Lately, it seems a lot of car companies are thinking small – or, at least, smaller. Mini’s comeback has been undeniable; the Smart car is showing up in tiny parking spaces in cities across the U.S. And, even big SUVs that were de rigeur in the ‘90s are being replaced by their more svelte cousins in the crossover utility segment
Nissan, whose Cube has given the compact utility segment a fresh, modern face in recent seasons, is no stranger to thinking small. But in 2012, this popular Japanese manufacturer is also thinking big – really big. Big enough to fit a painter’s ladders or a craftsman’s tool chests. Big enough to fit nearly a dozen people. That’s big!
The 2012 Nissan NV (Nissan van) will appeal to a wide audience of buyers that need to carry loads of goods, as well as purveyors that carry groups and gear, such as colleges, churches and airport livery services.
What’s the big deal
The first version of Nissan’s first commercial model for the U.S. market, the 2012 NV van, is designed to be a mobile office, mobile workshop or both. Available in both standard and high-roof versions, the NV comes with numerous creature comforts, unique customization features, and is available with two powertrains and in three models. It competes with the Ford E-Series and GM Express/ Chevy Savannah and the first version to come to market is targeted at tradesmen of various sorts and fleet owners, like ambulance and RV companies. The multi-passenger version will come next year.
What we drove
We tested 4 different versions of the 2012 Nissan NV on drive routes in urban and suburban Miami. Nissan made a significant donation to the Miami Habitat for Humanity and assigned our automotive evaluator teams to pick up a wide variety of building materials and deliver them to a building site. This gave us the first-hand experience to see the utility of the regular and high-roof vans, as they were loaded with materials, and also to drive the vans with a heavy payload to evaluate handling.
We were impressed by the low-end torque of the NV’s V-6 when entering freeways and passing at highway speeds, and noted its fuel economy savings over a V8 powertrain. We appreciated the top-end power of the V-8 and found the automatic transmission operated in a seamless fashion, when up- and down-shifting. Top of our list of “likes” was the creative interior packaging, the van’s responsive, well-weighted steering and its tight turning radius. Just like the Nissan Titan, the interior feels like stepping into a Big and Tall Man’s store, with large-sized controls, knobs and seats. As a small-sized driver, I’d order these items in a more nimble size, however, Nissan’s designers pointed out that all controls allow for drivers and passengers to use them with gloved hands-a nifty thought!
Strong Enough to Get the Job Done
Two powertrains are available for the 2012 Nissan NV: a 4.0-liter V-6, making 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, and a 5.6-liter V-8, rated at 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. Both are mated to a five-speed automatic on the rear-wheel drive. Nissan plans to offer a 4WD next year. A hybrid-electric model is also under consideration.
Workspace on the Go?
What’s really interesting about the new NV is what’s inside: it has a genuinely comfortable interior with large seats, ample storage and features designed for drivers whose vehicles double as their workspaces. For example, the passenger seat folds down flat, providing a worktable when needed, or extended room to stow long items.
An optional, lockable center console can hold hanging file folders as well as provide stowage for a laptop computer. Other storage spaces include a wide and deep overhead console (on High Roof models), large-sized door pockets and underseat storage drawers on some models.?
Room to move
The 2012 Nissan NV has a lot of room – from cargo space to head clearance. It’s available in standard height or as a tall-roof model, with 6ft. 3-inches of standing room inside. The van’s front doors are wide-opening, while its tall and broad 243-degree-opening rear doors offer great access to the cargo area.
The flat rear floor, square-top wheel-well housings and nearly vertical sidewalls help to maximize cargo space; a full-length inner panel on higher-end models has been constructed to prevent cargo from denting the exterior walls of the vehicle.
Integrated cargo attachment points add further customization. The van’s seats have been crafted using a water-repellant fabric, with a toughened material bolster patch for the outer edges of seat top and bottom to minimize wear.
Utility Meets Beauty
Nissan’s first US commercial van may be a workhorse, but it has the sleek lines and soft touches of a show pony. The 2012 Nissan NV chassis rides on a long 146.1-inch-wheelbase and sits on large, 17-inch wheels. It also has the modern, squared off and clean-lined look of its cousins in the Nissan utility and truck lineups – chrome-framed triple-section grille, wraparound headlamps and a windshield that’s as wide as Tom Cruise’s Wayfarers in Risky Business.
( In case you think it looks too cool to put to work, the NV also has broad body sides to display company logos and advertising messages. New buyers this year can select from a graphics package or design their own at no charge.)
Built on the Titan pickup platform, the new cargo van takes advantage of Titan’s tough-truck cockpit, with great visibility and a carryover cab blended with the clean-sheet, new architecture from the B-pillar (behind the front seats) rearward.
There are integrated attachment points for roof-mounted ladders as well as interior utility racks or shelving. And add-ons abound, from cargo-area power outlets and cupholders to a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, navigation and a rear-view camera.
The Strong, Safe Type
Unlike your grandpa’s old pick-up, the 2012 Nissan NV doesn’t sacrifice safety for utility. Safety features include front air bags and heavy-duty, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and roof-mounted curtain air bags are also available. The new model has speed-sensitive steering and an impressive turning radius.
What You Get for Your Money
The 2012 Nissan NV will be offered in three models: the V-6-equipped NV1500; the NV2500 HD available with either V-6 or V-8 engine; and the NV3500 HD, powered by a V-8. All three models can be ordered with the standard roof, while high roof body versions are available in NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD models only. The new van has a maximum 9.500 lbs. towing capacity.
Option packages include various window configurations and a Technology Package with XM Satellite Radio, navigation, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System and a RearView Monitor.
On sale now, the base NV starts at $24,590, while a top-of-the-line 3500 high roof is priced beginning at $30,590. The new van is built at Nissan’s Assembly Plant, in Canton, Mississippi. In a clever move to boost sales, Nissan is offering all new buyers the choice of interior shelving or exterior graphics at no charge.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross