If potty-mouthed pop-tart Rihanna can find love in a hopeless place, so can I. And while it would be unfair to class the Nissan Pulsar as hopeless, I may have found an undiscovered gem in the model range. Not only that, it’s also dripping in PetrolBloggyness. Allow me to explain.
The Nissan Pulsar 1.6 DIG-T 190, to give it its full, appliance-like name, is the newest addition to the Pulsar range. For reasons of sanity and to upset the resident SEO advisors*, we’ll call it the Nissan Pulsar 190. And if that gives the Pulsar ideas above its station, so be it. Here is a car that will appeal to the few and confuse the masses. In other words, the perfect PetrolBlog car.
For a start, it features a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine developing 190hp. Think about that for a moment. Here is a common or garden family hatchback offering the kind of performance that, once upon a time, would have been impossible in a front-wheel drive car. And yet, from the outside, the Nissan Pulsar offers little to suggest this is a lukewarm hatchback.
Sure, anyone who has played Gran Turismo on the PlayStation will know that the simple act of adding extra horses does not make for a performance hero. Sensibly, Nissan has firmed up the power steering, stiffened the suspension and reinforced the bodyshell to improve torsional rigidity.
The result, while hardly likely to challenge anything wearing a GTI badge, is a Pulsar that feels noticeably stiffer and more agile than the blancmange-like test cars on the launch. And yet it’s rather unfashionable to admit a fondness for the Pulsar. It’s something you have to keep to yourself.
So the response I received to my brave declaration of love for the Nissan Pulsar 190 was hardly surprising. Yup, this is very much a minority report.
@MajorGav You’re not serious, are you!?
— Sean Carson (@Sean_Carson_) October 1, 2015
@MajorGav Eh, are you sure?!!
— Nick Appleton (@rallystar944t) October 1, 2015
I’ll readily admit that the Nissan Pulsar is far from perfect. And sure, a 190hp petrol-engined version makes little sense in the UK, even during these days clouded by the smog of dieselgate. But does that mean I should conform? Not a bit of it. Part of the joy of this job is discovering rough diamonds. In finding joy in unexpected places.
From the outside there’s little to suggest this is a Nissan Pulsar that could trouble a ten-year old hot hatch. Sure, the bells and whistles Tekna trim includes tasteful 18-inch alloy wheels, along with a discreet high-level rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip and honeycomb front grille, but there’s no disguising the fact that the Pulsar can – from certain angles – look a tad ungainly.
But this simply adds to the Q-car credentials. Once inside, the Tekna trim just about manages to lift an otherwise sombre interior that is already feeling out of date. The leather seats are wonderfully supportive, but the heated seat buttons feel very old school. And the 5.8-inch touchscreen is far too small, leaving the Pulsar feeling more like an updated Almera, than an innovation-led hatchback from the same company that produces the Qashqai and Juke.
You’ll inevitably spend more than a few moments staring in disbelief at the amount of rear legroom. There’s an unfathomable amount of room back there, enough to warrant an unlikely comparison with the Skoda Superb. It is, without doubt, the Nissan Pulsar’s trump card.
Yet all this is meaningless, because the primary, if not, sole reason the Nissan Pulsar is here, is because of that 190hp 1.6-litre engine. The top speed of 135mph and 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds look OK-ish on paper, but hardly groundbreaking. Indeed the new 150hp 1.4-litre petrol-engined Vauxhall Astra offers only marginally slower figures, at 134mph and 7.8 seconds respectively.
But while the Astra’s engine feels coarse and unwilling to rev, the Pulsar’s 1.6-litre turbocharged unit feels smooth and ready to entertain. Seriously, the Pulsar 190 offers silky-smooth acceleration, with peak output at 5,600rpm. All of which means it rewards an enthusiastic driver, very much in an old-school style.
The six-speed gearbox doesn’t offer the most satisfying shifts on the planet, but you’ll learn to work with it to get the best from the Pulsar’s engine. And while the steering offers little in the way of feedback, it is direct and there’s surprisingly little body-roll for what is, at 1,520mm, a relatively tall hatchback.
Then there’s the ride quality. Over some rough Hampshire roads, the Nissan Pulsar rode superbly, effortlessly ironing out all the creases. This is very much the Sade of the five-door hatchback sector, a real smooth operator. And things would ultimately be even better if you opted for the smaller 17-inch alloy wheels.
But it’s the engine that delights the most. Seriously, I was grinning from ear to ear for almost the entire time I was behind the wheel. There’s even a little sweet spot around 3,500rpm, where feathering the throttle results in the turbocharger egging you on, encouraging you to plant your right foot. You’ll want to do this time and time again.
Yep, I’m getting carried away, but I’m safely within the confines of PetrolBlog, so that doesn’t matter.
I could go on, but I won’t. I’m not saying this is the best car in its segment. I’m not even saying you should buy a Nissan Pulsar 190. Heck, at £22,645 for the Tekna trim, I can think of many, many things I’d rather spend the money on. And yes, that includes the Ford Fiesta ST…
It’s just that in ten, maybe 15 years time, we will be able to look back at the Nissan Pulsar 190 and nod our heads in an approving manner. A folly, an unexpected item in the bagging area, an answer to a question nobody asked. It doesn’t matter what it is. The fact is, the Nissan Pulsar 190 put a smile on my face, which is something so many new cars have failed to do this year.
Forget trying to achieve the claimed 47.9mpg on a combined cycle. You’ll be too busy having fun close to the redline to worry about such nonsense. Just don’t buy a Nissan Pulsar 190 on the strength of this review. I have strange tastes, and the Pulsar 190 might be a little sour for some palates.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. Here is a hatchback that rides well, offers acres of space and features a smooth turbocharged petrol engine. Sounds like something the French would have built in years gone by, doesn’t it? Vive la différence!
*PB doesn’t have SEO advisors.