2014 NISSAN PULSAR REVIEW
Vehicle Style: 5-door small hatch
Price: $21,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 96kW/174Nm 1.8 petrol 4cyl | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
For those shopping for a small car in the sub-$20,000 bracket, there’s plenty of choice.
There’s also the Nissan Pulsar ST. Retailing for $19,290 in ST manual hatch form, it’s a bona-fide bargain in the small car space.
Only the Kia Cerato comes close to equalling the Nissan for interior room, and that car costs $700 more than the Nissan.
We took an automatic-equipped version of the Pulsar ST for a week-long spin to see how it stacks up.
- Cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, air-conditioning, trip computer
- 4-speaker audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls. Bluetooth telephony
- Luggage capacity, rear seats up: 310 litres
The design is clean and no-nonsense, and the construction feels durable and solid. The grey patterned trim is a tad plain but there’s a feel of durability to the Thai-built Pulsar’s cabin.
The steering wheel might be urethane and the cloth upholstery a lower grade than in the ST-L and ST-S, but both feel good.
The seats are fairly comfortable too. The cushions feel a little flat, but the range of adjustment is good and the steering column can adjust for both reach and rake. There's also excellent headroom below the Pulsar’s high roofline.
And, unlike most small cars, the Pulsar doesn’t shortchange rear passengers when it comes to legroom. There’s heaps of space back there, and it’s easy to get into and out of.
If you regularly carry more than one passenger, the Pulsar has the space you need.
However, it’s easy to see how Nissan has managed to screw the price down on the Pulsar ST. While cabin quality is as good as the high-grade Pulsar SSS, the spec list has suffered.
The sound system has four instead of six speakers, there’s no provision for USB audio input, no iPod connectivity and there’s only Bluetooth telephony, not audio streaming.
There’s also no rear centre-armrest. We recognise the Pulsar ST carries a cracking price for a small car, but some creature comforts are hard to do without.
ON THE ROAD
- 96kW/174Nm 1.8 petrol 4cyl
- Continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT)
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
- Electric power steering
- Disc brakes
- 16-inch alloy wheels
The Pulsar ST makes do with just 96kW and 174Nm from its 1.8 litre inline four, which puts it behind many other small hatches for both power and torque.
A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, but we tested the optional CVT automatic. Happily for the Pulsar, the CVT does a decent job of masking the engine’s power shortfall.
It puts the engine at the best RPM for the power needed; which is fine when taking off at the lights or overtaking, however it tends to hunt up and down when faced with a hill.
Otherwise, the CVT is pretty foolproof and drivers are certainly getting used to 'slipping clutch' sound. That said, the Pulsar ST has adequate rather than brisk performance.
The suspension errs on the softer side, and the 16-inch rolling stock has plenty of sidewall to help insulate the cabin from road imperfections.
Ride comfort is excellent as a result, and tyre noise is notable by its absence. The Pulsar ST soaks up bumps easily, but, while it's free of floating, the trade-off is in body-roll.
The Pulsar is, in fact, quite a different car to its sharper handling competitors, the Focus or Golf.
With a softer ride, a preference for understeer when cornering, plus an over-assisted and lifeless steering, it's not begging to be driven like a sports-hatch.
But that’s hardly something to mark it down for.
As an inexpensive but spacious commuter, run-about or shopping basket, the Pulsar has the right engine, transmission and chassis for the job.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars: this model scored 32.67 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist are standard on every Pulsar model.
Occupant protection is provided by three-point seatbelts and six airbags (dual front, dual front-side, full-length curtain).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s one of the cheapest small hatches on the market, but the Pulsar beats more expensive models from other manufacturers when it comes to interior room (rear seat space in particular).
If size matters to you, the Pulsar delivers - and it delivers at a very affordable price.
It’s also easy to drive and light to use around town. It's also not bad on a country run thanks to a chassis tuned for highway comfort.
Yes, there’s a shortfall in equipment, and some may be turned off by the absence of connectivity features like Bluetooth audio streaming and iPod compatibility.
However, all of the vital equipment is there: cruise control, power windows and Bluetooth telephony are standard in the ST, and will suffice for a great many buyers.
If you want more features, there’s always the $22,590 Pulsar ST-L (which is also pretty inexpensive).
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Pulsar Hatch ST - $18,990 manual / $21,240 auto
- Pulsar Hatch ST-L - $22,490 / $24,740
- Pulsar Hatch ST-S - $24,990 / $27,490
- Pulsar Hatch SSS - $29,240 / $31,740