Test Drive: Nissan NV

Move over Chevrolet and Ford, there may be a new sheriff in town.

Miami ? For most of us, there is little glamor in the full size van business.? It?s mostly for service businesses that use the sides as rolling billboards and then fill the interior with tools, supplies or items to be delivered.? Unlike the popular consumer vehicles that are ?new and improved? almost every year, changes come slowly to the van market.? Most of the vans are Fords, Chevys and GMCs, some of which were designed 20 years ago.

That market status quo may be shaken up by the new Nissan NV full-size van.? With 75 years in the commercial vehicle industry Nissan is no ?Johnny come lately? to the business.? In fact, 20 percent of Nissan?s global sales (more than 700,000 vehicles annually) are commercial vehicles of all sizes and shapes.

Nissan didn?t undertake building the NV before did extensive research by talking to the people who use these vehicles on a daily basis.? One of the engineers told me they spent more time researching this vehicle than anything they had ever built.? The all new NV was designed, engineered and will be produced in the U.S. at Nissan?s Canton, Miss. Plant, where a $118 million renovation was done to facilitate the production.

The NV is built with pickup truck style packaging on an all-new commercial-duty chassis.? Rather than taking up interior space by mounting the engine in the hard to access position beneath the dash, it is located in the front allowing easier access when service is needed.? That also allows more interior space which is important for users because that is often their office on wheels.

The cabin is easy to access with wide doors, a low entry step and a well-placed driver assist handle (so the steering wheel doesn?t have to be used), plus there is a handy pull-out storage tray under the side of the driver seat for a last minute drop of tools, flashlights, etc. The rear doors open to 243 degrees to allow the maximum opening space for wide loads. ?Throughout the vehicle there are well thought out details that make the NV more user friendly and more durable.? A good example of such planning is the cloth bucket seats with have a special durability patches and seams positioned to avoid wear.

The available center console is large enough to fit a letter-size files and a laptop computer, plus there are two available 120-volt power outlets that are perfect for chargers.? High roof models have available storage compartments built above the seats for easy access to equipment or reference materials.? A technology package is available adding Bluetooth, hands-free phone system, XM? satellite radio, iPod connectivity, navigation system and the very useful Rearview Monitor for extra safety when backing up.

The sides of the cargo compartment are nearly vertical to provide more interior storage space and to better accommodate aftermarket storage systems while maximizing the working space in the rear. ?All the interior spaces and the roof rack were designed with mounting holes and brackets to avoid the need to drill more mounting points.

The NV has standard stability control, traction control, electronic brake aid and available front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and roof-mounted supplemental curtain air bags. It?s also outfitted with massive 14-inch disc ABS brakes front and rear.

The rear-wheel drive NV is available with a 261-hp, 4.0-liter, DOHC V-6 engine or a 317-hp, 5.6-liter DOHC V-8 both with a standard five-speed automatic transmission.? The Nissan van comes in two configurations, standard or high roof and in two trim levels S and SV.? All versions are built on the same 146.1-inch wheelbase.? The standard roof comes in three models — 1500, 2500 HD and 3500 HD.? The high roof is available as 2500 HD and 3500 HD.

NV pricing starts at $25,390 including the destination charge for the standard roof S model and go as high as $32,990 for the High Roof SV.? Four factory-installed option packages (towing, rear door, technology and side curtain airbags) together add $1,990 to the SV model price when all are selected.

As an added incentive qualifying commercial buyers will also receive an exterior graphics package or an upfit cargo management package or utility package at no charge.

I had a chance to test out the all the available versions during a real world delivery in Miami.? Nissan generously donated $35,000 in building materials and equipment to the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami and I got to haul a load from the Home Depot store to the Habitat warehouse.

There?s not much sexy about driving a full size van, but the Nissan NV was comfortable and had a good solid feel.? The steering is positive, the brakes have a strong solid pedal and both engines had plenty of power for those rapid freeway merges. ?The NV also performed nicely in the parking lot thanks to the tight, for a van, turning radius.? I also appreciated that the NV has a manual shifting button on the column-mounted shifter.? The system is activated by pushing the on/off button on the end of the stalk and then shifts can made by pressing the toggle button on the front side of the stalk.

The NV is on sale now at about 250 Nissan dealerships in the U.S. that have service bays and support staff designated for the commercial customers.

Bill Schaffer

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