What stands out?

The Nissan Pulsar’s strength is that it’s big for a small car. A long, broad body on a lengthy wheelbase gives it generous interior space, and the sedan a gigantic boot. Nissan’s stout reliability reputation counts in the Pulsar’s favour.

What might bug me?

Having to stump-up for delivery at Ikea – your long, flat-pack furniture won’t fit in the sedan’s great big boot, because the rear seatbacks don’t fold down.

What body styles are there?

Four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. Nissan announced in April 2016 that it had ceased to import the hatchback, and about the end of 2016 it dropped the sedan also.

The Pulsar drives its front wheels, and it is classed as a small car, lower priced.

What features do all Pulsars have?

Air-conditioning, power windows and hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Cruise control, and a CD/MP3 and radio unit – both controllable from buttons on the steering wheel.

Aluminium alloy wheels – usually lighter and better looking than steel – and a full-size steel spare wheel.

Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and a curtain airbag on each side protecting the heads of front and rear occupants from side impacts.

Electronic stability control, which can help the driver to control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

Every Nissan Pulsar carries a three-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine found in most Pulsar hatchbacks and sedans is the more economical of the two engines available. It uses 6.7 litres/100km on the official test (urban and country) with the automatic gearbox, and 7.2 litres/100km with the manual ‘box.

The other engine, a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder, is more appealing, providing about 40 per cent more power in most driving conditions while using only 10-15 per cent more petrol. However, the turbo 1.6 is available only in the relatively costly SSS sedan and hatch.

The manual gearbox on Pulsars is a six-speeder, while the auto is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT does away with fixed gear ratios, instead responding steplessly to the driver’s demands – which usually makes the car better to drive and cuts fuel use.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

Spending more to step up to the Pulsar ST-L sedan or hatch buys you rear parking sensors, an iPod compatible USB port for the audio system, premium cloth seat trim, a leather-accented steering wheel, foglights and a rear spoiler.

The ST-L sedan also gets a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation, a reversing camera, dual-zone air-conditioning (which allows different temperatures on either side of the cabin) and Bluetooth audio streaming.

Spending more again for a Pulsar SSS gets you the more powerful, turbocharged engine, and 17-inch wheels fitted with wider tyres in a lower profile (which improve grip and steering response). Cosmetic enhancements include front and rear lower aerodynamic spoilers, and side skirts. A manual mode gives you more control of the auto gearbox.

SSS hatchbacks gain the extra equipment that comes on the ST-L sedan: Bluetooth audio, a reversing camera, the colour touchscreen, sat-nav, and dual-zone air-con. (The SSS sedan has these things too.)

The doors of SSS sedans and hatchbacks can be unlocked while the key remains secure in a pocket or handbag, and the seat trim has leather accents. Headlamps switch on automatically when it gets dark, and have extremely bright xenon bulbs with auto-levelling.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The Pulsar SSS’s front lower spoiler makes it more likely to scrape on steep driveways or speed humps.

You might slide around more on the leather seats than on the more grippy cloth versions.

Five of the seven colours available are metallic, and come at an additional cost.

How comfortable is the Pulsar?

The Nissan Pulsar offers reasonable comfort thanks to relatively soft suspension settings. However, those settings also allow the body to tilt in corners more than many other small cars, which diminishes comfort in its own unsettling way.

The armchair-like standard front seats are very comfortable for drives of up to two hours, and the driving position is ergonomically sound – and easily adjusted, with help from the standard height and reach adjustable steering column.

The Pulsar is reasonably quiet and free of vibration and harshness inside – about average for a small car. The design of the dashboard and switchgear is conservative.

What about safety in a Pulsar?

Pulsar ST versions and the ST-L hatch receive a safety rating of Very Good. The addition of a reversing camera and other safety enhancements elevates the ST-L sedan and both versions of the Pulsar SSS to Excellent.

Automatic emergency braking, which is available on some small cars, is not offered on any Pulsar.

(To see a full list of the safety features on any model, select the car and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Nissan Pulsar sedan and hatchback its maximum five-star rating.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

For the enthusiastic driver, the Pulsar is one of the less engaging new small cars. Its electrically assisted power steering feels unresponsive in the initial degrees of steering wheel rotation, and the response generally feels imprecise by comparison with many alternatives.

On challenging roads, the soft suspension lets the Pulsar’s body bob on the springs, which undermines cornering ability. The level of cornering grip from the tyres feels relatively low, especially in less expensive versions with the 16-inch wheels and narrower rubber.

The turbocharged 1.6-litre engine in the Pulsar SSS is a big improvement on the 1.8-litre engine powering other models. It is flexible, powerful and rewarding to spin into the higher rev-range. However, engine aside, the SSS does not feel much sportier than any other Pulsar.

The manual transmission is not a rewardingly tactile gearbox to operate, and the clutch pedal feels surprisingly heavy to press.

In SSS Pulsars, the automatic transmission can be manually operated using gear-shift paddles behind the steering wheel. That helps make them more fun to drive than other automatic Pulsars.

How is life in the rear seats?

Rear-seat accommodation is perhaps the best aspect of the Pulsar. The rear compartment of the cabin is huge, thanks to the Pulsar’s long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles), which translates directly into rear cabin room. The wheelbase ties with the Toyota Corolla sedan’s as the longest in a small car.

The rear seat itself is cushy and comfortable, with a well angled backrest and good under-thigh support. ST-L and SSS sedans have a centre rear armrest.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Pulsar sedan offers a capacious 510-litre boot. That’s 15 litres bigger than the boot of an Australian-built Holden Commodore, a large car. But the rear seatback does not fold down.

The hatchback’s body is shorter, and as a result its cargo bay is smaller than the sedan’s, at 310 litres.

The hatch makes up for that to some degree by having 60/40 split-folding rear backrests, and therefore the ability to carry longer items of luggage.

Where is the Pulsar made?

The Nissan Pulsar is manufactured in Thailand.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Many alternatives offer more standard and optional equipment, better smartphone connectivity, more power from their most basic engine upwards, or more enjoyable handling – sometimes all in the one car.

For example, you can’t get rain-sensing wipers on a Pulsar at any price, but many other small cars have these on some versions.

The Mazda3 offers automatic emergency braking on all models, and AEB is available on several other small cars. Sensors detect obstacles in front of the car – typically another car that has slowed suddenly – and a computer applies the brakes if it concludes that a collision is imminent.

The Renault Megane and Hyundai i30 offer five-year warranties, and the Kia Cerato is warrantied for seven years. Among other small cars you might consider are the Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza, and Honda Civic.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The least costly model, the ST, is our pick of the line-up – but the sedan rather than the hatch, for its big boot. The equipment level isn’t brilliant in the ST, but it’s not great in higher specification versions either.

Are there plans to update the Pulsar soon?

This C12 series Nissan Pulsar arrived in Australia in 2013 – it was updated into series two form in April 2015. In April 2016, Nissan said it would not replace existing stock of the Pulsar hatchback. It would continue to import the sedan, however.

About February 2017 the Pulsar sedan was dropped from the Nissan range also, with the company electing not to revise its engines to meet a more stringent Australian emissions standard. Nissan said plans were under way to replace the Pulsar.