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Nissan Adds Quick, Nimble Compact Van to Commercial Truck Line

June 26, 2013 - Products

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Nissan

Styling includes a grille that’s clearly from Nissan. Under the hood is a 2-liter inline-4 that makes 131 hp and 139 lb-ft.
Styling includes a grille that’s clearly from Nissan. Under the hood is a 2-liter inline-4 that makes 131 hp and 139 lb-ft.

There’s another small van in town. It’s called the NV200 Compact , and Nissan Commercial Vehicles wants you to buy it instead of a Ford Transit Connect or any other compact vehicle you might be considering to deliver goods and services.

The NV200 joins Nissan’s large NV1500 to 3500 HD vans, and is designed to be the “right size” for a growing number of small business owners and fleet operators wanting smaller, more efficient work trucks, Nissan says. Because of its limited size but large cargo capacity, it’s also ideal for business owners coming from passenger vehicles.

The builder has been showing the compact van to waves of reporters in San Diego. The NV200 uses a 2-liter engine from a previous version of Nissan’s compact Sentra sedan, so promises good fuel economy -- 23 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The engine runs through a continuously variable transmission that helps keep revs at proper levels for performance and fuel efficiency.

Nissan has been selling a global version of the NV200 for some time, and with an apparent appetite among commercial users here for economical yet useful small trucks, executives, led by Joe Castelli, vice president for commercial vehicles, figured the time was right for this small truck.

Like Ford’s Transit Connect, Nissan’s new NV200 is built on a commercial chassis, not an uprated auto platform. Unlike the competitor, the NV200 will come only as a panel van, with windows available in the rear swing doors. There won't be a “wagon” with rear seats, but if customers demand side windows, Nissan will probably make them available.

(There will be a passenger version, as the NV200 is the basis for an upcoming fleet of taxicabs for New York City. The city’s taxi commission awarded a sole-supplier contract to Nissan after examining several bids; the compact van will eventually replace the hordes of yellow Ford Crown Victorias, most of them former police cars that city officials believe use too much gasoline and emit too many pollutants.)

The NV200’s body is unique to North America; it was extended 7.9 inches from the models sold in other global markets. This longer body offers additional cargo carrying capability.

Wheels, suspension parts and brakes were all beefed up to handle greater stresses of operation here. The typical North American duty cycle is about 50% tougher than in Japan, executives said.

The combination of a 115.2-inch wheelbase with a 186.3-inch overall length, along with a front-wheel drive and a compact rear suspension, provides an 82.8-inch cargo length, 54.8-inch cargo width, with 48 inches between the wheel wells. However, a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood or sheet rock will not fit wholly inside the van, which is 14 inches too short, unless the doors are left open. But it will carry standard U.S. 40x48-inch pallets.

A tall roofline gives a cargo area height of 53 inches; a low floor lift-over height of 21.1 inches yields a volume of 122.7 cubic feet. Payload is estimated at 1,500 pounds, plus passengers. 

Rear barn-type doors are split 60-40, with the narrower door on the left. Side doors slide.
Rear barn-type doors are split 60-40, with the narrower door on the left. Side doors slide.

The tall rear doors are a 40/60-split design, with the 60% side on the right (curb) side for easy access from a sidewalk. In this loading scenario, the 40% left-side door will protrude less into the street when open, lowering the risk of being hit by passing traffic. Both rear doors feature dual opening positions of 90 degrees and 180 degrees.

The standard sliding side doors are designed for low effort. Studies have shown that sliding doors are more useful than clamshell-type doors, execs said.

Added commercial flexibility is provided by the standard integrated mounting points, which allow installation of racks and shelves without drilling into the sidewalls, and six available floor-mounted cargo hooks are in the cargo area.  Nissan is already working with upfitters to prepare such equipment for availability through Nissan commercial-truck dealers, of which there are more than 200 so far in the U.S.

I drove an NV200 on downtown streets in San Diego – an ideal (some would say idyllic) place to try out a light commercial truck designed for urban duties – and later on high-speed freeways and back roads. It’s quick and nimble in town and rather competent in the country. The engine is so quiet at idle that I once twisted to key by mistake and got that grrrr sound. The bare back walls, however, amplified road noise at highway speeds and made discussions with a Nissan engineer slightly strained.

The engine and transmission did a nice job of propulsion, even if the little four-banger had to sometimes rev to 4,000 or so rpm to make enough power. It never felt taxed, but might if there were a heavy load aboard. The continuously variable transmission was always willing to keep revs about right. The floor-mounted shifter includes  a thumb switch that locks out overdrive ratios, but revs climb so much – 1,000 to 2,000 rpm – that it seems overly aggressive. I ended up leaving it alone.

Attractive dash has a speedometer and tachometer, but no engine condition gauges. Driver can scroll through numbers on a very small LED readout.
Attractive dash has a speedometer and tachometer, but no engine condition gauges. Driver can scroll through numbers on a very small LED readout.

The instrument panel is minimal, with a speedometer and tach but no separate engine-condition gauges. A bar-type fuel gauge appears on a very small and rather dim LED readout, and various pressure and temperature numbers can be scrolled through by the driver. HVAC controls are good ol' triple rotary knobs.

The driver’s seat is firm and supportive, and it has a fold-down rest for your right arm. It’s at the same height as a door-mounted rest for the driver’s left arm. The passenger seat lacks a fold-down rest, but its back folds flat to give the driver some desk space. The large center console – a North American item not found in NV200s elsewhere – includes cup holders and a big bin which will carry hanging files and a laptop.

So this truckette means business, and many business owners should find it very useful.
 

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