First drive: Nissan Pulsar

Nissan Pulsar
Nissan Pulsar

WHAT’S NEW?: A new car for an already crowded market is the best way to describe Nissan’s Pulsar, which does make the Japanese firm’s task of shifting the five-door hatch a tough one. Nissan’s not stupid, though, and is fully aware that it needs to make an extra effort to get people to take the plunge.

Crucially, it’s almost a decade since Nissan last offered a conventional hatchback. A pioneer of the now-ubiquitous compact crossover SUV, it walked away from that sector to follow an SUV dream. And while that proved a roaring success, it also now wants a slice of the more conventional pie. The recipe is simple: two engines, lots of kit and funky Qashqai-esque looks.

Undated Handout Photo of a 2014 Nissan Pulsar. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

Undated Handout Photo of a 2014 Nissan Pulsar. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

LOOKS AND IMAGE: You can excuse Nissan for wanting to trade on the success of its Qashqai crossover. That the Pulsar sports a similar-looking nose is no accident. That said, reinventing the wheel is hard, which is why the rest of the Pulsar is broadly similar to a host of other five-door family hatchbacks.

Crucially, Nissan’s using the carrot of class-leading space to attract potential buyers, and there’s no denying that cabin room is generous — families take note. Also, the Japanese firm’s reputation for offering clever infotainment and safety kit is well established and evident in the Pulsar.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY: Crossovers are often purchased because they boast more space than a similar family hatch, yet the Pulsar easily trumps many of its conventional rivals for rear cabin space thanks to a stretched wheelbase. At the rear, the car’s boot is also a good size, while oddment storage around the cabin has been well thought out. All in all, the Pulsar is a versatile and family car for those not sold on the SUV concept.

BEHIND THE WHEEL: The Pulsar offers a good balance of refinement and a reasonably engaging driving experience. Nissan’s targets are the likes of Toyota’s Auris and the rapidly improving Korean players, so don’t expect Ford Focus levels of precision here. That said, this newcomer can hold its head up high - it does nothing wrong.

Undated Handout Photo of a 2014 Nissan Pulsar. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

Undated Handout Photo of a 2014 Nissan Pulsar. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

Key to the car’s performance is a well-sorted ride that’s not too firm, but does a good job of resisting pitch and roll at speed. The various controls are engineered with plenty of accuracy, while the driving position isn’t short of adjustment potential. Nissan has taken a modest approach at launch with its engine range, and the 1.2-litre petrol motor tested here is no slouch in the real world despite ‘only’ possessing 114bhp. If you want more low-down grunt, there’s always the company car-friendly 1.5-litre diesel.

VALUE FOR MONEY: Nissan is keen to promote the Pulsar as a value-for-money proposition. Standard equipment levels are generous, while the cost options include kit you’d normally only find on more expensive models. Think options like collision and blind spot warning systems, reversing camera, internet-enabled infotainment systems and powerful LED headlights. And as for the asking price, the Pulsar is keenly positioned below the likes of the Golf and Focus.

WHO WOULD BUY ONE?: If you’ve heard good things about Nissan - and it’s difficult not to - and put a higher priority on value for money than on-the-limit handling, the Pulsar is worth considering. Looks-wise it trades heavily on its maker’s hugely successful range of SUVs, while the car’s basic underpinnings and power train technology are proven items that are unlikely to prompt you to dig deep come servicing time. The engines are pretty frugal too, which should do much to lower the total cost of ownership.