The Sylphy's better half

The new Nissan Pulsar seems to make a better visual statement for young drivers than its saloon sibling

Nissan has finally buried the Tiida nameplate for good in Thailand. After renaming its new-generation saloon the Sylphy, the Japanese car-maker did the same by calling the hatchback variant the Pulsar.

However, Nissan is keen to point out that the Sylphy and Pulsar are now true C-segment contenders, unlike their Tiida predecessors (the four-door was called the Tiida Latio) that couldn't really identify their standpoint in the Thai car market. Hence, the change of appellation.

While Sylphy is a completely new name for Thais, Pulsar isn't. More than 20 years back, the Pulsar was represented here in the form of a hatchback _ which gives Nissan a good reason to call its newest hatchback the Pulsar.

Nissan has also succeeded in giving the new Pulsar a more youthful image than the rather conservative Sylphy, regardless of whether one is talking about the exterior or the interior.

The engine works best when driven casually.

Although both Nissans share the same basic design language, it's the details that make the two slightly different in their appeal.

The Pulsar has a meshed front grille, wavier lines, more curvaceous lights and a C-pillar look aping that of the Murano SUV (and Qashqai crossover, if you're familiar with European roads).

The 17-inch wheels of the Pulsar look good, too, but they are reserved for the 1.8-litre model _ the vehicle tested here this week. The Sylphy has 16-inchers, whichever engine you opt for.

Inside, the Pulsar exudes a sporty ambience thanks to the use of black leather and alloy-like plastics, in contrast to the Sylphy's cream hide and faux-wood trim. The Pulsar's jazzy appeal is topped off by a sunroof, a feature which, along with a sat-nav system, is reserved for the range-topping Pulsar.

Nissan has differentiated the Pulsar and Sylphy in the right manner because traditional palates are more likely to fall for saloons, while the more contemporary-minded should plump for hatchbacks.

Prices for the Pulsar will be announced on March 7 when the car is launched. But Life understands that the priciest model will cost around 950,000 baht, going down to 920,000 baht for the next and only other variant.

After a lengthy absence, the Pulsar name is back.

Although the Pulsar has proper safety gear for all five occupants (the Sylphy doesn't have a head restraint for the fifth seat), other features don't exactly come in abundance; there are only dual airbags and braking electronics. That's it, for a compact car only 50k shy of the 1 million baht mark.

You might be expecting the Pulsar to pull off some tricks, once it's on the move, to compensate for this omission. You may also hope that it feels better to drive than the Sylphy, given the Pulsar's sportier appeal.

The thing is, it doesn't, because the Pulsar is merely the hatchback variant of the Sylphy.

The 131hp 1.8-litre engine and CVT automatic transmission behaves just like that in the Sylphy, which isn't surprising because they're identical _ just like other in-class body relatives of rival brands, be it the Ford Focus or the Mazda 3.

The Pulsar works best when driven casually, with the engine delivering power smoothly and tending to drop the revs as soon as possible in the interest of fuel economy.

The harder you stab the gas pedal, or when sport mode in the CVT 'box is engaged, the motor starts to become quite erratic and noisy. Like in the Sylphy, the Pulsar loves to be driven in an unhurried fashion. You could be expecting its driving manners to be slightly different, but this is only true on a microscopic scale due to the 17-inch wheels shod with 50-aspect ratio tyres.

The Pulsar turns with slightly more eagerness, but the overall handling still leans towards comfort without any whiff of it being a driver's car. Like the Sylphy, the Pulsar doesn't get it wrong on straight roads and prefers them over corners.

These stylish 17-inchers can make the ride a tad uncomfortable.

Another factor that differentiates the Pulsar is the harshness of the secondary ride over less-perfect road surfaces which is caused by its bigger wheels and slimmer tyre profile.

The Pulsar's mission is clear: comfort takes precedence over driving fun, unlike the Mazda 3 which still can't decide which route to take.

Ultimately, this still makes the Focus the most accomplished C-segment hatchback to drive, as well as being one of the prettiest cars in-class.

Even so, the Pulsar stands out with a spacious body, easy driving manners and decent fuel economy _ just like in the Sylphy.

Despite being an unsatisfying car to drive, the Pulsar will still win the hearts of many real-world motorists.

If you find the Sylphy too traditional, the Pulsar is your alternative. While it won't necessarily rattle the competition, the Pulsar will certainly enhances Nissan's Thai car menu.

AT A GLANCE

Styling ............................... 7/10

The Pulsar has distinctive design cues against other C-segment hatchbacks, although it's not the best-looking.

Engine and economy............. 8/10

Mated to a CVT automatic, the 1.8-litre engine is about smooth performance and fuel economy.

Handling and ride................. 6/10

There's a hint of some firmness from the 17-inch tyres, but the chassis is still about comfort and not fun.

Practicality ......................... 7/10

There's lots of cabin space for occupants, but the boot floor isn't flat in extended form.

Safety kit ............................ 7/10

All five occupants get proper safety gear. There are only two airbags and braking electronics.

VERDICT ............................. 7/10

Nissan has rightfully made the Pulsar less conservative than its Sylphy sibling, but it feels practically as soulless on the move. It isn't a game-changer, just a new addition.

‘Like in the Sylphy, the Pulsar loves to be driven in an unhurried fashion’

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About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor