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FIRST DRIVE: IS NISSAN's NEW PULSAR good enough to worry best-selling GOLF AND FOCUS?

Enter the lion's den with a swagger and you'd better have the cojones to back it up - or you're going to get savaged.

That was the very thought that entered my mind when we discovered that Nissan was launching a new family hatchback.

The fact that the C-Segment is the most ferocious is bad enough, but with heavyweights such as Golf, Focus and Astra at the top of the food chain, any pretenders to the crown need to bring their A game.

The stats don't lie: with almost 30pc of the entire market (or one in three cars sold), the C-segment has maintained a steady course - even in the most disastrous year of 2009 - holding 28.5pc market share.

Even in the dawn of a new era when Qashqai revolutionised family motoring, it was the big saloon or D-Segment cars such as Mondeo, Passat and Avensis that bore the brunt of that tsunami.

With hindsight, the Japanese car giant may have been a bit too hasty putting the Almera out to grass.

But it is back and with a serious contender - a car good enough to muscle its way into the top five again.

To do this, the Pulsar is targeting three main areas - space, spec and price.

From the outside this hatch looks no bigger than its rivals?

Wrong. It's sitting on a wheelbase of 2,700mm, giving a massive "best in class" 692mm of legroom.

More importantly, there is oceans of head and elbow room front and rear - it could easily accommodate five hefty six-footers like me.

The boot is again up there with the Golf - swallowing 395 litres of luggage and 1,395 with the seats folded.

It's hampered, though, by a high loading lip and awkward wheel arch bulges inside.

Interior-wise, Nissan played it safe, opting for an almost identical design as the Qashqai, but the use of hard scratchy plastics, especially in the lower dash, cheapens the feel.

Thankfully, Nissan didn't scrimp on the goodies, which brings us to spec in three trims - XE, SV and SVE.

Standard kit includes Bluetooth, air con, cruise control, electric windows all round, tyre pressure monitors and height adjustable front seat.

Pony up an extra €1,400 for the SV and you'll get alloys, fog lamps, auto light, wipers, climate control and keyless entry.

The Pulsar will be powered by two engines - a 1.2 litre petrol generating 115bhp in manual or auto, both with road tax of €200, or a 1.5 litre diesel with 110bhp which is returning 78mpg (3.6l/100km). Tax is €180. Both behave impeccably on country roads, with the diesel cruising effortlessly on the motorway.

Handling is nothing special, and neither vexed nor impressed me. In fact, that pretty much sums the Pulsar up - it is genuinely hard to fault.

The lack of drive dynamic and fun means it won't worry the aforementioned, but it is sure to cause Toyota (Corolla and Auris) a few sleepless nights.

Finally, the price - the new Nissan Pulsar starts at €19,995.