Saturday Road Test – Something Different

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Nissan NV200 SV

It’s the coming thing

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – Cargo vans have a long way from the ultra-bare bones VW bus my uncle owned back in the 60’s.

As a car crazy teenager, of course I wanted to drive the fully loaded, non-flowered powered van through New Hampshire’s White Mountains to their new home. A nervous uncle agreed and even dozed off until we rounded a bend near the famous “Old Man of the Mountains” where a stiff wind gust caught us dead on – with the same effect as my jamming on the brakes in an emergency stop.

“What the hell happened,” he said and snapped awake.

“It was the wind,” I replied in as cool a manner as Jeremy in Zits while keeping the accelerator floored to extract whatever power (?) the van could produce. With no VW body parts visible on the pavement my uncle relaxed.

Zoom ahead to modern times and compact cargo vans are what a friend calls, “The comin’ thing.”

Long popular in Europe, Ford brought the idea to the U.S. in late 2009 with Transit Connect. Demand flourished and now Nissan is offering the NV200, and Chevy will soon be out with the NV200 based City Express and Fiat Chrysler with the Ram ProMaster City.

Small business owners see the value of smaller vans with their lower MSRP and greater fuel economy. Some full size vans get around 13 mpg compared with the 25 mpg posted by this week’s tested NV200.

So let’s explore this rapidly growing part of the van universe – the direct opposite of a Peterbilt.

I expected a military spec basic van and on first glance that is what the NV was – two sliding side doors, 60/40 twin doors to the rear, and bare metal walls inside with two cloth covered seats.

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Yet …

Those bare metal walls were all set for the installation of shelves. The load floor was just 21 inches off the ground for easy loading of large objects up to 53 inches tall with plenty of tie downs.

Capacity totals 112.7 cubic feet and you can stuff in up to 1,500 pounds of paraphernalia. That is about seven cubic feet and 100 pounds shy of the Ford Transit Connect, the NV’s chief rival.

Two nice touches were a heated rear window in one rear door and a between the seats storage bin just right for carrying along file folders or a thin tablet computer.

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A $950 “Technology Package” brought unexpected touches such as a 5.8 inch touchscreen display, navi, review camera, voice controls, satellite radio, Pandora, USB audio jack, Bluetooth, and hands free text messaging assistant.

That rear view camera came in handy with no side windows on the van. Caution was called for when an intersecting road cut in at a sharp angle. “Anybody coming” was a common question to the person riding shotgun. It should be noted that Nissan is adding “rear sonar.”

Only one engine is offered, a 2.0-liter four rated at 131 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque with front drive and a rather nice CVT. While that was enough for around town driving and interstate travel, it could get downright sluggish when the NV is loaded to the max.

Wind whistle was audible from the driver’s side window at most speeds, but considering that rather large open space to the rear, the van was quieter than one might assume at interstate speeds. Windy days required a bit more attention by the driver to keep the van headed straight down the road, nothing like the above mentioned VW that on windy days went down the road like a drunken Seabiscuit.

The compact size of the NV made it an easy to manage when running around town – much more so than a full sized van. At 186 inches long, 68 wide and 73 inches tall, the NV rides on a 115.2 inch wheelbase. That makes it four inches shorter, for better or worse, than its Ford rival.

Overall, it drove more like a compact car than a cargo van. The low asking price, fuel economy and unexpected touches here and there make the NV a very attractive alternative for Mom and Pop LP.

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But I think Nissan will miss the boat if it does not decide to offer a passenger carrying version of the NV200. Add a second road of seats, jazz up the interior, and one could have a very desirable van that can accommodate kids, cats and most everything they bring along.

Base price is $20,720 for the bottom of the line S model increasing to $21,710 for the upscale SV. The test van, with $1,505 worth of options and a $900 delivery charge, carried an MSRP of $23,645.

Warranty coverage has been increased to 5 years, 60,000 miles basic with a powertrain warranty of 5 years 100,000 miles. Nissan is testing an electric model in Portland Oregon.

Yet are their ties to the old VW? I must confess that every time I looked at those cold, bare interior metal walls, I wondered what a first rate California customizer could do with this rig. Hello Select Comfort?

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