Having cracked the crossover market with the Qashqai, the Nissan Pulsar is the company’s re-entry into the highly competitive family hatchback sector; with the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine it feels light and agile, with decent performance and economy.
Nissan pulled out of the family hatchback market and introduced the Qashqai crossover to cover this segment, and it’s been a resounding success, with the sales figures taking both Nissan and its rivals by surprise. But now Nissan is back in the hotly-contested hatchback class with the Pulsar – with strong offers in the form of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, to name just two, is there a place in the market for such a car?
The Pulsar is an all-new car with an all-new design. It looks reasonably stylish inside (the interior has similarities with the Qashqai) and out; it certainly shouldn’t offend anyone. Space in the boot is reasonable, and let’s get the Pulsar’s one major party trick out of the way at the start: the rear seats have huge legroom. This is billed by Nissan as one of the main selling points of the car – but is this a key differentiator to convince motorists to buy this car over rivals?
You can buy a Pulsar with a diesel engine, which we’ve driven previously, but for the typical driving cycle of this class of car, we think that the current downsized petrol engines are probably the best option for the majority of buyers, and so we’re testing the 1.2 DIG-T – yes, it’s just a 1.2-litre petrol engine, but with a turbo. A few years ago a 1.6-litre would have been the smallest petrol engine that would have been acceptable in a family hatchback, but most of the current crop of downsized turbocharged petrol engines work impressively well in such cars.
The Pulsar has reach-adjustable steering so most people should be able to find a comfortable driving position. It’s easy to connect your phone, you can enter postcodes on the satnav, there’s a reversing camera and heated seats (at least with the high-spec Tekna model on test).
Once you’re underway you’ll soon the experience the benefits of a downsized turbo petrol engine: the car feels light, agile, responsive and quiet. As we’ll see later, it’s also reasonably economical.
The Pulsar was tested in a variety of environments ranging from towns to the Lake District, and the ride is comfortable and the handling is perfectly acceptable – although it doesn’t have the ‘planted’, refined, dynamic handling of rivals such as the Ford Focus. As with virtually all cars in its class, the Pulsar is front-wheel drive. Unlike some cars in its class, you can switch off the traction control system.
So overall the Pulsar is a perfectly pleasant car to live with. This engine is a good all-rounder (although the 6-speed manual gearbox isn’t always the slickest-shifting of units); its main weakness is lack of torque when overtaking at motorway speeds, when the diesel would be better. If most of your driving is away from motorways, then this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
In our view the most frustrating feature of the car is that it beeps at you whenever you cross a white line in the road. In 30 years of driving I must have driven across white lines on purpose many tens of thousands of times. To my knowledge I have never driven across a white line when I wasn’t conscious I was doing it. So I really don’t want a car beeping at me every time I make a conscious decision to do something. The beeping is presumably intended to be a safety feature to prevent you from crashing. But it has the opposite effect – every time you drive the car and the beeping starts, you find yourself reaching under the steering wheel in a desperate attempt to find the button to switch off the beeping, taking your concentration off the road, and thereby increasing your chances of crashing. We’d prefer a button that you could activate if you’re feeling sleepy, which would then activate the car’s safety systems, rather than the current default of beeping at awake, alert drivers.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T is 56.5mpg, along with emissions of 117g/km CO2. An issue with downsized turbo petrol engines, especially in a relatively large car, is that such engines are engineered to achieve low official emissions/high economy on the NEDC cycle, but when driven out of this cycle in real life, the economy usually falls way short of the official figures. Over a week of mixed driving the Pulsar averaged 43.3mpg. This is predictably short of the 56.5mpg figure, but is actually reasonably respectable for such a downsized engine in real-life driving.
The Pulsar averaged 50.8mpg at 70mph, and an indicated 73.1mpg over a long 50mph stretch. So if you’re prepared to drive in a seriously eco-conscious way, then it’s likely that you could average over 50mpg.
The real-life driving range of only around 300 miles between refuelling stops isn’t as useful as the 500 or so mile real-life range of the typical diesel family hatchback.
The Pulsar Tekna 1.2 DIG-T costs £20,345. For a car that is aimed at rivals from the likes of Kia and Hyundai rather than the Volkswagen Golf then this is becoming somewhat on the expensive side – although it is well equipped.
The Pulsar is available with a 114bhp 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine as tested, or a 109bhp 1.5-litre diesel (which has an impressive official economy figure of 78.5mpg) and in four trim levels: Visia, Acenta, n-tec and Tekna. Equipment levels are good on all models; even the relatively affordable entry-level Visia trim has alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo, and even a five-inch colour infotainment display between the speedo and rev counter. Mid-level Acenta trim adds dual-zone climate control, heated door mirrors, automatic lights and wipers, and keyless entry.
All versions come with six airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure-monitoring system, while Acenta models upwards also get a system that can automatically apply the brakes to stop you crashing into the vehicle in front.
It’s sometimes difficult to avoid being aware of verdicts on cars from fellow motoring journalists. From such sources the overall impression about the Pulsar was of a car that was falling short of the class average. We can only assume that such views were based on comparing the Pulsar to more exotic driving machinery. If instead you put yourself in the position of the typical UK car buyer, who isn’t a petrolhead, but instead wants a car to be easy to drive, comfortable, practical, have affordable running costs, and be expected to be reliable, then the Pulsar offers a perfectly acceptable solution.
We’d also say that we’re definitely now at the stage where downsized petrol engines are probably the best choice for the majority of buyers of such a car, unless they’re planning on covering lots of motorway miles. The Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T shows why such petrol engines are ideal: the car feels light and agile, with decent performance and respectable real-life economy.
The one thing we don’t like is the trend for new cars to incessantly beep at you when you’re intentionally driving across white lines in the road; please can the designers and engineers at Nissan and other manufacturers give this more thought!
The Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T scores a Green-Car-Guide rating of 7 out of 10.