Nearly one year after the N16 Pulsar sedan range was introduced, Nissan has added a pair of hatchback models to cater for buyers who prefer this style of vehicle.
Historically, the hatch variant has accounted for around 30 per cent of Pulsar purchases, so its arrival can be expected to further boost sales of what is already Nissan’s biggest selling model.
The new Pulsar hatch is built at Sunderland in the United Kingdom (sedans come from Japan) and is available in ST and Q versions. Both are powered by the same 1.8 litre engine that’s in ST, Q and Ti sedans, and both offer the choice of automatic or manual transmission.
There’s still no 2.0 litre SSS version; Nissan says it hopes to offer one some time in 2002.As for the Pulsar sedan range, pricing for the new hatches is very competitive. The ST manual costs $21,690 and the Q manual is $23,990. Add $1,900 for automatic in both models.
Despite the Pulsar’s sharp pricing, it doesn’t skimp on equipment or features. Mechanical specifications are right up to date, with the double overhead camshaft 16 valve engine featuring variable valve timing control, direct ignition and multipoint fuel injection.
The four-speed automatic transmission features electronic control and a lock-up torque converter. Brakes are discs all round and the suspension is by McPherson struts up front and a multi-link torsion beam suspension with coil springs at the rear.
Nissan says that the new model’s body rigidity is 30 per cent greater, and with reinforced front and rear suspension mountings, this has improved both the ride and handling, and NVH levels.
Standard equipment on the base ST includes dual front airbags, seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, air conditioning, two-stage central locking/unlocking with remote keyless entry, an immobiliser, power door mirrors, a four-speaker security-coded sound system with CD player, height-adjustable driver’s seat and intermittent wipers front and rear.
The ST is sensibly equipped with black plastic rub strips along the doors and on the bumpers to protect against parking damage; however its protruding full wheel covers look vulnerable to damage against kerbs.
In keeping with its sportier image, the Q hatch adds alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a leather steering wheel and ‘luxury’ trim. It also has power windows, colour-coded body side mouldings, an outside temperature gauge and seat back pockets.
Apart from its different rear end, the Pulsar hatch sports a more open style grille and front bumper compared to the sedan. The result is a body that’s hardly an object of beauty, or what you could call racy, but the hatch does what it’s designed to do and that’s provide more luggage space and greater versatility than the sedan.
However, there are no gains in occupant space with the hatch. As in the sedan, front occupants are well catered for, with good legroom and comfortable, supportive seats, but rear legroom is very tight for adults when the front seats are set right back.
The driving cockpit is generally well laid out for easy use, however the left-mounted turn signal lever is at odds with the Japanese-made Pulsar sedan which has its lever on the conventional (for our market) right side of the column.
Though the Pulsar hatch is not what you would really call a spirited performer, acceleration times for the ST version tested were competitive with other 1.8 litre manual cars such as the Holden Astra and Ford Laser.
The Pulsar’s driveability is very acceptable, with good engine response and easy gear shifting, so in the majority of everyday conditions, I doubt whether many people would be disappointed with the way the car performs.
The Pulsar engine proved to be very fuel efficient, with the 1.8 litre manual ST test hatch using only 7.6 litres/100 km overall. By comparison, a 1.6 litre manual sedan used 7.2 litres/100 km and a 1.8 litre auto sedan used 8.1 litres/100 km.
The Pulsar hatch’s pleasant driving characteristics are complemented by its precise handling and steering. Under test, it handled the variety of road conditions easily, with no vices detected.
The absence of ABS (it’s not listed as an option for the hatch) required some practice during emergency stopping tests to avoid premature front wheel lock-up, however overall braking results were quite good.
SUMMARY Though the Nissan Pulsar hatch is not outstanding or special in any particular way, it adds an extra measure of versatility to the sedan’s already well accepted formula of good value for money, economical operation, easy driving characteristics and generous equipment levels.
Restricted rear occupant space limits the Pulsar hatch’s appeal for grown families, however for two adults, or a younger family with two or three small children, it represents very good buying.