Motornet: Pulse of the City

Published: Mon 15 Oct 2001 02:32 PM
Pulse of the City Motornet with Karl Ferguson
Finally, Nissan have hatched a hatchback to follow in the footsteps of the new Pulsar sedan. Its looks could raise a few eyebrows, but styling aside, it may well set hearts afire...
I didn't expect to be surprised by the new Nissan Pulsar hatch. Sure it was a new car and it looked a bit different from the other hatches launched recently (at least in photos), but it was a hatchback, and from Japan after all... how exciting could it be?
The first surprise was pretty subtle. Picking it up one evening around 6pm, I was keen to get on the road and get home. Flicking the indicator stalk, I was taken a back to find the windscreen wipers suddenly pounding into action. A Japanese car with indicators on the left? This was something different.
There had to be an explanation, and of course, there was. Unlike many Japanese sourced cars on our roads, the new Nissan hatch is built at the Sunderland factory in the UK. It comes in a variety of different models with two engine variants - a 1.5 litre and a 1.8 litre. Apart from the wipers, the main difference is that NZ market cars come equipped with European spec engines which, Nissan say, means a broader spread of power over a wider range of revs.
Of course, car companies make claims all the time... but it didn't take many miles behind the wheel to see that they were not wrong about these engines. Motor noters are often fortunate to get top-of-the-line models and the Nissan hatchback was no exception. The car comes in two trim levels - LX and LS - of which I had the latter. At $29,495 for the 1.5 litre LX hatch, Nissan have a competitively priced (if not the cheapest available) market contender. The LS 1.8 is a little pricier at $32,195 though it does offer good equipment levels and, for a relatively small car, a significant increase in useful power over the 1.5.
The 1.8 develops 83kw at 5600rpm and a useful 158 Nm of torque at the comparatively low level of 2800rpm. That doesn't quite make the Nissan a 'hot hatch' but it doesn't leave it too far behind. Getting off the mark quickly is easy, and unlike many Japanese-sourced hatches, you do get good acceleration from low down the rev range. Which makes for an excellent around town car. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Sub 60 courier drivers stepping into one of these new cars in the not too distant future. It is was a bit surprising really to find how quickly the Nissan would gather speed and its willingness to accelerate in any gear, from any revs was a welcome change.
The manual transmission lives up to the car’s overall level of sophistication, proving direct and easy to use. Even with the added power of the 1.8 my guess is that the five-speed manual would be the pick over the auto, as the clutch and gearstick are well integrated. However, if you must have a self-shifter, the four speed auto will only set you back an additional $1100 over the manual price tag.
Fortunately, the pace of its 1.8 litre engine does not leave behind the Nissan’s handling. The predictable handling, which if pushed, will gently (if noticeably) turn to understeer is well mated to light steering that suits the overall feel of the car. In fact, on a number of occasions I was a bit disappointed to find the nose pushing wide as I exited a corner - only to find that the speed I was travelling was well in excess of what I would normally recommend for such a corner!
This fact is testament not only to the car’s handling, but also to its overall composure and level of refinement. Both trim levels are generous. Standard kit on the LX includes air con, power windows, a driver airbag, body coloured bumpers, an engine immobiliser, a four speaker stereo with single CD player and remote central locking. The LS adds ABS braking and another airbag. All Pulsar hatch variants come equipped with 15" wheels over the sedan’s standard 14 inchers.
As for the styling, some will appreciate the bold new look over the rather plain-Jane predecessor. Others will find it a bit too risqué for a mainstream hatchback aimed at a wide audience. Personally, I liked it. There is far too much conformity in the mid-size car market as it is without another carmaker producing a bland box on wheels. The hatch also incorporates some neat design touches lacking from the sedan, such as the sporty aerial above the tailgate and the distinctive wedge of the nose. Those that find such flourishes a tad over the top are not left out in the cold. They need look no further than Nissan's range of pleasant, if conservative, Pulsar sedans for an alternative.
While the Pulsar felt perfectly suited to the open road and highways, to me it was most enjoyable around town. The light steering and clutch, the good transmission, excellent visibility and plenty of low-down torque for quick take-offs made it a fun and versatile car around Wellington's streets. Not only that, but it's stylish to boot!
Of course, it's not perfect. I found that the driver's rest pedal sits too close to the plastic surround causing me to catch my foot on more than a few occasions, and the stereo controls were small fiddly buttons that proved annoying and difficult to use. Nothing I couldn't live with, though.
I don't often drive hatchbacks, so am a little hesitant in generalising too much as to their overall levels of performance and comfort. What I can say is this: if all hatchbacks are as refined, well built and pleasant to drive as the Pulsar, I might have to question why anyone would want something bigger. In the new Pulsar hatch, Nissan have introduced an energetic and attractive newcomer to the market. To anybody other than me, this is quite possibly no surprise at all...
Price - 1.5 LX $29,495, 1.8 LS $32,195
Engine - 1.8 four cylinder engine producing 83kw at 5600 rpm and 158 nm of torque at 2800 rpm
Weight - 1235kg
Performance - 0-100km/ph (not available)

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