What is it? The Nissan Pulsar is a C-segment family hatch, the first from Nissan in seven years
Key features: Longest wheelbase in class, cabin space, frugal engines
Our view: A serious bid to restake a claim in a sector Nissan has been out of for some time.
Type of test: First drive
The C segment, the family hatch market, is one of the most important in the UK’s automotive sector, accounting for a quarter of all cars sold, and including such household names as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. Yet it is a market that Nissan has not been a part of of since dropping the Almera in 2006.
Since then the Japanese brand has, very successfully, persuaded many C-segment buyers to instead invest in one of the new breed of crossovers, and particularly its own Qashqai – a car that when launched in 2007 virtually created the crossover sector and has led it ever since against mushrooming numbers of rivals.
C-segment buyers are among some of the most loyal, however, and many do not want a large, high-slung car such as the Qashqai. So now Nissan is targeting them with the Pulsar.
According to its creators, the Pulsar is intended to be a smaller, cheaper sister to the Qashqai, replicating the successful elements of the crossover in a family hatch. The family resemblances are obvious on first viewing – in particular the long bonnet with its distinct creases running forward to meet a strongly vee-shaped grille.
The major plus point of the car is revealed on slipping inside it. The Pulsar sits on a 2,700mm wheelbase, which Nissan claims as the longest in the class. As a result interior space is extremely generous, particularly for rear-seat passengers who have more knee room than in many cars from the larger D segment. Boot space is also plentiful, at 385 litres, extendable to 1,395 litres with the rear seats folded down.
Fit and finish of the interior is generally of a higher quality than previously, though some of the surfaces are a little too obviously hard plastic. The instrumentation is traditional white-on-black and easy to read as a result.
The Nissan Pulsar launches with just two engine choices – a 1.2 petrol unit of 114bhp and a 1.5 diesel with 109bhp. This situation will not last – a significantly more powerful 1.6-litre petrol with 187bhp will arrive in Spring 2015, while Nissan is also widely predicted to put the GTI-like NISMO concept, shown at the Paris Motor Show, into production before long.
Petrol and diesel sales are likely to be split almost equally, and in a fleet-dominated sector – 60 per cent of Pulsars expected to be fleet cars – the diesel that The Car Expert tried is likely to be popular, with its sub-100g/km CO2 emissions and officially-quoted fuel economy of close to 80mpg.
The engine is quiet on start up and refined in use, only really becoming noticeable when pushed hard. However the gearing of the Pulsar – six-speed manual in this case, though petrol versions are also offered with a CVT auto – does mean that the unit does need to be worked, for effective overtaking or maintaining momentum up sharp gradients.
On the road the Pulsar is competent but un-involving – it transports in comfort, smothering bumps effectively, but feels divorced from the driver when cornering. This is a car for which practicality considerations clearly rated a lot higher than trying to come close to the admired chassis performance of the likes of Ford’s Focus.
Yet while Nissan hopes to gain some sales from Focus buyers, it sees as the main rivals to the Pulsar similar solid performers such as Toyota’s Auris, and “price-conscious” cars such as the Kia cee’d and Hyundai i30. And against such rivals it will be worthy of consideration.
Pulsar prices start from £15,995, £17,595 for the diesel, a price point deliberately pitched around 10 per cent lower than its Qashqai sister.
Four trim levels are on offer and Nissan expects the mid-range Acenta and n-tec trims to take almost three quarters of sales. However even entry-level Visia versions are generously equipped, including air conditioning, a five-inch ‘Advanced Drive-Assist’ centre-console display, alloy wheels, electric windows, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, six airbags and a Stop & Start system.
Going up through the range the equipment and options lists are dominated by technology, highlights including the Safety Shield suite of driver aids such as lane departure warning and notably the Around View Monitor with its overhead camera effect, and the NissanConnect infotainment system, that offers full satellite navigation and smartphone integration.
Nissan Pulsar sales are predicted to be around 10,000 a year – the car is not expected to wrest the brand’s best-seller position from the Qashqai. This new hatch is certainly a serious bid by Nissan to restake a claim in a sector it has been out of for some time. But whether the Pulsar will hold its own in one of the most competitive arenas of the UK market remains to be seen.
Nissan Pulsar – key specifications
Model tested: Nissan Pulsar N-Tec 1.5 dCi
On sale: October 2014
Range price: £15,995-£21,945
Insurance group: TBC
Engines: 1.2 petrol, 1.5 diesel
Power (bhp): 115, 110
Torque (lb/ft): 140, 192
0-62mph (sec): 10.7, 11.5
Top speed (mph): 118, 118
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 56.5, 78.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 117, 94
Key rivals: Hyundai i30, Kia c’eed, Toyota Auris
Test Date: October 2014
* all performance figures with manual gearbox