Yes Yes Yes oh YES!: Sweet little engine, snappy performance, great fuel economy, great value
Oh dear me no: Not hugely pretty, uninspiring interior (initially, then I warmed to it)
The only thing the SSS is missing is a warning sign. Many mourned the passing of the Pulsar name especially when the much-unloved Tida replaced it. Those same people cracked open the champers and rolled out the canapés when the Pulsar was reintroduced. I’ve spent many an hour behind the wheel of an old Pulsar SSS, and despite mistreatment and neglect by its owner (one of my favourite EX’s) it never let me down. For the most part, everything worked well, even years later. I mention this because many among us simply are not car people. Shame on you! You let the oil run low, the tyres run low, the water run low, and the temperature run high and you expect your cars not to disappoint you. Don’t try it with newer generation cars as they are not so forgiving and things will go bang and come away in your hand. There is no point opening the bonnet as “there is nothing to see here, move along”.
It is with mixed emotions that I jumped behind the wheel of the 2014 SSS from Nissan. Nissan promised me I would enjoy it, but I have heard it all before. I’m often handed keys and promised the car will do everything but make a hot dinner, but it does not such thing and I’m left deflated and forlorn.
I must confess, as I approached the SSS I wasn’t overcome with feelings of love and warmness. It looks a little awkward to me. It is a hatch of course, and you either like hatches or you don’t. Hatches are handy but for me that is where it stops most of the time. You can lay the seats down and load odd shaped bits into the back. Perhaps there are some current schools of design that just don’t sit right with me.
Stepping inside via the touch button on the door handle unlocks the system and also allows the car to be started without the key leaving your pocket. The cabin is neat but understated, in fact it is downright plain. I’m gay, I like a bit of colour and movement.
Then I pressed the start button (the little red one on the far right)
The engine spun into life and sounded so smooth and sweet, which improved my demeanour no end. I’d promised to meet friends for a delicious lunch In Leura, and anyone who knows Sydney’s appalling traffic situation will know things can go wrong for absolutely no reason. Such was the case on the day of the delicious lunch. I pulled out of my parking space where I noted how unbelievably light the steering was. This isn’t always a bad thing. There is nothing worse than needing Popeye arms in car parks because steering is so heavy that you have to use all your might at every turn. I waited with some anticipation for the garage door to fully open. From the driveway it is possible to view the end of the street, and the amount of traffic in it. My heart sank as it became clear the delicious lunch was further away than I had hoped. I decided to take an alternate route to access the M5, and in much too long a time, was whizzing along the motorway.
The first 500 metres reminded me very much of the old SSS we loved so much especially once we started to move a bit. It’s not pretentious and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. About now, something interesting began to take place. The dash seemed neat rather than vacant, and the cabin seemed comfy rather than spartan, and I even felt more kindly disposed to the exterior. Why? Because it all felt so familiar, like the logical continuation of a car I already liked.
The gears are very smooth with a light clutch with just the right amount of feel. Again, reminding me very much the old SSS we adored. Then, I hit the M5 East tunnel and things went badly tits-up. We sat in the putrid air with the tunnel vents doing nothing to make the situation any better so I sealed the vents and had a bit of a rummage.
Importantly, all of the Pulsars I drove had Bluetooth. I consider Bluetooth to be a basic human right, like air, and champagne. Anything I test which is sans Bluetooth gets marked down severely. It was a doddle to pair the phone and took a very short time with no need for the manual.
Some of the metal-look trim looks a trifle cheap, but it is a cheap performance car at a sensation under 30K. If you want a premium interior you’ll need to pay another $15,000 for a Golf GTi which is fine if you have another $15,000. I was having a jolly good fiddle, with the Satnav of course, when the traffic began to move. It’s a credit to it that the system is so easy to use and I was able to get an address in before any lockouts cut in. I judge how good a car is by how good it feels on the open road. Australia is a big place and sooner or later you will want to drive across it and there is much to see outside the capital cities. The ride feels quite soft for a hot hatch which set off a few alarm bells. A more compliant suspension usually means the sloppy handling of a shopping cart and the SSS certainly isn’t that. For this price, a buyer would be happy with the compromise between going in a straight line comfortably, and staying on the bitumen when going round corners fast. Personally I don’t enjoy organs being rearranged for the sake of a few corners. If your springs and dampers are so hard that your fillings rattle loose, your life will be a misery for the sake of the small percentage of time you want to throw yourself into death bends. It is not my idea of fun.
The more you drive it the more you want to chuck it round corners. Keeping the gears down and the revs up means the there is always enough in reserve for a cheap thrill. I wouldn’t call the SSS a sports car exactly. It falls short of the hard edge that “hot hatch” buyers seem to like, though god only knows why but then it costs less than similarly sized sports hatches.
The Pulsar is fairly quiet on all but those awful chipped road surfaces. The sad part about that is rarely do you get to hear the little whine from the turbo under the bonnet. 140kw doesn’t sound like a huge amount these days but keep in mind the SSS only weighs 1300 kg. That means it feels nippier than the power suggests. The test car was a manual as mentioned but you also have the option of a CVT. CVT’s are those transmissions with no gears which always seem to be revving the engine to the point of destruction. I understand they are better for fuel economy than a traditional auto, but I don’t like them and shall not speak of it again.
Most hatchbacks are perfect for stowing big things. Those big things will be slid across a flat floor once the rear seats drop down. However, the Nissan doesn’t have a flat floor. The seatbacks fold down but their full thickness sticks up into the cargo area. I slid my bike into the back to nip out for a spot of light exercise and it was all harder than it needed to be. Getting the bike in was only slightly easier than writing War and Peace. There was plenty of space, but the floor made it difficult.
One last point is this: we had 3 beefy lads on board and all felt at home. There no significant difference in performance and we all felt as if there was a good sense of space.
I enjoyed the Pulsar SSS very much. My initial reservations quickly evaporated. It occurred to me that a prospective buyer might need a longer test drive for their reservations to do the same thing. I decided the looks were modern whether I liked it or not. I also concluded that since the cabin had everything in it including leather, I had no complaints there either. In fact were it not for the lack of a flat floor in the cargo area, I’d have had no complaints at all. It is great value and very economical as well as being a good drive. It won’t set the world on fire, but it will make a buyer very happy, and with 3 years roadside assist, safe as well.
Would I buy one? Yes, if I was in the market for a 5 door hatch, and I’d be happy doing it.
Price: from $29,240
Warranty: 3 years roadside assist, 100,000km
Engine: 1.6L four-cylinder turbo, 140kW/240Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or CVT, FWD
Economy: 7.7L/100Km, 185g/km CO2 on premium unleaded