2013 NISSAN PULSAR REVIEW
Vehicle Style: small sports hatchback
Price: $29,690 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 140kW/240Nm 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.7 l/100km | tested: 8.7 l/100km
The Pulsar SSS nameplate has history. First applied to the rump of a Nissan product in 1965 (the Datsun Bluebird SSS, to be exact), the SSS badge came to signify humble cars with hot performance.
That tradition continued until the year 2000, when the N15 Pulsar SSS shuffled out of local Nissan showrooms. The N16 Pulsar followed sans SSS, and then replaced with the wholly unexciting Tiida.
But 2013 is the year of the Pulsar’s return, and the SSS has come with it. With a turbo 1.6 litre engine under the bonnet it’s got plenty of performance potential, but does it live up to the legend of the SSS nameplate?
Quality: Like the rest of the Pulsar hatch range, the SSS’s cabin presentation is fuss-free and completely unpretentious. It’s solidly-built too.
It won’t challenge the likes of the VW Golf for outright quality though, and the silvery trim panel around the centre stack looks dated - distinctly ordinary even for a special model like the SSS.
Comfort: If there’s one thing the Pulsar has in abundance, it’s cabin space. Four regular-sized adults won’t have any trouble settling in, and leg, knee, head and shoulder room are plentiful both front and rear.
There’s even face-level outlets for back seat passengers, as well as a pair of cupholders in the rear centre armrest. The perforated leather upholstery is pretty nice too, though the rear bench could do with more under-thigh support.
Equipment: As the range-topping Pulsar, the SSS comes with a bevy of gadgets as standard.
There’s keyless entry and ignition, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a trip computer and sat-nav.
The standard audio system is a single-CD unit with USB input and iPod compatibility, and the SSS is the only Pulsar to get both Bluetooth telephony AND Bluetooth audio streaming.
Storage: Unlike the Pulsar sedan, the Pulsar hatch boasts a 60/40 split rear seat. It’s a far more flexible load area as a result, and the Pulsar’s wide hatch opening and widely-space rear wheelarches boost its utility.
It should be noted that the seatbacks don’t fold flush with the boot floor, which can complicate things if trying to carry long flat items.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The SSS has been gifted with a great engine. With a turbocharger stuffing more air into its four cylinders, the SSS 1.6 litre engine has plenty of power (140kW) and plenty of torque (240Nm) for a motor of its size.
It’s quite tractable from low revs too, and doesn’t break a sweat when lugging up hills at 2200rpm. It is also happy to rev, though there’s not much point winding it out past 6000rpm as power starts to trail off beyond 5700rpm.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is more appealing than the optional CVT auto, but it suffers from a vague shifter that feels decidedly un-sporty.
Refinement: “SSS” most certainly doesn’t stand for “Super Sporty Sound”; even “Somewhat Sporty Sound” would be a bit of a stretch.
Truth is, the exhaust note from the SSS’s 1.6 litre turbo is too soft and muted. Besides a muffled whistle from the blow-off valve on gearchanges, there’s not a lot of aural cues to let you know that you’re in the Pulsar’s sportiest variant.
But if what you’re after is a quiet and vibration-free drivetrain, the SSS delivers exactly that. Just don’t expect it to make your eardrums tingle with excitement.
Suspension: What spoils the SSS experience is its suspension. It rides well and there’s plenty of bump isolation - but that’s exactly the problem.
The suspension is simply too soft for something that’s pitched as a warm hatch. There’s too much roll in the corners, too much pitch under acceleration and braking, and body control is lacking.
In fact there’s so much weight transfer occurring in corners that you need to wait until the car is well and truly straight before nailing the throttle again.
Do so while the wheel is still turned, and the lightly-loaded inside wheel loses traction all too quickly. The end result is lacklustre cornering performance, dull steering response and plenty of understeer.
It’s a shame because the SSS’s 17-inch Continental tyres otherwise provide quite good grip .
Braking: The Pulsar SSS brakes strongly, but stability under hard braking is also compromised by that soft suspension. The pedal is responsive though and feel is good.
ANCAP rating: Not rated
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, six airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Service costs: Under Nissan’s capped-price servicing scheme, scheduled services range between $246 for a basic service to $467 for a more involved service.
Intervals are set for every six months/10,000km, and a $630.75 major service is scheduled for the 5 year/100,000km mark.
Nissan’s capped-price scheme applies to all new Nissans for the first six years/120,000km of ownership.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Holden Cruze SRi-V hatch ($26,490) - The only other small-sized warm hatch for less than $30k, the Cruze SRi-V comfortably bests the Pulsar SSS for dynamism, steering feel and grip.
The Pulsar is faster in a straight line however.
It’s an ageing design though, and the Cruze’s interior is not among the better ones in the segment. (see Cruze reviews)
Suzuki Swift Sport ($23,990) - Suzuki’s likeable Swift Sport is a lightweight, chuckable hatch that’s got plenty of zing, though you really have to work its 100kW naturally-aspirated 1.6 to get the most out of it.
Its smaller footprint makes it easier to park, but it can’t compare to the Pulsar in terms of rear passenger and boot space. (see Swift reviews)
Volkswagen Polo GTI 5door ($29,190) - The Polo GTI is the current leader of the sub-$30k warm hatch crowd, with a very tractable 132kW twin-charged 1.4 litre engine and brilliant chassis dynamics.
Like the Swift though, it’s a size smaller than the Pulsar and ultimately a less practical vehicle for those who might need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Fantastic engine, good interior and a healthy list of standard equipment, it’s just a shame about the soggy handling.
The Pulsar SSS has all the makings of a decent warm hatch, but we think the suspension needs a little more finessing to get it properly dialled-in.
That noted, the Pulsar SSS is a well-equipped and sporty option, with some real zing under the bonnet. What it misses in dynamism against its only true competitor, the Holden Cruze SRi-V, it makes up with an appealing welcoming interior.
Just don’t expect it to excite you as much as previous Pulsar SSS generations would have.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
Model - manual / auto
- Pulsar Hatch ST - $18,990 / $21,240
- Pulsar Hatch ST-L - $22,490 / $24,740
- Pulsar Hatch ST-S - $24,990 / $27,490
- Pulsar Hatch SSS - $29,240 / $31,740