Ask most anyone from age 18 to 80 to name a full-size cargo van and chances are good they'll say Ford Econoline (now called the E Series), Chevrolet Express or GMC Savana. And today's versions aren't much different from what roamed the roads when Chevy Van was a top 10 single. The snub-nose architecture of these vans means the engine intrudes somewhat into the passenger cabin (fortunately less so than in the early days), while the lack of a high-roof option means occasional sore backs (from stooping) and sore heads (from knocking one's noggin).
Yes, the high-roof Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has recently become available. But it is rather expensive and its relatively small (albeit fuel-efficient) turbodiesel engine isn't capable of heavy-duty hauling like the current old-school American vans. The folks at Nissan see an opportunity here, and it has given rise to the 2012 Nissan NV full-size van.
Although Nissan makes all sorts of commercial vehicles for worldwide use, the NV is the first to hit American soil. Three models (1500, 2500 and 3500); two roofs (standard and high top); two trims (S and SV); and two engines (V6 and V8) will be offered. Moving up through the models means increased work capacity (e.g. payloads and/or towing) The base S comes with the basics such as air conditioning and a CD player, while the SV adds chrome exterior accents, full power features, upgraded audio (four speakers instead of two), cruise control and rear park assist. Pricing ranges from $24,590 for the 1500 S to $29,790 for the 3500 SV.
We've briefly sampled a few NVs and even driven them to Home Depot and transported building materials, and we have come away impressed.
Compared to the slightly more expensive Econoline and Express/Savana, the 2012 Nissan NV doesn't offer a diesel engine option, but it does provide more driver and passenger space, more pleasant driving dynamics and of course more practicality via the available tall roof. And pitted against the Sprinter, the NV provides more power for hauling and towing (up to 9,500 pounds) while it lists for about $10,000 less.
By offering the burly work capability of the traditional American van, the practical advantages of an available high roof, pleasing on-road dynamics and very attractive pricing, we don't see how Nissan can miss with its new commercial vehicle.
The 2012 Nissan NV is available with either a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine or a 317-hp 5.6-liter V8. Both engines are paired to a five-speed automatic. We've sampled both powertrains and could easily recommend either one, depending on one's needs.
Nissan's V6 has established a good reputation for strong performance and reliability, and even with our NV loaded up with building materials to donate to Habitat for Humanity, it provided smooth and ample performance on city streets and while running 70 mph on the freeway. As expected, the V8 offers more effortless thrust, and its performance was less affected when the van was burdened with sheetrock and lumber. In both cases, the automatic furnishes smooth and timely gearchanges, while the brakes feel reassuringly firm and progressive.
For its considerable size (we're talking 18 inches longer than a Chevy Suburban), the Nissan NV is fairly easy to handle thanks to good sight lines to each front corner, precise steering and solid tracking at higher speeds.
Nissan understands that buyers of these vans are likely to spend some long hours behind the wheel. As such, the well-shaped seats provide solid back and leg support and kept us comfortable during a half-day's drive. By using an SUV/pickup-like front end, the NV provides notably more space than a typical van for the driver's and passengers' legs and feet. The cloth seats feature vinyl bolsters in high-wear areas (all-vinyl upholstery is available), the sun visors are huge and (unique in this segment) and the available center console storage box can accommodate a laptop computer and hanging files. We don't care for the industrial-grade plastic used for the armrests on the doors and the console lid.
Even when not loaded with cargo, the NV delivers a decent ride, and adding some payload softens it up a bit. Wind and noise levels are fairly muted for such a boxy vehicle, even at freeway speeds. We'd suggest springing for the SV trim as its rear park assist feature is simply priceless while parallel parking. An optional Technology package provides satellite radio, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and a rear view camera.
All the gauges and controls are large and intuitive to understand, while a number of small cubbies provide handy stowage for parking cards, cell phones and power bars. Cupholders are generously sized as well, and there are four of them between the seats.
The NV sports nearly vertical side walls, which means more space inside for racks and such without encroaching on center walk-through space. Getting into the business end of the van is aided by rear doors that swing open 243 degrees (and stay open thanks to magnets on the van's sides), well-placed grab handles and a relatively low step-in height.
A unique feature is the free body-side graphic treatment that allows you to advertise your business billboard-style on the van's sides. After you create your own design on an Internet tool provided by the NV's dedicated Web site, the graphics are built and installed at no charge.
The standard-roof NV offers 234 cubic feet of cargo space, while the high-top provides 323 cubes. In the latter, people up to 6-foot-3 can stand up straight. Six D-rings on the floor allow cargo to be secured easily (each is rated for a tensile strength of 1,124 pounds). The NV also boasts integral mounting points (bolt holes) so the cargo area can be modified with racks or mounts, simplifying the task of tailoring the NV for different tasks.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Nissan NV is strictly utilitarian, so style obviously takes a way-back seat to function. Still, the NV's SUV-like shnozz and Nissan's signature three-slot grille give it some distinction. The no-nonsense cabin has materials typical of such commercial vehicles (meaning mostly hard plastic), while overall fit and finish is solid. In addition, the controls have a quality feel to their action.
Who should consider this vehicle
Savvy small business owners should take note of the work capacity, practicality and user-friendly personality of the 2012 Nissan NV. Given its attractive pricing, ease of modification and number of worthwhile features, the NV should appeal to a wide variety of customers, ranging from florists, bakers and delivery services to plumbers and building contractors.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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