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Is the 1990s Nissan Pulsar the most boring car turned interesting?

Antti Kautonen February 9, 2016 Cars You Should Know 15 Comments


A friend of mine has a pretty straight-forward approach towards commuter cars. For winter, his idea is to buy the Nissan Sunny that offers the most value for his money – namely, the longest valid inspection for the least initial cash. He will then proceed to drive the car to the ground or until the road legality inspection runs out, whichever comes first. The idea has been taken as far as to create a currency based on Nissan Sunny values: since beater Nissans are so plentiful here, they can be bought for simply a couple hundred euros. If I suggest another, more expensive car for his winterbeater duties, he’ll most likely respond “But that’s at least a couple Sunny’s worth.” It’s also noteworthy he’s taken a liking to the rounded N14 shape Sunny saloon, as they are more disposable than the already-cool, sharply designed ’80s ones. The underbody is usually quite rusty and the rear wheelarches and wheelwells have as much Bondo in them as is physically possible.

But, in addition to churning out soulless 1.4-litre Sunnys by the boatload in several countries, Nissan also created the GTI-R version from the three-door hatchback. Under the bulging hood was a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine producing 227 horsepower and distributing it to all four wheels by an ATTESA all-wheel-drive system. It could reach 60 mph in five seconds something and hit 140mph, which is certainly far removed from the humdrum family saloon’s abilities. It could well be the biggest single turnaround within one model series, especially considering the bodyshell is still very much a regular-issue Sunny, albeit surely strengthened.


I mean, I don’t exactly hate the saloon Sunny as it stands. It’s a perfectly reliable car, and the dumpy design almost looks balanced in these shots provided by Nissan.


The five-door hatchback looks perhaps a little sportier, but there wasn’t much to back up the need for that rear spoiler.


But now, we’re talking. It’s like color photography was invented.


The transition is not quite unlike the difference between . I don’t know whether any Safari rally specimens were nibbled to death by an okapi, though.




The Pulsar GTI-R might even be one of the great 1990s hot hatch designs, at least visually.


The interior, of course, is pretty much directly lifted from the standard issue cars. Other than the seats and the auxiliary gauges, I see no changes to the basic layout. Even the speedometer goes to “only” 180 km/h, thanks to Japanese top speed restrictions.

  • JayP

    I started down the Rover Metro – MG Metro B Rally car but this may make my point without using a race car.

    • Sjalabais

      I can’t explain why, but when Renault does this:

      …it’s cute, wild, and just awesome. When VW follows the same recipe, I basically just want to cover my eyes.

  • Taylor Nelson

    No joke, I know where a Pulsar GTI-R is sitting right now in the SF bay area. Blew my mind when I happened across it.

    • Amoore


      • Taylor Nelson

        It’s in San Jose. North San Jose near Milpitas.

        • Amoore

          Awesome! So like the Great Mall area? It’s a bit far off from us in West San Jose/Saratoga…

          • Taylor Nelson

            Oh, not that far. I used to live on your part of town. Start at Capitol and Northwood and you’re already in the neighborhood. Plus there’s a great pizza place near there.

  • dead_elvis

    The first 3 photos look like a SAAB 9000 with some sort of birth defect.

  • roguetoaster

    The Hyundai Accent LC deserves a mention too. Going from:

    to this

    • crank_case

      The difference is you could actually walk into a showroom in Europe and buy a road going Sunny GTi-R. I mean there’s a Hyundai i20 WRC car now, but it feels sort of irrelevant because I can’t buy anything remotely interesting in my local dealership. There was a very brief but wonderful window of time in Europe where the Sunny GTi-R, Lancia Delta Integrale, Celica GT4, Subaru Turbo 2000, both the Escort Cosworth and tail end of Sierra Cosworth production were all on sale at the same time.

      • Sjalabais

        …which leads to the next question: How many customers would dare to take home a Hyundai Accent Turbo Gigantus Royale? It is, sort of, strange to see Hyundai pursue such a sport – how does that fit with their market ambitions? Just too attract young people?

        • crank_case

          It’s pretty odd alright, they keep talking about a new N brand but I don’t see much evidence of anythint yet. Then again Peugeot and Citroen were doing the same thing for ages. Hot WRC car, lukwewarm reheated in the microwave showroom fodder with Sebastien Loeb stickers.

          • Sjalabais

            The “N brand” wasn’t even on my radar at all. The aptly named “Coupé” was the one early Hyundai that stepped out of their basic principle of “cheap transportation”, if they manage to pull out a BRZ-competitor now, and if they can spruce it up wildly, WRC-style – pulling the rug from under the Japanese twins (triplings?) – that would be a cool move. Certainly an attention grabber.

  • Rover 1

    In the late eighties and early nineties, when NZ still had a car assembly industry, Nissan were making these models locally. To provide a one make racing series for the Group A Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington street race and the Pukekohe circuit races, 40 special racing versions of this car, the four door Sentra were made.
    Stripped interiors, seam welded bodies, white paint only, lowered stiffened suspension, 14″ alloys and a roll cage came as standard with a sealed 1600 engine.

    They made for very close racing with lots of before the main event. The first main event Group A street race being won by Mark Petch in a Volvo 240 Turbo.
    One or two have survived to the present day and make good circuit/track day cars.

  • Sjalabais

    227hp in such a light car must feel like someone dragging on your pants. I’m still more amazed about your friend continuing to find viable Sunnies. My “big brother” Primera disintegrated from a service record queen to crumbles within hours, it felt like. Same can be said about every similar vintage Nissan in my network. Here’s a taste:

adulttorrent.org/search/obey melanie


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