The ‘90s was a golden era for the hot hatch. Greats like the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS and Renault Clio Williams ushered a new era in, while the end of the millennium saw the EK9 Honda Civic Type R kick off a whole new breed of Japanese performance hatches. For all the legends though, there are many forgotten, including one car that was aimed squarely at the Civic.
We’re talking about the Nissan Pulsar VZ-R N1, which arrived in 1997. It’s that final bit of the name that’s key, with the N1 denoting this version of the Japanese hot hatch as a homologation special to go racing.
Based on the N15 Pulsar VZ-R, the N1 had a pretty potent base to work with. Equipped with Nissan’s SR16VE, a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, it had 197bhp on tap - or 123.4bhp-per-litre, the highest specific output of a production car at the time which it nabbed from the EK9. No, seriously - supercars included.
That gave it a 15bhp advantage over the Civic. However, for all of its power, chassis changes weren’t made - which the VZ-R already sorely needed. Its suspension setup was shared with the base Pulsar, which was sold in Europe as the rather drab Almera. You’d be able to tell the VZ-R apart by its racier body kit and tacked-on rear wing.
In contrast, the EK9 had a limited slip differential to help manage its power and only fell 0.1 second short of the Pulsar in the 0-60mph sprint despite lagging behind in power.
A Version II VZ-R N1 was released to add some more appeal. Power remained unchanged but the car did get a new Fujitsubo exhaust, orange bucket seats and some slight chassis changes. However, it still couldn’t topple the Type R.
The N1 is a rare beast with just 500 made, split between 200 Version Is and 300 Version IIs, and only ever sold in Japan. A tidy example will set you back around £20,000 before import fees.
Perhaps the VZ-R N1’s biggest problem wasn’t the EK9, though, but rather the Pulsar GTI-R that came before it. That car was a ballistic Group A homologation special in the same vein as the Lancia Delta Integrale, offering 230bhp from its SR20DET - and performance figures around the same as a new Toyota GR Yaris. Filling such boots was always going to be a hard task for a front-driven car.