My buddy the electrician is being eaten alive by the cost of feeding the full-size (and V-8 powered) van he uses to haul his stuff from job to job. Eleven in the city (and 15 on the highway) makes 33 gallons (the size of the tank in his Ford E-350 van) disappear almost as fast as you can say Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – or even ExxonMobil.
I told him about the Nissan NV200 van.
It’s got a vastly less thirsty four cylinder engine, for starters. And a much smaller 14.5 gallon tank. At the rate of 25 city (and 26 highway) it can go almost twice as far on half the fuel.
The front-wheel-drive NV also rides lower to the ground than the Ford E-van. So the load height is also lower.
Easier on your back.
And it’s almost a foot narrower than a traditional van like my friend’s E-Series Ford – so it slots through (and into) spots that would be a tight squeeze for a conventional van.
Now, it can’t pull much (1,000 pounds, max. – vs. 10,000 pounds for the E-350) and it can’t carry as much inside as a full-size/RWD/V-8-powered van. But if you don’t need a bus for your business – either the room or the gas bills – something like this could be just the ticket.
The NV 200 is Nissan’s compact utility van.
Same basic idea as the Ford Transit connect, only even cheaper to buy – and better for carrying stuff rather than people. It’s a bit larger (longer) than the Transit and comes with just two seats – one for the driver and one for the front seat passenger. And unlike the Transit – which can be fitted out Jitney bus style – the NV can’t be ordered with more seats.
Everything aft of the first row is for cargo or tools – not people.
Base price is $20,490 for the S trim; $21,480 for the SV – which comes with a 5.8 inch LCD touchscreen, satellite radio and GPS.
In addition to the Transit (base price $22,130) another possible cross-shop is the Dodge Ram C/V van, which is basically a stripped-down version of the Dodge Caravan minivan. It comes standard with a stronger V-6 engine, but higher gas bills – and a higher price tag ($22,000 to start).
You can order side glass – formerly not offered even as an option for NV 200s sold in the U.S.
The standard Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic has been tweaked for improved efficiency and the optional navigation system has been updated, too.
More room for cargo than the Transit Connect.
Lower load floor/taller roof than Ram C/V – and better gas mileage, too.
Numerous practical touches such as passenger front seat that folds down to make a hard-surfaced desk and a center console deep enough and wide enough to take a laptop or invoice clipboard.
Taller-box profile allows for closer-to-standing upright posture when in the cargo area; also makes it easier to get taller things – like a motorcycle – in the cargo area.
Only seats two.
Not as much cargo capacity as Ram C/V.
Ride is bouncy (and noisy) due to leaf spring/beam-type rear suspension and de minimis insulation/sound deadening.
Looks, feels and sounds Soviet compared with the Ford Transit.
UNDER THE HOOD
All NV 200s come with a 2.0 liter, 131 hp four teamed up with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic driving the front wheels.
It’s boilerplate. But it gets the job done.
The Nissan hauls itself to 60 in under 10 seconds – decent performance for what it is and what’s under the hood.
As a point of reference, the NV is quicker to 60 than a Prius.
Gas mileage is pretty good, too: 25 city, 26 highway. Both figures have improved by 1 MPG over last year as a result of tweaks to the CVT automatic transmission.
The base-engined Transit (2.5 liters, 169 hp) does worse in city driving (21 MPG) but is better on the highway (29 MPG), probably as a result of its more aerodynamically efficient shape. An even more economical engine is available in the Transit: Ford’s 1.6 liter “EcoBoost” turbocharged four. It rates 22 city and 20 highway. You also get more hp (178) and more performance (0-60 in the eights). But the EcoBoost four adds $795 to the ’15 Transit’s base price of $22,130 – which boosts the tab to just under $23k.
That’s about a $2,500 price difference – which (if you buy the NV) could be put toward gas instead of monthly payments.
The NV’s biggest functional weakness relative to its rivals is its maximum payload rating – just 1,500 pounds. This is 300 pounds less than the stripped-down Caravan (er, “Ram” C/V) which has the muscles of a standard 283 hp 3.6 liter V-6 (the only V-6 in this class and by far the strongest engine in this class) and also 500 pounds less than the just-updated Transit Connect, which can handle 2,000 lbs.
