Falcon. Kingswood. Corolla. Pulsar. Nameplates stay with people, they’re recognisable, they become part of the family and become part of legend. Nissan’s Pulsar is in this group, thanks largely to longevity and the almost mythical SSS hatchback. After an extended and ill-fated flirtation with the dingo that was Tiida, Nissan has (sensibly??) revived the Pulsar nameplate. Like any reborn legend though, there’s pressure: pressure to match up to what was, pressure to deliver.
The 2013 Pulsar comes with the Nissan family exterior, with triangular headlights, a svelte profile and cokebottle curves leading to a truncated aero boot and almost trapezoidal tail lights. It’s not unattractive yet…lacks impact; there’s no cut through, no swivelling eyeballs tracking A Wheel Thing’s test car (ST spec) clad in a fine metallic red called Cayenne. The headlights in the ST lack the LED driving lights found in the mid and upper level ST-L and Ti plus the normal globe style lights; one or the other would not go astray in Nissan’s effort to differentiate between levels.
The ST rides on 16 inch alloys, shod with 195/60 rubber attached to McPherson struts and a torsion beam front/rear suspension. It’s firm, not choppy, but does get upset by directional changes and bumps which conspire to throw the Pulsar off its rhythm. It rides flat, not a lot of float over repeating undulations and hangs on well enough into tightening radius turns and feels fairly confident, almost like an experienced L plater driver in mum’s soccer taxi. Over yumps and bumps the Pulsar is composed, isolating the driver from the sharpness of sudden vertical movement, thanks partly to the 16 inch wheels and 60 profile rubber. The steering though, an electronic speed sensitive system, is a bit lifeless; vague off centre and feeling as it it needs more lock to lock work at low speeds yet loads up nicely at a good clip. More’s the pity because the gear change is surprisingly sporty. A long lever meets a short shift movement, slotting into the gate nicely, if a touch (not unpleasantly) notchily; it’ s akin to watching a V8 Supercar driver like the one of the Kelly brothers banging through the gears and it’s actually very user friendly, combining with a reasonably pressured clutch pedal. There’s enough grunt for the 1.8L to keep the ST percolating; 96kW at 6000rpm and 174 torques at 4800 doesn’t sound a lot however there is just 1226kg to pull around. It’s quiet on the road, with the engine mostly muted but does intrude when above 4000rpm. Being a six speed means, thankfully, that doesn’t happen a lot with the climb from the plains in western Sydney to the mountains necessitating a drop back through the gears.Getting inside the the Pulsar is a trip back in time; a bland, uninspiring look, with chintzy plastic silver highlights/buttons on the steering wheel (itself a throwback to the chunky vinyl days) and a dull monochromatic look to the dash, door trim and console. The driver’s view is also old school, with a simplistic black and white design in the ST providing basic information as does the dot matrix display for the audio system, which dips out on modern day MP3 player connection via USB however does have an Auxiliary port. Even the aircon controls look as if they’ve travelled from the 1980s. At least the seats have a modern feel, being comfortable and supportive, although the cloth print is a bit old to look at, with plenty of cabin room and also has one of the largest boots in its class, at 510 litres, but is hamstrung by the old style bootlid hinges, potentially crunching items in a full boot.
Priced a blueback under twenty thousand dollars, Nissan’s reborn Pulsar is a mixed bag of ’80s chic and 21st century engineering. Against competitors such as Mazda3, Ford Focus, Holden Cruze or Hyundai’s i30 it really only has price on its side. Dynamically its fine however the retro feel interior is a damp squib. More on the Pulsar can be found here: http://www.nissan.com.au/Cars-Vehicles/Pulsar-Sedan/Range-and-Pricing