Nameplate bid to help Nissan gets sales pulsating
The Nissan Pulsar Sentra Tiida has been a fairly common sight on Kiwi roads, in its various forms, for a decade or three, but the nameplate that has stuck is Pulsar.
More New Zealanders and Aussies recognise the badge than the other two - Sentra is fairly well known, but Tiida probably wasn't the catchiest moniker to begin with.
Back when cars were being assembled in Wiri, South Auckland, by Nissan New Zealand, the Sunny bowed out when the Pulsar was launched back in the early 1980s Nissan MD John Manley says the spec of the car was impressive for its time - a five speed gearbox, power steering, an interior resplendent in velour, and tinted windows - all for $10,395.
"We couldn't build enough of them," remembers Manley. "It was a very impressive specification, and they just flew out the door."
Times have certainly changed, with the small car segment one of the most hard-fought in the industry and one that's jam-packed with great vehicles like Mazda 3, Suzuki Swift and Ford Focus.
Low-spec versions of top Euro brands are being priced against higher-spec Japanese, Korean and Australian machines, so there's plenty of options for the new car customer. And Nissan needed to bring more than just a well-known nameplate to get the level of sales it's hoping to achieve around the middle of the segment.
Initially being sold in sedan form only, with two models and a single driveline option, there will be a hatchback arriving at the beginning of June. There'll be another revival on one of the hatch models - the SSS, which will feature a high-spec direct injection engine making a respectable 140kW.
In the meantime, we'll have both ST (from $29,990) and the higher Ti ($33,490) specification, with Nissan's next-generation CVT (constantly variable) Xtronic transmission - which it claims is lighter, smaller and smoother than its predecessor as well as having the tallest ratio of any auto of this kind, due to a clever sub-planetary gear.
It allows the car to return better fuel consumption than the manual variant, which is not available here, with Nissan claiming combined mileage of 6.7L/100km.
On a launch in Australia this week, we didn't see fuel figures dip that low, mainly sitting around the mid-8 region. Most of our test drive was on country roads in the Yarra Valley and on well-flowing motorways, but we were giving it a decent test, so it's not out of the question that this frugal figure is obtainable.
The design of the Pulsar has certainly come into its own, with a neat flowing line down the sides which echoes the company's incoming design language, as does the large chrome-look grille, matched by shiny door angles and moulding flairs. It looks best in Ti form, with a tasteful bootspoiler, fog lights and LED accents.
On the inside it's cleanly designed, well laid out and makes far more use of softer plastics than the Tiida. A few hard plastic items undo some of the good work, particularly on the armrests, where watches and jewellery may leave marks or scratches. In terms of interior space, it's got a longer cabin than its key rivals, meaning decent leg room for rear-seat passengers; and an impressive 510 litres of boot space.
Front, side and curtain airbags, along with ABS, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, plus vehicle dynamic control (stability program) and traction control make the Pulsar a fairly foolproof car to drive, fitting its target market of small car buyers and fleets perfectly.
While the view from the drivers' seat isn't going to come with a hugely engaging experience, the incoming SSS version will cater to those after a bit more sizzle.
Both ST and Ti ride extremely quietly on 16-inch alloys and get a good line-up of comforts like a Bluetooth interface, iPod connectivity and an adjustable multifunction steering wheel. The Ti adds leather to the mix.
Under the hood is a freshened-up version of the Tiida's 1800cc petrol four-cylinder, which delivers 96kW and 174Nm of torque. Latest engine tech like direct injection is not yet part of the mix, but is likely to be in the future, especially once the SSS with its tricky new motor.
The hatchback, in all likelihood, will be Nissan's star performer - which Australia expects to sell a 50/50 mix of form factors.
Kiwis prefer hatchbacks, and we're likely to sell just 20 per cent in sedan form.