room to stretch out. Headroom is plentiful in both front and rear, too.

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One of the hatch’s crucial advantages over the sedan is its 60/40 split-fold rear seat.

The sedan has no seat-fold mechanism of any kind, so the load-carrying flexibility offered by the hatchback’s folding seat is a huge plus.

One issue is the lack of Bluetooth audio streaming in all models bar the flagship Pulsar SSS.

The SSS is also the only model to get a reversing camera - something that should at least be offered as an option on other models, but isn’t.

 

ON THE ROAD

As with the sedan, the 96kW 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated engine in the base Pulsar ST and mid-grade ST-L is a fairly underwhelming thing.

It’s by no means any worse than engines of similar displacement offered in other makes, but it fails to rouse the adrenal glands - especially when fitted with the indecisive CVT.

But make no mistake, the 1.6 litre turbo in the ST-S and SSS is a proper firecracker. It’s got 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque, and it builds boost in a linear fashion that aids both driveability and performance.

It’s quite rev-happy too, and will zing up to its 6500rpm fuel-cut with relish.

Compared to the 132kW/230Nm Cruze SRi, the Pulsar feels much stronger in the midrange and is ultimately quicker in a straight line.

A quick test with the stopwatch revealed a 0-100km/h time in the region of 7.8 seconds for the ST-S manual, which is bordering on hot hatch territory.

The suspension could use a little finessing though. Damp conditions during the launch revealed the car’s preference for understeer, as well as axle tramp under hard acceleration.

There’s a fair amount of body roll in hard corners too, but the 17-inch Continental tyres fitted to our SSS tester had good grip when the road wasn’t quite so wet.

Steering feel is still an issue for the Pulsar. Like the sedan, the Pulsar hatch suffers from a lack of feedback and an over-assisted rack.

 

FIRST DRIVE VERDICT

While the base model Pulsar ST and ST-L make perfectly adequate grocery-getters, the ST-S and the top-line SSS are the real stars of the 2013 Nissan Pulsar range.

The engine is a triumph, and one of the best available in a sub-$30k 'warm' hatch. Coupled with the standard six-speed manual, it’s delivers a sweet driving experience.

The suspension could use a little more polish, but on the whole the turbocharged Pulsar hatch is a solid drive.

It’s a shame that the naturally-aspirated models are a little lacklustre, but then again the $18,990 Pulsar ST hatch is perhaps mostly intended for fleets and rentals.

If you’re thinking about the ST-L, consider forking out an extra $2500 to get yourself into the turbo ST-S instead. You won’t regret it.

 

Pricing

MLP | Manual / Auto Estimated Drive-away | Manual / Auto
Pulsar Hatch ST $18,990 / $21,240 $21,878 / $24,196
Pulsar Hatch ST-L $22,490 / $24,740 $25,481 / $27,799
Pulsar Hatch ST-S $24,990 / $27,490 $28,010 / $30,585
Pulsar Hatch SSS $29,240 / $31,740 $32,433 / $35,008

 
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