► Nissan’s C-segment offering has a fight on its hands
► Low running costs, decent interior space help that quest
► Exterior looks will never quicken the pulse, though
Given how thoroughly Nissan shook up the compact and small car market with the Qashqai and Juke, the Pulsar has a lot to live up to – especially as the expanded list of combatants its been pitched into battle with include its beefier cousin. Then again it’s also effectively the successor to the Almera. You’ll hardly fall over if we tell you that, even this early on, it’s a far better car than that dumpiest, most unloved of automotive offerings.
The Pulsar – a name once familiar with Datsun/Nissan buyers in the Far East and Australasia but never used on vehicles for the European market before now – will never compete dynamically with the Golf or Focus but then you’re not paying a VW or Ford premium either. Instead Nissan has zoomed in on bang for your buck.
It doesn’t possess the quirkiness of the Juke or the stylish presence of the Mark II Qashqai (both of which – unlike the Spanish-built Pulsar – are products of Sunderland) but Nissan has guessed that by using its compact SUV and crossover’s tech and powertrains it can bask in their reflective glow. This – along with class-leading space – is what should help sell the Pulsar.
Excite us, tease us…
When we tried the 1.2-litre DIG-T petrol variant of the Pulsar last year, it didn’t exactly cause us to break out in beads of sweat. Renault-Nissan’s reliable 1.5-litre diesel workhorse, fitted to our test victim here, is better suited. It’s a fine motorway cruiser with legs long enough to prevent endless gear changes (the 1.5 dCi block is only available in manual form in the Pulsar at present). Special mention here for its precise gearbox, which puts offerings from many premium rivals to shame.
Several days schlepping up and down the A1 with a spot of urban tootling at either end saw us return economy figures hovering around the 60mpg mark.
It’s a comfortable, cosseting ride at motorway speeds – and like the Qashqai it’s at the quieter end of the spectrum when it comes to road noise – but predictably, rather less so on A- and B-roads. Steering is on the light side. Speaking of which, the exact same leather-trimmed steering wheel fitted in the Qashqai makes an appearance. Another tick.
It’s just a shame that for all the strides that Nissan made with the Qashqai and Juke that the same rugged and/or outside-the-box exterior design wasn’t followed through with the decidedly drab Pulsar. Debadge it and you could easily mistake it for that safest of compact hatches, the Toyota Auris.
Talking of Pulsars, how is it for space?
Anyone with a young family will know that the middle rear seat of the household runaround is often temporarily engaged by parents attempting to quell sibling rivalries or administer a juvenile meals on wheels service. This is one of the places where the Pulsar wins over a sizeable percentage of its rivals. With a wheelbase of 2700mm, the longest in its class, there’s none of the Bikram yoga moves required in other vehicles in order to be comfortable in the back row.
Standard tech levels on n-tec models give you the new NissanConnect sat-nav and entertainment system. In an age where certain car makers – yes, you Citroën – choose minimalism over ease of function, it proves to be one of the least fussy and easier to navigate of offerings. Add in 17-inch alloys, a reverse parking camera and a raft of well-appointed safety tech and you’ve got a well-specced, but competitively-priced, car that will futureproof your driving environment for several years yet.
The Pulsar may be manufactured at Nissan’s Barcelona factory – do track down the photos of sheepish FC Barcelona players, like Andres Iniesta, trying to raise some enthusiasm for a vehicle that costs five times less than their Audi R8s – but it’s not a Barça of a car.
If anything, it’s more like supporting Everton. You know that year in, year out, it’ll quietly go about its business. Reliable. Safe. Unremarkable. It pulls off decent results in places, always does just enough to get by. Ultimately, it’s all about money here. You get plenty of car for £20k – add in a 0% vehicle tax rate and excellent real world fuel economy and plenty of potential customers will look past the Pulsar’s utilitarian looks and so-so performance.