Following the name change from Sentra to Pulsar in 1998, Nissan's popular compact model has received a styling revamp to mimic the much larger Maxima.
The skilful design carries over into the spacious cabin, which provides comfortable seating for four adults although a centre rear lap belt is not recommended for restraining a passenger unless absolutely necessary.
Front seats are very comfortable and provide good support with the driver position having plenty of adjustable movement and tilt action of the seat squab. Top pillar mounts for the front seat belts have four set positions and the steering wheel is also height adjustable. One disappointment is the stalk levers which feel a bit cheap given the standards of the rest of the vehicle.
Rear seat passengers get ample leg and head room and although the rear seat backs are fixed, there is an aperture behind the centre rear armrest through to the boot for carrying ski's or long objects.
Boot carrying space has been increased to 430 litres with a reasonable 700mm lip to lift luggage up and over. There is some space around the spare wheel to store small items if required.
There's a new 1.6 litre engine in the sedan, while five door hatch versions have either 1.5 litre or 1.8 litre engines, we tested the 1.6 and found it's flat torque curve provides very robust mid-range pulling ability from low speed. Maximum torque output is [email protected] but it's producing almost that from as low as 2400rpm.
This does not however make the Pulsar a performance model. From a standstill it requires a huge amount of throttle to get away quickly and it is not until the revs climb over 4000rpm that any urge is felt.
Our LX test vehicle had a new electronically controlled four speed automatic transmission, which functioned very smoothly. As the forth gear is quite a high ratio overdrive, which provides efficient fuel returns on the highway, the auto changes down with only slight throttle applications and is best locked out of overdrive when negotiating hills or in slow traffic.
Front suspension is MacPherson struts and a new multi-link beam axle supports the rear. Suspension settings are well balanced for a comfortable ride and good handling ability.
New pulsar models carry excellent feature levels with LX versions having remote central locking including an engine immobiliser and delay fade for the interior lights, drivers air bag, electric window operation with auto down/up for the drivers glass, electric adjust exterior mirrors, electric boot release, air conditioning and stereo with single CD player.
Additional for the LS versions are ABS braking and a front passenger air bag.
We also found the wagon version to be a very practical and well laid out load carrier. Along with the good passenger space, the sizeable luggage area can be extended by folding the rear seat backs onto the low set squabs for a flat floor up to the back of the front seats.
The wagon retains the preferable torsion beam axle for a lower rear floor and better load carrying ability. Tie hooks are fitted to the boot floor to secure loads and roof rails come as standard to carry extra long, light articles.
Wagons are powered by a revised 1.5 litre engine mated to a five speed manual, which handles the job very well and provides excellent fuel returns of 6.1 litres per 100km on average
The wagon has the feature levels of the LS sedan but lacks the engine immobiliser, electric boot release and tilt adjust driver's seat squab.