First Drive

2014 Nissan Pulsar review

Nissan's new Pulsar majors on space and value, but it's up against some tough competition. We find out if it's up to the challenge, and drive it in the UK.

Words ByWill Nightingale

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The Pulsar is Nissan's first mainstream family hatchback for more than eight years.

In that sabbatical, the Japanese brand has concentrated its efforts on building SUVs, which has certainly paid off because its Qashqai and Juke models are flying out of showrooms.

However, while competition in the small SUV class is by no means weak, it's nothing like as fierce as the sort the Pulsar faces. It goes up against the likes of the Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and even low-end versions of the mighty VW Golf.

With a starting price of slightly less than Β£16k and a decent amount of standard kit, though, the Pulsar certainly promises good value for money. It’s also one of the most spacious cars in its class, thanks to the unusually long gap between the front and rear wheels.

What’s the 2014 Nissan Pulsar like to drive?

The Pulsar is available with just two engines: a 114bhp 1.2 turbo petrol and a 109bhp 1.5 diesel – both of which are borrowed from the Qashqai. A 187bhp 1.6 turbo petrol will join the range in spring 2015.

As long as you keep the revs above the 1500rpm mark, the 1.5 diesel delivers what pull it does have progressively and with no unpredictable surge when the turbo kicks in. That makes it easy to drive the Pulsar smoothly at all speeds. Flat out, the diesel never feels fast, though.

True, the engine isn’t as refined as it is in the Qashqai because the Pulsar’s cabin isn’t as well insulated from noise and vibration, and you'll feel both intruding into the cabin through the pedals and steering wheel. However, the equivalent diesel versions of the Octavia and Focus aren’t especially hushed, either, and the Nissan does quieten down when cruising, with little wind or road noise spoiling the peace.

Whether you’re a company or private buyer, you’ll no doubt enjoy this engine’s efficiency. Impressively low CO2 emissions of just 94g/km keep benefit-in-kind payments down, while average official fuel economy of up to 78.5mpg will mean fewer trips to the pumps.

If performance or refinement is a priority, the 1.2 petrol is a better choice. It's usefully nippier, and says smoother and quieter when you accelerate. In fact, the only irritation is the 'whooshing' noise the turbocharger makes every time you lift off the throttle.

You'd never describe the Pulsar as fun, but it handles securely and predictably, with a decent amount of grip and tidy body control. The steering could be better though; it’s accurate, but the weight doesn’t always build quickly enough when turning into corners. That doesn’t inspire much confidence on twisty country roads.

The ride is a mixed bag. You’re certainly jostled around more than in a Golf or a Focus, and minor imperfections are transmitted up through the steering column more than we’d like. That said, things never border on uncomfortable, and the Pulsar feels well tied down over high-speed dips and crests.

Diesel engine aside, one area that Nissan’s engineers have certainly worked hard on is cabin refinement. With the petrol engine fitted, the Pulsar is noticeably quieter inside than its rivals, with low levels of wind- or road noise.

What’s the 2014 Nissan Pulsar like inside?

If you’re sitting in the back, very spacious indeed. There’s a vast amount of legroom and even seriously lanky adults can sit comfortably without hunching thanks to the generous headroom on offer.

Outright boot space is also pretty impressive at 385 litres. That’s a fair bit less than you get in an Octavia but more than in a Golf or a Focus, although it is a shame the Pulsar’s load bay isn’t a bit cleverer.

For starters, it’s an irregular shape, with the wheelarches jutting in at the outer edges. There’s also a big lip over the edge of the boot opening, and no height-adjustable floor to iron out the huge step in the load bay you’re left with when you fold the rear seats.

From the driver's point of view there’s little to moan about, though. All-round visibility is excellent thanks to the Pulsar’s tall windows and slim pillars, and there’s plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering to help you find the ideal driving position.

The fact the pedals line up nicely with the steering wheel is another big bonus, although it’s a pity adjustable lumbar support isn’t available on any version – even as an option.

At first glance, the Pulsar’s dashboard looks very similar to the one in the latest Qashqai. Start interacting with it, however, and you’ll quickly realise it isn’t built with quite the same high-grade materials, and there’s some particularly cheap-feeling plastic on the back of the steering wheel and above the instrument binnacle.

The control layout isn’t quite as simple as the Qashqai’s, either, because rather than twisting dials to adjust the cabin temperature, you have to prod various buttons. At least the Connect infotainment system – fitted to N-tec models and above – is intuitive and quick to respond to commands.

Entry-level Visia trim is worth a look if you want to keep things as cheap as possible, because it’s surprisingly well equipped, with alloys, air-con, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and even a five-inch colour infotainment display between the speedo and rev-counter.

The vast majority of buyers will upgrade to Acenta, though, which adds an automatic braking system, automatic lights and wipers and keyless entry, but still has few of the infotainment features (touch-screen, DAB radio, voice control, sat-nav) that you can add to similarly priced rivals like the Skoda Octavia SE.

As well as Nissan’s Connect information system, N-tec trims adds larger 17-inch alloys, privacy glass, LED headlights and a reversing camera, while the range-topping Tekna gets all that plus heated leather seats and various other active safety systems.

Should I buy one?

With such a talented array of cars to choose from in this hugely competitive class, the Pulsar was always going to have its work cut out to impress, but it does enough to merit consideration. It’s spacious, decent to drive, and great value for money – both as a private or a company car.

It won’t trouble the Skoda Octavia for class honours, which is even bigger and has a better-quality cabin, but the Pulsar is a thoroughly inoffensive family hatchback that stacks up well against most other similarly priced rivals.

It's a sensible car that you're more likely to buy with your head rather than your heart, though.

What Car? says…

Rivals:

Ford Focus

Skoda Octavia

Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T

Engine size 1.2 turbo petrol

Price from Β£15,995

Power 114bhp

Torque 140lb ft

0-62mph 10.7 seconds

Top speed 118mph

Fuel economy 56.5mpg

CO2 output 117g/km

Nissan Pulsar 1.5 dCi

Engine size 1.5 diesel

Price from Β£17,595

Power 109bhp

Torque 192lb ft

0-62mph 11.5 seconds

Top speed 118mph

Fuel economy 78.5mpg

CO2 output 94g/km