“Pulsar” is a formerly famous badge in Nissan’s lineup here. Can this one breathe new life into an old name?
SINGAPORE — What’s a Nissan Pulsar? If you asked that, you’ve just given away your age (officially: young and stupid). Cars like the Pulsar are a bit like Abba, in terms of being a big enough hit for just about everyone of a certain vintage to have heard of them.
There are nuances, of course. If you can name all four members of the Swedish pop music steamroller you’re someone even adults call ‘uncle’. And if you only know how to tell the blonde from the redhead, we have some idea of when you hit puberty.
Too young to remember when Pulsars were a common sight on Singapore roads? Never mind, just think of today’s edition as Nissan’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf.
It was launched at the Singapore Motorshow with only one drivetrain option, a 1.2-litre turbo with Nissan’s “Xtronic”, a continuously variable transmission.
The Pulsar’s styling is such that it’s unmistakably a Nissan, thanks to the brand’s V-shaped grille element, and it manages to avoid visual blandness thanks to some crisp curvature on the sides of the body. Designers call these “character’ lines, but production engineers call them “a headache to stamp properly and join up straight” lines.
Yet, our test car was obviously put together by skilled hands. The bodywork all lined up nicely, and the body itself was beautifully painted, with smooth, even surfacing.
Compare and contrast the Pulsar with Renault’s Megane (a sister car thanks to a corporate alliance between Nissan and Renault), whose shutlines and panel gaps are all over the place.
That feeling of quality doesn’t permeate into the Pulsar’s cabin, however. The plastics are hard and shiny, and there’s a low-cost feel to the car, mostly from little things like how the storage bins are unlined, the way the glovebox cover flops open, the fact that there’s no driver footrest and so on.
The suspension is a fairly low-cost setup, too, and it gives the Pulsar a busy, sometimes jittery ride.
On the plus side, the rear twist beam arrangement creates a deep, wide boot. The Pulsar offers 385 litres back there (some space is freed up by chucking the spare tyre in favour of a repair kit), and the back seats fold to create more room (1,395 litres in all).
Yet, in terms of space packaging, what’s most impressive is the back of the car, where there’s loads of legroom and a surprisingly generous amount of headroom. You have to crane your neck a bit to slide back in there, because of how the door opening is shaped, but once you’re in the back you won’t feel cramped.
There are three proper seatbelts back there, too, which are always worth having. In fact, the Pulsar is one of the most safety-minded cars in the class, with six airbags as standard and electronic stability control. There’s also autonomous emergency braking, a feature that hits the brakes for you if the car thinks you’re about to crash into something.
The Premium model costs $3,000 extra but adds a GPS navigation system and leather upholstery.
Even in the standard “Lite” trim, however, the Pulsar is well-equipped with keyless-go, a comprehensive trip computer, steering wheel controls for the sound system, and Bluetooth smartphone pairing.
Keep in mind, this is a car that, when on promotion, sells for under a hundred grand. The cabin might feel cheap, but the money has obviously been spent in worthwhile areas like safety and convenience.
If you’re looking for an amusing drive, however, the Pulsar has its limitations. The handling behaviour is very predictable but the steering doesn’t offer much engagement, and while the engine has some enjoyable mid-range muscle, the CVT downplays the power delivery.
It’s obviously tuned for fuel economy, and the Pulsar actually feels much nicer when you try to drive it smoothly and frugally. Used that way, the engine is well-mannered and hushed, and the smoothness of the transmission becomes apparent.
On paper it’s supposed to sip 5.1L/100km on average, but you’d have to be a fuel economy Jedi to manage that in the real world. 6.5 to 7L/100km would be more realistic, but the Nissan should be a frugal car to run.
A five-year warranty strengthens the ownership proposition, and overall it’s clear what the Pulsar offers. It’s so-so to drive and the suspension lacks sophistication, but the body is well-built and roomy, there is plenty of safety equipment, and it should be cheap to run. That’s the stuff of ideal first cars (or, if you’re a retiree, ideal last cars), so you get the feeling that the Pulsar name has a good chance of finding fame with a new generation of drivers. Cars, like pop music icons, can have career revivals, too.
NEED TO KNOW Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T
Engine 1,197cc, 16V, turbo in-line 4
Power 115hp at 5,200rpm
Torque 165Nm at 1750rpm
Gearbox Continuously Variable Transmission
Top Speed 185km/h
0-100km/h 12.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.1L/100km
Price $106,300 with COE