Nissan Pulsar vs Peugeot 308: hatchback high noon
Both Pulsar and 308 are fresh meat, recently thrown into the den of C-segment lions. But which of the new arrivals is best?
The family hatchback market is huge. Competition is fierce and every self-respecting manufacturer has something playing in that sector.
Even so, total newcomers are rare, but that’s exactly what the new Nissan Pulsar is. The Pulsar marks Nissan’s return to the segment after almost a decade away, although to most people – us included – the absence of the Almera never really registered.
Peugeot, too, has brought a serious new player to the market. Yes, the nameplate has been recycled, but the new 308 is unrecognisable from its predecessor. It’s such a reinvention that it has finally forced people to take the French company’s presence in the marketplace seriously.
John Simpson says: Cripes, this could be our dullest-looking head-to-head yet. The fact that both cars are white could be the reason for that but each look miserably anonymous and ‘white goods’.
I’ve said lots of nice things about the 308 in the past but somehow, when it’s placed alongside the pedestrian Pulsar, it comes off as mundane, as if contaminated by the Nissan.
Incorporating much of the same design language as the latest Qashqai, the Pulsar should by rights boast more identity but even after pinching Qashqai’s grille, it still very much looks like an also-ran here.
That said, the Peugeot is hardly the last word in design either but the sharper angled headlights are, for me, the most interesting part of this photo. For that reason, the 308 gets my nod.
James Fossdyke says: Side by side, these cars may well look like white goods, but I think the colour (or lack thereof) has a fair bit to do with that. Seen individually, there’s no doubt in my mind which is the more attractive proposition.
With the 308, Peugeot has managed to build something a bit different without applying any Citroen C4 Cactus-esque wackiness. It’s restrained and understated enough not to scare customers away but it’s still stylish and chic.
The Nissan, on the other hand, is really quite dull. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never call it ugly, but when you see it on the road it just blends into the fuzz of nondescript, uninteresting hatchbacks.
John says: Peugeot’s work towards delivering a clean, almost buttonless dashboard tends to split opinion (virtually all controls are piled into the touchscreen) but I’m definitely a fan. It’s a pity, though, that the touchscreen system isn’t as responsive as some of its rivals and as a result can sometimes get overloaded, crashing in the most extreme instances.
The 308 uses the same tiny steering wheel as the 208 and 2008 – again, not to everyone’s liking but it’s a fun detail that adds a refreshing touch to a segment that can often be accused of being too uptight.
The Pulsar’s Qashqai influence is continued inside with the same steering wheel and gearstick. No touchscreen – you have to go to upper-level N-Tec and Tekna models for that – but our mid trim Acenta uses a simple yet functional sound system with radio, CD, and Bluetooth, MP3, USB, Aux-in connectivity.
It never collapsed under the weight of changing the track like the Peugeot – it just did what any decent car stereo should do: provide a more palatable soundtrack than the sound of tyres hitting tarmac and engine rumble.
Build quality is decent in both and there isn’t anything that I’d expect to break under reasonable use. Both interiors are very practical, very comfortable, very intuitive, but again, the 308 has the edge due to its minimal dashboard and micro steering wheel.
James says: I appreciate the Pulsar’s plentiful interior space, but now I’m afraid I’ve run out positives. Oh well, I’ll have to list the negatives.
For starters, the cabin is dull, the switchgear is crummy and the radio in our Acenta test car looked like it came straight from a 2003 Almera. And that’s before we’ve mentioned the mediocre plastics and that appalling ‘wood’ insert on the dash.
In stark contrast, the 308 is clean, tasteful and, some might be surprised to hear, well built. The plastics are soft, the switchgear feels reasonably solid and though I’m not entirely convinced by the instruments set high in the dash, I quite like the small, sporty steering wheel.
The only thing I don’t like is the metal gear lever, which is freezing cold on a frosty morning.
On the road
James says: I was really hoping that the Nissan would claw something back here, especially if the companies’ crossovers are anything to go by. I’d have a Qashqai over a 3008 any day.
But despite appearances, the Pulsar is no low-riding Qashqai. It’s actually based on the Asia-Pacific market’s Tiida, and that makes it old hat. The 308, however, is all new.
This shows through on the road. The Pulsar is a blunted, numb, uninvolving drive although it must be said that ride comfort is a bona fide plus point.
Peugeot, meanwhile, has built a car that’s darting and pointy and lively – almost the polar opposite of its predecessor. It’s also gifted with one of the smoothest three-cylinder petrol engines around.
John says: Here’s where form feeds into functionality with the 308’s compact steering wheel instilling a more urgent and consequently exuberant drive.
Handling is more responsive than in the Pulsar and it makes for a more jovial drive than the comparatively dull Nissan. With a 15hp advantage, the 128bhp 308 is also quicker off the mark, arriving at 62mph almost half a second sooner (10.3s to 10.7s).
Both feature a six-speed manual gearbox too and it’s the Peugeot (which has a recent history of vague and ‘wobbly’ gearboxes) that feels the most assured. The Pulsar has the edge in the comfort stakes, excluding a touch more external noise from the cabin than the 308, but the Peugeot’s smoother ride makes it the preferable choice.
Because the Pulsar has a much smaller engine range than the Peugeot, entry-level models (£14,995) cost £1,000 more than the basic 308 (£13,995). Like-for-like models though, are much more evenly priced.
That’s reflected in lease rates. Business deals start from around £120 per month for the Pulsar while 308s start at about £115. There’s even less in it for personal leasing deals, with both cars starting from about £140 a month.
Both our test cars came in 1.2-litre petrol guise, with the Pulsar boasting a 113bhp four-cylinder unit and the Peugeot a 128bhp three-pot.
Surprisingly, despite being more powerful, the Peugeot is the more economical. Official fuel consumption is 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 107g/km, but the 17in alloys of our test car had an effect on efficiency as well as power, cutting economy to 58.9mpg and upping emissions to 110g/km.
Even so, the Pulsar can’t quite match the 308, but in all honesty 117g/km CO2 emissions and 56.5mpg aren’t too shabby. Consider too, that in the real world, the difference is even less marked.
John says: No contest for me, 308 all the way. The Pulsar isn’t terrible but it feels so mediocre in every area that when it comes up against something that has been developed with a bit of heart, it simply can’t compete.
For a business running a fair few Qashqais, adding some Pulsars makes sense for a smart uniformed fleet but you’d have to be a bit OCD to take that route.
James says: It’s a whitewash for the Peugeot, I’m afraid. In a market where the brilliant Focus and Golf reign supreme, being mediocre isn’t really good enough. Of course, I’d never suggest that the 308 is as good as the Ford or the VW either, but it’s up there with the Seat Leon among the best of the rest.