SSS — with three consonants, Nissan marks the definitive return of the warm hatch
Nissan’s Pulsar SSS, a badge not seen for 12 years, marks the definitive return of the warm hatch at a family friendly $30K
A FEELING of warmth pervades the very middle of the small car class. Barely discernible at the year’s outset, the sensation spreads slowly but surely.
We speak of the warm hatch — a sub-species to be found pretty much at the mid-point between the $19K economy five-door and the $40K hottie, a la Volkswagen’s Golf GTI. As yet there’s not a lot of competition in this league— the three you see under
‘‘ Others to consider’’ are almost the field— but the return of a badge to which boy racers once aspired is a sure sign that the game’s afoot in the middle ground.
The SSS is, for those of a certain age, synonymous with a hatch less ordinary. Discontinued in 2001, it was the model that informed then big-car-loving ‘Strayans that a small car could come with a satisfying serving of performance and a soupcon of fun without being a Subaru Impreza.
It’s to the middle way that the revived SSS returns, with a slightly lesser ST-S variant to keep the price nicer.
Nissan’s new hatch range starts from a cheeky $18,990 for the ST manual, a symbolic but meaningless $500 under the far better equipped entry Cruze.
ST-S is a new model name, one that includes all the bits found in the mid-grade ST-L but with the turbo engine of the SSS. At $24,490, this is in almost every respect a direct rival for the Cruze SRi, with the expected step above entry kit including front fog lights, rear spoiler, small colour display plus 17-inch alloys and auto adds $2500.
From $29,240, the SSS cops intelligent xenon lights, front spoiler and skirts, bigger screen with satnav, rear-view camera with distance guidelines, leather trim and keyless entry and go. This is a shade north of the SRi-V version of the Cruze but the latter lacks satnav, so the triple-S makes the running in this still new terrain.
Direct fuel injected fourcylinder turbo petrol engines are de rigueur in European cars, driven by the push to lower emissions. It’s been long acknowledged in that part of the planet that a 1.6 or even 1.4 turbo engine can out pull a much bigger and heavier naturally aspirated engine while returning far superior economy.
It’s a rule that applies beyond affordable small cars. The entire engine line-up of BMW consists of direct injected turbo engines. Take the humble Falcon (please— someone take it): the fourcylinder direct injection Ecoboost loses nothing in performance to the ancient straight six while sipping and emitting far less. Yet among Japanses makers, Nissan is almost alone in grasping let alone implementing this.
This example of the species puts out a nice 140kW/240Nm, placing it firmly in the thick of the warm hatch milieu. Naturally a six-speed manual is the standard transmission but the Pulsar’s auto option— uniquely in this sub-segment — is a continuously variable jobbie with manual presets.
The Pulsar sedan, released earlier this year, is among the better selling small cars. You could be forgiven for being unaware of this, so utterly anonymous is its design. Possibly there have been cars of less inspiring appearance but the Nissan four-door is nigh on invisible.
The hatchback, of which two milder version are released this week in addition to the turbo twins, is going to be easier to find in a crowded carpark. It’s very much of the moment— stylised lights, sharp creases and high sill line, which does little for the little ones who want to see out of the back.
That incremental price increase between grades— some $5000 between ST-S and SSS— is fair enough given the step up in quality. Still, this is no Audi, nor even a Golf— though at the moment that could be a good thing. But seriously, folks, you might get leather and bigger satnav screen in the SSS but you’re not unaware that this is (like
the Cruze SRi-V) a mildly embellished econocar. Yet there’s plenty of air in there. As it stands a smidge taller than most small cars, grown-ups won’t hate being in the back.
Pulsar’s sedan was smashed