Google ‘Pulsar’ and you will find that it is short for Pulsating Radio Star: a rapidly rotating neutron star which emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation, resulting in a bright flash being visible every time it rotates, earning the nickname of lighthouse of the universe.
Not a lot of people know that! In the same way, not a lot of people seem to know that Nissan, so successful in sales of their Qashqai crossover, also market a mid-sized five-door family hatchback called the Pulsar.
So, is the Nissan Pulsar an equally bright star in the family hatch world? We tested one to find out: a top-spec 190 DIG-T Tekna.
As a mid-size family hatch, the Pulsar sits in a market sector rammed with stiff competition. At least until the dieselgate debacle shamed VW, their Golf traditionally sat at the top of that particular tree, but the race to topple it has never been stronger, with Ford’s Focus and Kia’s cee’d vying to take the honours of that top slot.
Nissan’s stylists have tried hard to set the Pulsar apart from its peers by distinctive styling, with a piano black grille flowing into the headlights and round to a deep and steeply rising feature line cut into the sides of the car. The rear lights then continue the lines of this swage feature, leading to an overall appearance which is just that bit different from the opposition, whilst stopping short of being over-fussy, particularly in the test car’s Storm White pearlescent finish.
With an eye on its intended family market, the doors open extremely wide to give exceptionally easy access to both front & rear seats, although this could perversely be a disadvantage in narrow car parking bays.
Unlike Nissan’s sister Qashqai, where the edge of the open rear hatch is low enough to hit the heads of unwary taller users, the Pulsar’s tailgate opens so high that more petite owners will struggle to reach the handhold to close it, as this is some 1950mm above the ground – a full 200mm further to stretch than, say, a VW Golf.
Boot space, whilst we’re at the back end, is pretty cavernous, bigger than the Golf although there is a deep lip to load over, making removal of heavy or bulky items from the boot a potential challenge.
Swapping ends for a moment, opening the heavy bonnet is not the easiest task as it lacks the gas counterbalance struts fitted to a number of competitors.
Once inside the Pulsar, the front seats are comfortable, heated and leather-covered on this Tekna trim spec model. Rear seats are split-folding, although when folded the backrests sit on top of the seat cushions, which could make stowage of longer loads tricky.
Although there are a fair few hard plastics around, these do not detract from the overall ambience of the cabin. The panel surrounding the central multimedia screen is finished in a metallic black gloss, probably making the inevitable scratches from fingernails & rings less of an eyesore than on the plain piano black of other cars.
The multimedia touchscreen, at 5″, is a little smaller than some competitors, but nevertheless manages to be easy enough to read, particularly as it is supplemented by a decent colour screen on the drivers information panel between the two circular dials.
There’s plenty of room for storage of all your bits & bobs: all four door pockets are big enough to accept large drinks bottles, and there is a handy centre cubby whose lid doubles up as a sliding armrest should your left elbow need support when driving. This cubby also includes the now almost mandatory USB, aux & 12 volt sockets as well.
At first glance, the steering wheel, which is adjustable for both reach and rake, looks a bit daunting, containing a plethora of buttons for the multimedia system as well as cruise control and a useful speed limiter.
So how does the Pulsar drive? In a word: easy. The controls are light, and generally easy to use, although the gearshift on the manual-transmission car could be more precise, having quite a long travel between the gears and also being quite heavily sprung towards the centre 3rd / 4th plane, making it easy to ‘wrong-slot’ until you get the hang of it.
Handling is much as expected on a family car: neutral tending to slight understeer when pushed hard, but fundamentally safe and tidy. Ride quality was a little disappointing, being unexpectedly firm, indeed at times bouncy. However, this version of the Pulsar uniquely rides on low-profile 18″ rims, all other models benefiting from 17″ rims which almost certainly calm the ride significantly.
Our test car sported the top-of-the range 4 cylinder 1.6-litre 190ps engine, almost putting the car into the warm hatch category, although most inhabitants of that market sector enjoy upwards of 200ps. In fairness, Nissan make no pretensions to selling the Pulsar as a GTI lookalike, nevertheless the engine gives the Pulsar a respectable level of performance when the need arises (0-60mph in 7.7 seconds) , coupled with levels of economy that definitely exceed the levels of most warm hatches. Nissan claim a combined fuel consumption of 47.9mpg: over 40mpg should be achievable with ease. We achieved around 45mpg in mixed driving. Emissions are a reasonable 138g/km.
Tekna trim level brings with it a range of additional safety features, notably Nissan’s ‘Around View Monitor’ which provides an incredibly useful 360 degree image allowing the driver to see exactly where the car is in relation to its surroundings when manoeuvring. This image, by the way, is provided by a small camera in each door mirror – clever, effective & unobtrusive.
A rear-view camera is also fitted, although the value of this is limited as its exposed location on the rear hatch means it soon becomes covered in road dirt. Sadly, Nissan do not support the camera with audible reversing sensors, so reversing in bad weather can therefore be tricky. Still, the rear view image on the centre screen now incorporates guide lines which are linked to the steering to help you see the likely path the car will take when reversing. The camera complement is competed by a forward facing camera.
Blind spot detection, moving object detection, and lane departure warning are also included in the Tekna package. All trim levels, other than the base Visia spec feature “Forward Emergency Braking”, a worthwhile bit of kit which works at speeds over 5mph and is aimed at keeping the Pulsar a safe distance from the vehicle in front. On the test car, however, the radar-based system was a little temperamental, with error messages appearing on the dashboard occasionally. However, the system can be switched off easily if this happens.
Prices for the Pulsar start from an impressive £15,995, which buys you a 115ps petrol-engined model in the base Visia trim spec, whilst the top-spec 190 DIG-T Tekna as tested retails at £22,845. The range extends to 15 models, covering four trim levels. Our choice would be the smaller-engined 115 DIG-T Tekna, to gain the benefit of the extremely useful Tekna tech features whilst enjoying a smoother ride than its bigger-engined relative thanks to those smaller wheels.
Verdict: In one or two areas the Pulsar does not quite come up to the levels of the best in class, which continues to be the Golf. However, the shortfalls are generally minor, and, of course the Pulsar is considerably cheaper, so well worth considering.
Interested? Find out more on Nissans website here: http://www.nissan.co.uk/GB/en/vehicle/city-cars/pulsar.html