CC Outtake: 1987-90 Nissan Pulsar NX – When Nissan Made Small Coupes

Do you remember a time when you could purchase an all-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla, or a turbocharged Dodge Colt, or a Mazda 626 coupe? If so, you remember the 1980s, a time of experimentation, ambition, and tremendous North American growth for Japanese automakers. Although it seemed the Japanese could sell anything to a market hungry for imports, there were some models that were less successful and which have become obscure, like the Pulsar NX.

The second-generation Nissan Pulsar NX – known as EXA (‘ex-a’) in Australia – vies for the title of ‘Most 1980s Car Ever’, although it faces strong competition from the Subaru XT. That wild Subaru may have had the most extreme wedge styling this side of a Lamborghini Countach but it didn’t come with the Pulsar NX’s most unique feature: an optional fiberglass canopy roof known as the Sportbak that turned the wedgy coupe into a boxy little shooting brake/wagon. This option was discontinued from the US market in 1989, although the Pulsar NX still came with t-tops.

While reading up on this little coupe, I found this Australian commercial. I hadn’t realized Nissan marketing pronounced it ‘ex-a’ (they also pronounced coupe the American way). Why the capitalization of EXA, then? Was it not an acronym? If it was, what did it stand for? In Australia, these were hardly strong sellers and are scarcely seen or mentioned nowadays. Their predecessor, also called EXA here, is more fondly recalled thanks to its optional 103 hp 1.5 turbocharged four and its more conventional styling.

Talk about spoilt for choice: the Pulsar NX was slotted in between the Sentra Sport Coupe and the 200SX/240SX in North America, all available for under $15,000. This abundance of coupes in Nissan dealerships meant the company had to make some changes to stop cannibalization. Although the Pulsar NX had lost its most unique feature, the Sportbak option, Nissan also axed the up-level SE’s 125 hp DOHC 1.8 four in 1990 to give the larger SX some breathing room. That left a humble 1.6 four-cylinder with 69 (later 90) horsepower, the same engine that powered the cheaper Sentra Sport Coupe. The 1.6 Pulsar NX, or EXA, was left looking a lot like Ford’s EXP—more cost, more weight, no more power. At least the Nissan sat four people.

Ultimately, the choice between a Sentra coupe and a Pulsar NX came down to which one you thought looked better and whether you wanted to pay an extra $1k or so for the privilege of having removable roof panels. Neither car was a class-leader but both were sufficiently sporty and handled relatively well. Nissan persisted with this compact coupe overlap into the 1990s by replacing the Pulsar NX with the NX and launching a new generation Sentra coupe. Rinse and repeat.

Photographed in Acacia Ridge, Brisbane, Queensland.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: Subaru XT – Forward To The Future In 1985

CC Capsule: 1988 Isuzu Impulse – Wait, What?