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Nissan Pulsar – first drive

Ford, VW and Vauxhall beware – Nissan is back in the family hatch sector with the all-new Pulsar.

For what seems like an eternity, Ford, Volkswagen and Vauxhall have had it all their own way in one of the UK’s most competitive car sales markets.

Nissan Pulsar family hatchback

The Focus, Golf and Astra have reigned supreme, while Nissan has concentrated on the city car and crossover sector with the Micra, Qashqai and quirky Juke.

But while Nissan has enjoyed remarkable success with its crossovers, not everyone wants a soft-roader like a Qashqai.  Plus – and crucially – a quarter of all UK sales are in the family hatch sector. So, seven years after dumping the unloved Almera, Nissan is back with the Pulsar.

And on first impressions, the Pulsar is a decent car too. Not only does it look modern and distinctive, but it’s spacious, frugal and will benefit enormously from Nissan’s strong reputation which surely has never been stronger.

The Pulsar has been designed in Europe with our market in mind and it shows. There’s also a family resemblance with the new Qashqai, particularly up front with the sculpted bonnet and vee-shaped grille.

Nissan Pulsar family hatchback

But it’s something as mundane as the wheelbase that sets the Pulsar apart from its rivals. At 2,700mm, Nissan claims it has the longest wheelbase in its class. So what, you might say. Well this means the rear seats can sit further back and the result is that the Pulsar has class-leading legroom in the rear.

I tried it on my test car and it’s remarkably spacious – easily enough room for six footers front a rear, which is no mean feat. In fact, there’s more room in the back than many cars in the class above.

There’s more good news elsewhere. Though the Pulsar launches with just two engine choices – a 1.2 petrol unit of 114bhp and a  1.5 diesel with 109bhp, these are tried and tested elsewhere in the Nissan range and feature excellent performance and economy.

Nissan claims the 1.2 petrol engine is capable of up to 56.5mpg and the 1.5 diesel 78.5mpg. In the real world I couldn’t match those figures, but they are still very frugal engines.

Nissan Pulsar

Next year a more powerful 1.6-litre petrol with 187bhp will arrive, followed by a widely predicted hot hatch not unlike the Nismo concept previewed at the recent Paris Motor Show.

For me, the 1.5 diesel is the obvious choice – powerful, economical and refined at higher speeds, while boasting sub-100g/km CO2 emissions.

Both engines are coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox, though an automatic is also available. The six-speed is a tad notchy for my liking, especially if you try to speed up through the gears, but very lazy for motorway-speed cruising in fifth and sixth.

Inside the Pulsar is well equipped, with surprisingly comfortable front seats, clear instruments and good connectivity. The plastics used could be classier, while the seat fabrics are functional and there’s good boot space too.

There are four trim levels – the Visia, Acenta, N-tec and Tekna – and an impressive list of standard fittings, optional extras and safety features,  so there’s something for everyone, while prices range from £15,995 to £20,345.

In terms of driving enjoyment, I suspect we’ll have to wait for the sporty Nismo version for that. In the meantime, the Pulsar handles well enough, but it’s no class leader here.

Ford, Volkswagen, Vauxhall, plus the likes of Kia and Mazda, should be worried. The Nissan Pulsar is a worthy rival with class-leading cabin space and sharp looks, plus it comes with a strong brand loyalty, gained largely off the back of the phenomenal success of the Qashqai.

Nissan Pulsar

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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