Every Kiwi motorist knows the Pulsar. They will either have owned one, or at least know someone who has. Either way the Pulsar, in one shape or another, has been a firm favourite among local commuters for some time.
With the launch of the Pulsar sedan recently a hatchback was expected to join the range and here it is, and there's not one but two high performance versions.
The Pulsar hatch range consists of three variants sold here which, as with the recently revealed sedan, starts with the ST at $29,990. Then there's the high-specification ST-S for $34,990. The third Pulsar hatch is the hot SSS brand and this is the first in 13 years. A fourth model, the ST-L will not be sold new here.
Topping out the range at $39,990, the SSS is aimed at those who want a bit more oomph. Having driven both the ST and SSS at the launch in Melbourne, I have found both of them to be well worth considering.
It may not be as striking or as radical as some of its competition, but the Pulsar Hatch manages to provide a design featuring simple lines and touches.
The SSS isn't so subtle with front and rear spoilers, 17-inch alloy wheels and a "cap on backwards" rear spoiler, a recurring theme on cars of this type.
Like the sedan, the cockpit of the ST Hatch is easy to get your head around. Featuring refined soft-touch materials, everything is positioned where you would expect. Even in entry level spec, the ST is well equipped, featuring Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity, cruise control, air conditioning and one-touch driver's window to name a few.
ST-S owners benefit from 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, 4.3-inch colour display, a six-speaker sound system, while the SSS comes with satellite navigation with 3D mapping, reversing camera, leather trim, dual zone climate control, xenon headlights and keyless entry with push button start.
Whether you opt for the cloth or leather trim, the seats in the Pulsar offer a great deal of buttock hugging comfort and, although lacking a tad in lateral support, provide a nice place to sit. Head room deserves to be mentioned as there is certainly plenty. There is also lots of space to put your feet though the lack of a driver foot rest may be a letdown for some.
Boot space is not quite as generous as the sedan's of course, but still able to swallow up awkward loads. The 60/40 spilt-fold rear seats offer extra volume but don't fold completely flat.
Driver and passenger safety is also well spoken for with the entire range featuring six airbags, traction control, Vehicle Dynamic Control or VDC, ABS, and brake assist.
Across the three model range, New Zealand buyers have two engine variants to choose from. The entry point ST is powered by the same unit found in the Pulsar sedan, that being a 1.8L four pot petrol developing 96kW of power and 174Nm of torque.
The heart of the ST-S and SSS however is a 1.6-litre turbocharged direct injected unit. Power has gone up by 44kW giving you 140kW and 240Nm of torque, giving it a real meaty feel.
Both units return respectable overall fuel consumption figures with the ST able to get you 6.7L/100km and 7.7L/100km for the SSS.
Nissan's next generation X-TRONIC CVT gearbox features as standard across the entire range. Despite a six speed manual being offered in Australia, it will be CVT only for Kiwi buyers.
Driving the ST is not as dynamic as other small hatches but still manages to give you a good entertaining commute. The speed sensitive electric steering offers a nice amount of communication of what those front wheels are up to. The driving position is good too, with plenty of adjustability in both the seat and steering wheel.
Whether on suburban boulevards or out in on the open road, the ST rides nicely with a great deal of comfort. Through the bends there is some body roll and understeer but the car manages to do the job well regardless.
The 1.8L engine needs a bit of boot to get into its stride, but the ST is more than happy to cruise all day at the legal limit. The CVT also plays its part by giving the driver seamless changes.
The SSS manages at the hot hatch game well. Throttle response is sharp with the revs climbing much quicker than you first expect.
A raspy mechanical exhaust note becomes apparent when you get above 2500rpm. The power is linear with little lag, causing it to dart forward like a wee terrier impatiently pulling on its owner's lead.
Ride quality is firmer than the ST but manages to be compliant and offers relative comfort given the car's sporty intentions.
In corners the SSS is up to the job, sporting a nicely sorted chassis and despite a minor level of torque steer, the SSS manages very nicely. Its steering is heavier than in the ST's and offers good feedback.
The well-sorted ST and the fun and engaging SSS have thoroughly marked the return of the Nissan Pulsar Hatch.
There are some niggles, but once you factor in refinement, value, equipment, practicality and its willing power units, this Nissan is worth checking out.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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