England 2 Scotland 0
I wonder if you remember where you were on Saturday 15 June 1996 ? I was driving a metallic yellow Nissan Almera to London from Manchester to spend the night with some friends in East London. How can I remember this almost 20 years later ? Because, Saturday 15 June 1996 was also the day that Manchester city centre was bombed by the IRA & the day that Paul Gascoigne scored a wonder goal at Wembley against Scotland in the European Championships. It certainly wasn’t because the Almera stuck in my mind because the Almera was boring & dreary at the same time. So boring in fact, that Nissan got rid of it in 2006 & came up with two altogether more popular models the Qashqai & Juke which are by far & away Nissans most popular models. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to notice any other Nissan models on our roads outside the NE of England, not because people aren’t buying them, a few souls are, but because they are invisible to the eye, the antithesis of the Qashqai & Juke which you cannot fail to notice.
Fast-Forward to 2014 & Nissan launched the Nissan Pulsar the first mid-side family hatchback from Nissan since the demise of the Almera which uses the same engines and on-board technology found in the Qashqai, to create the Pulsar, which is priced below the VW Golf & aims to challenge the Kia Cee’d, Hyundai i30, Toyota Auris & Ford Focus.
In this incredibly competitive class, the Pulsar’s main attributes are class-leading interior space, above-average refinement & some top of the range safety features. What it doesn’t offer however are drop-dead gorgeous or quirky looks & very much like the Micra & Note is not a car that you’d notice driving down your high street. Nissans designers have copied the ‘V-shaped grille’ & contoured bonnet from the Qashqai & there are LED headlights, ‘boomerang’ tail lights ,a roof spoiler & contoured surfacing down the car’s flanks to give it some visual interest. Nissan offers four trim levels in the Pulsar range: the Pulsar Visia is topped by the Acenta, n-tec and top-spec Tekna models, which add extra comfort, safety & entertainment features.
What Nissan has cleverly done with the Pulsar is to make it more commodious than the competition. With a 2700mm wheelbase it offers 692mm of legroom with a 395 litre boot which goes up to 1395 litre when the rear seats are folded down. These though don’t fold completely flat & the boot does possess a fairly high lip which could cause a few problems for some. Occupants in the back have plenty of head and legroom, while the absence of a transmission tunnel means even passengers sitting in the middle of the rear bench get plenty of space for their feet, something only Toyotas Auris can match.
The interior fixtures & fittings are borrowed from the Qashqai & all feels familiar, with a solid steering-wheel & a sturdy dashboard. The front & rear seats are comfortable & there’s plenty of standard equipment including Bluetooth, a USB connection, climate & cruise control, plus keyless entry. Further highlights include the Qashqai-style colour TFT display located between the speedo and rev counter & a gloss-black centre console finish. I particularly like the location of the starter button which can be found in the centre console. Safety is paramount in the Pulsar with six airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP & brake assist all included.
Nissan sent me the Tekna 1.5 dCi manual model to test & the list of standard equipment is added to with leather seats, front heated seats, leather steering wheel & gear knob, colour front & side camera around view monitor, a 5.8” touch screen navigation & entertainment system,17’ alloys, moving object detection, lane departure warning, blind spot warning forward emergency braking. On the outside the Tekna is offered with privacy glass, front fog lights, chrome window surround, body coloured door mirror & handles, a carbon effect rear diffuser, black honeycomb front grille & a high level rear spoiler, all of which do lift the looks above the bland.
What’s it like to drive ? I drove over 400 miles in my week in the Pulsar & it performed everything I asked of it admirably. It’s a more refined drive than that found in either the Focus or the Mazda3. It also handles well, has good brakes & a nice easy gear shift-clutch combination. The 1.5 diesel engine is surprisingly quiet as is the cabin even at motorway speeds. Nissan claim an average fuel economy of 78.5mpg on the combined & the Pulsar offers a really respectable 94g/km CO2 emissions, both of which should appeal to the fleet customer. I drove the Pulsar to Scotch Corner & back from Altrincham via the M6 & A66 as well as up & down the M56 a couple of times & averaged 56.5 mpg which is less than the claimed by some way, but none the less an impressive return. My family including our dog all fitted into the Pulsar comfortably, with the class-leading space a real bonus.
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the Pulsar. It’s actually a very good car to drive & at £21,945 for the Tekna specced model very attractively priced.However & there’d is a however, I still had that nagging feeling that it’s car that no one knows about nor will notice. Nissan don’t promote it except during the odd Champions League game & it most definitely won’t stand out in a crowd. The only way any fleet driver will notice it is if they look really hard at the cars available in this sector & choose the Pulsar because they are attracted to it’s practicality. In all honesty, it’s up against some top quality opposition, including the Golf, Focus & 308 all of which are class leading, as well as the similarly looking Auris, cee’d & i30. Then there’s the more noticeable Citroen DS4 & Cactus to contend. And then, for just a little bit more money, there’s the Qashqai & for about the same the Juke, both the number one selling cars in their sector. And this is the problem for the Pulsar. Just like the Almera it’s invisible, which is a shame because it’s not a bad car, but I can’t help feeling that most customers who choose a Nissan, will go for a Qashqai.
A Terry Venables 3/5.