Nissan serves up a gourmet offering with its hatch
When it comes to Kiwi nostalgia it's easy to compare Georgie Pie with Nissan's sporty Pulsar SSS hatchback.
They were both popular in New Zealand in the 1990s (you probably drove a Pulsar through a Georgie Pie drivethru), both products disappeared around the same time - and now both are reappearing in New Zealand.
But one is a hit, the other just a slice of nostalgia. Having tested the Georgie Pie this weekend (as research for this story, of course) I decided it was a winner in the 1990s because of the $1 price.
And as Nissan New Zealand's managing director, John Manley, pointed out, the Georgie Pie price has increased four-fold while his Pulsar SSS hatch has stayed the same price as it was when last on sale here in 2000.
When the Pulsar badge left New Zealand it was replaced by the awkwardly named Tiida, but in March this year the sedan version returned and is now to be joined by the hatch that went on sale on June 1.
At the Melbourne launch last week Manley introduced the three Pulsar hatchback models which will come in two engine variants, all with automatic constantly variable transmission (CVT). Only the Aussies gain a six-speed manual option.
In New Zealand the base model ST will start at $29,990 with a 1.8-litre engine with 96kW of power and 175Nm of torque. It sits on 16-in alloys and has, as standard, air-con, cruise control, Bluetooth and remote keyless entry.
Next up is the ST-S priced at $34,990 paired with the 1.6-litre turbocharged direct-inject engine offering 140kW of power. It gains 17-in alloys and front fog lights to give it a more sporty appearance.
But the most sought after of the fleet is the SSS, which gains the 1.6-turbo engine, the CVT with manual mode override, a sporty damper setting plus front spoilers, side-skirts and rear lower spoiler.
It also has the most advanced interior features of the three Pulsar hatchback models with 5.4in touch screen, sat nav, rear-view camera and push-button engine start.
And Manley is expecting Kiwi consumers to snap up the first major shipment expected next month.
"The response to the Pulsar coming back to the New Zealand market has been fantastic," he said.
"There is a lot of hype because the SSS is a genuine sporty hatch not just a car with a body kit on it. It's a performance vehicle."
Manley also has fond memories of the badge, having driven a "bright red SSS" when he was starting out as a salesman at a Nissan dealership.
"And at a recent meeting with our advertising agency, every single person there had a owned or had a SSS as a company car - and they were aged in their 30s to their 50s, male and female," said Manley.
Built in Thailand, but refined for the Australasian market, the Pulsar hatch will be competing for company car sales in New Zealand against the likes of the Kia Rio, Holden Cruze and Hyundai i30 and the all-conquering Toyota Corolla.
But style-wise, the Pulsar hatch has a more cohesive styling than the Corolla through both the exterior and the interior.
Testing the three models last week - taking in inner-city Melbourne driving plus winding country roads to the Yarra Valley - the Pulsar hatchbacks had to cope with wet conditions and slippery roads. The sporty performance of the SSS was evident but for the Aussie launch it was available only with the six-speed manual transmission.
And although that nimble transmission worked extremely well with the hatchback, as Manley rightly pointed out, these days manual transmissions are not city-friendly.
Sure, it was great fun moving up and down the gears as the car was moving up and down the hills in the Yarra Valley. However, in Auckland's stop-start traffic that transmission would be tiresome.
Added to that fact is that the Pulsar will be part of the fleet where most Gen Y employees have drivers' licenses for automatics only.
Moving into the ST-S to test the CVT system, the combination of the 1.6-turbo engine and the transmission worked well in tandem, though it needed prodding to get to the top gear at times, especially when manoeuvring around corners at speed.
The mild-mannered ST, sitting on 16-in tyres, felt like its engine needed a feed up of pies to compete with the turbo version - though probably not a Georgie Pie, instead a gourmet one, I reckon.