£15,995 - £20,595 Price range
47 - 78 MPG
After suffering for years in the family hatchback class with the dreary Almera, Nissan took the bold step of producing crossovers like the Juke and Qashqai instead. It turned out to be a hugely successful move, and the Qashqai has become one of the UK’s best-selling cars.
Nissan now feels the time is right to again produce a more conventional model to compliment its range, and that is where the Pulsar comes in. It aims to rival the likes of the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30 by focusing on getting the sensible stuff right.
But while there’s a feel-good factor in choosing the Qashqai to be your next family car, there is little of the same appeal to be had from the Pulsar. Compared to rivals its interior is drab lacking the quality of a VW Golf or the verve of the new Renault Megane. In practical terms, though, the Nissan has some of the most generous rear legroom in class.
While the Qashqai has a comfortable ride and it surprisingly good in bends, the Pulsar does little to excite. Instead it is quiet and comfortable.
You get three engine to choose from – two petrols and one diesel. The latter can return fuel economy of nearly 80mpg, while the top-of-the-range petrol gets from 0-62mph in under eight seconds, but feels someway off the fastest hot hatches when it comes to pace.
Equipment levels are decent enough. All models come with four electric windows, air-conditioning, cruise control, a Bluetooth phone connection and 16-inch alloy wheels.
First impressions of the Pulsar’s aren’t great. The dashboard design is a little plain, while some plastics are hard and scratchy. Parts like the steering wheel and the touchscreen display are shared with the Qashqai and the X-Trail. Everything is very well screwed together, however, which should mean that even years down the line the cabin will remain free of squeaks and rattles.
Nissan Pulsar passenger space
Passenger space is one of the few highlights of the Pulsar. It has lots of room in the back and can comfortably accommodate four 6’2″ adults – better than a Volkswagen Golf and most of its competitors for that matter.
Nissan Pulsar boot space
With a 385-litre capacity, the Nissan’s boot also holds an advantage over the Golf’s, which is down five litres, but the Peugeot 308 (470 litres), Honda Civic (477 litres) and Skoda Octavia (590 litres) all have bigger load bays. All Pulsars come with 60:40 split-folding rear seats, which mean you can extend the boot, while still carrying four passengers. Fold all the rear seats down and maximum capacity swells to 1,395 litres and there’s only a small boot lip to deal with when loading.
Nissan’s aim with the Pulsar was to focus on refinement and comfort rather than the ability to run rings around a Ford Focus on a twisty road.
Road noise is very well isolated, and the ride is smooth, particularly in town. Drive at a more enthusiastic pace, though, and it can’t match many rivals for fun. The soft suspension never truly settles at higher speeds, which combined with the lifeless steering means you never feel like throwing it around very much.
That perhaps isn’t the point with a car like this, but then some rivals offer this ability and comparable levels of comfort, so it’s a shame the Pulsar cannot pull off the same trick.
While potential VW Golf owners get a wide array of engines to choose from, in the Pulsar there are only three – two petrol and one diesel.
Nissan Pulsar petrol engines
The 115hp 1.2-litre petrol is the cheapest model in the Pulsar range and it’s a high-tech turbocharged unit that offers a strong mix of performance and economy. It gets from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, giving it enough power in reserve to deal with the cut and thrust of motorway traffic, yet can return fuel economy of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 117g/km for road tax of just £30 a year. As a result you would have to cover a high annual mileage to be able to justify choosing the petrol model. It can be fitted with an automatic gearbox, but as it costs another £1,350 we would steer clear unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The other petrol engine has its balance tipped more towards performance. With a 1.6-litre capacity it produces 190hp, enough to get the car from 0-62mph in just 7.7 seconds. However, despite it being the quickest model in the range, it doesn’t feel that fast and comes with no upgrades to aid cornering. Fuel economy of 47.9mpg should be readily affordable for most people, but isn’t that impressive when you consider a Peugeot 308 GTi with 270hp costs about the same to run.
Nissan Pulsar diesel engine
You’ll have to cover a considerable mileage to make the 1.5-litre 110hp diesel model a cost-effective purchase against the cheaper-to-buy basic petrol. It has the cheapest running costs in the range, with fuel economy of 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 94g/km that mean road tax is free. With 0-62mph taking 11.5 seconds it is a little slower than the petrol on paper, although at motorway speeds it makes overtaking less effort.
The Pulsar scored five-stars in the Euro NCAP tests – and it was also awarded full marks for protecting the crash test dummy that represented an 18-month-old baby.
Safety equipment levels are high too. Six airbags are equipped as standard, and depending on which trim level you go for, the Pulsar is supplied with lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning and even a emergency low-speed braking system.
Nissan offers the Pulsar in four levels of trim: Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna. Given its cheap price there’s very little missing from the kit list of basic Visia models, which come with all round electric windows, air-conditioning, cruise control, a Bluetooth phone connection and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Nissan Pulsar Acenta
That being said, there’s a strong case for choosing the Acenta model if your Pulsar will form the backbone of family transport. It comes with an automatic emergency braking system that boosts safety significantly. Auto light and wipers also leave you to focus on driving, while the keyless entry system means no more patting your pockets for the keys to get in.
Nissan Pulsar N-connecta
N-connecta replaces Nissan’s old n-tec trim level and, like its predecessor, adds sat-nav to the Pulsar’s standard list of equipment. The 5.8-inch touchscreen might not be the most visually satisfying, but it is at least very easy to use. The screen also doubles as a display for the car’s reversing camera, while the 17-inch alloy wheels are a subtle hint that this is one of the more expensive models in the Pulsar range.
Nissan Pulsar Tekna
With a leather interior and heated front seats, Tekna is the Pulsar’s most luxurious trim level, although it does a less convincing job of being an executive express than a leather-lined VW Golf. In which case, it may be better to focus on the additional safety equipment it brings, including an around-view camera display, lane assist and a blind-spot warning system.
Many testers criticise the Pulsar for being a little too dull – numerous rivals are both better looking and more fun to drive. But Nissan would argue that with the Juke and Qashqai among their ranks, it already caters for people looking for that sort of car.
For buyers who are perhaps less interested in cars, per se, and are simply looking for something that will be reliable, comfortable, well-equipped and safe, then they could do much worse than the Pulsar.