A diesel engine option would deal with that problem – and also endow the NV with the ability to pull things as well as to carry them. Oh. Wait.
Nissan does offer a diesel engine in the NV200.
So how come we don’t have access to this engine? Thank Uncle.
U.S. diesel emissions laws are different than European emissions laws. Not necessarily stricter. Just different. But the cost/hassle of making a diesel-powered vehicle that is acceptable in Europe acceptable here (that is, acceptable to Uncle) is often too much to bother which. And that’s why so many diesel-powered vehicles you could buy in Europe are not buyable here.
Maybe next year.
When they debuted a couple years ago, the NV and the Transit drove very similarly. Both were what you’d expect them to be: UPS truck-like, but on a smaller scale. The NV is still like that now – while the Ford has been refined and now ought to be considered a crossover (Ford uses the term explicitly on its web page, see here) and compared with other compact crossovers.
The NV, meanwhile, is still what it was.
For good – and for bad.
There is enough get up and go to get you going, but the powertrain is noisy when called upon. Nissan makes an excellent CVT automatic, but the largely uncarpeted/uninsulated interior of the NV amplifies the Sounds of Struggling – as well as the sounds of pebbles and so on being kicked up into the wheelwheels.
It tracks well, though. And it doesn’t require a white knuckle grip on the wheel to keep it in its lane on the highway. Nissan engineers compensated for the brick-ish side profile by dropping the whole works about as low as they could go – in part by using 15 inch wheels, as rare these days as four-barrel carburetors and 8 track tape players – which serves the dual purpose of enhancing stability by getting the center of gravity as close to the pavement as feasible (6.5 inches of ground clearance) and reducing the load height – making it easier to do things like walk a motorcycle into the cargo area.
The one fly in the soup – visibility to either side – has been addressed now that Nissan lets you buy side glass. Last year, U.S.-spec NV 200s were all slab-sided – and it made pulling out from a side street an iffy thing.
The heater is also iffy in really cold weather because it is overmatched trying to impart warmth to all that open and uninsulated space. The large windshield and driver/front seat passenger door glass has a tendency to fog up and unlike the Transit – which is available with an electric defroster grid for the windshield – keeping the glass clear so you can see what’s out there often requires full blast fan with AC on (to dehumidify) and even then, a hand swipe with a rag (as in my ’73 VW) is sometimes necessary.
Indeed, driving the NV reminded me of driving the ’73 Super Beetle I had back in college. Primitive, noisy – and cold in winter. But unlike my old Bug, the NV didn’t leak – and it’s useful for more than bare-bones A to B getting around.
This is a Soviet-looking vehicle. You almost expect to see a heavyset babushka – or a couple of gray KGB men – in the advertising materials.
But NV is not meant to be sexy. It is meant for business – a Babushka on wheels. Stamped steel 15 inch wheels (no upgrade available). Cheap and simple and no more than you need. Same goes for the simple dashboard, with speedometer and tach and not much else. The bar-type gas gauge reminded me of the old Chevy Astro van from the ’80s – only rendered LCD style this time.
Who needs more?
Well, if you want more, there’s always the niced-up Transit. But nicer also means more expensive – and we’re talking basic utility here, so different standards apply.
Speaking of utility:
The NV’s cargo hold can accommodate 122.7 cubic feet of whatever you need to cart somewhere – vs. 103.9 cubic feet for the Transit, which is slightly smaller-sized (173.9 inches long overall vs. 186.3 for the Nissan). The NV also has a taller cargo hold (73.7 inches vs. 72.5 inches) which is a help when you’re trying to do something like roll a motorcycle inside.
It is much easier to do something like that with a vehicle like this than it would be trying to load a bike onto the bed of a pick-up – which would entail rolling it up a steep ramp. Also, with the NV, your bike is inside, safe and secure.
The Dodge Caravan (er, Ram C/V) has more cargo space – 144.4 cubic feet – but is much less suited to hauling bikes or other tall stuff, being a low-roofed (69 inches) minivan, no matter what Dodge (er, Ram… uh Fiat?) wants to call it.
The NV’s layout also lends itself to handicapped access. And in fact, Nissan has already thought of this. But – unlike the Taxi prototype running around in NYC – there’s not (as yet) any factory-available, turn-key passenger-ready/mobility configuration available to the public.
Both S and upgrade SV trims come with dual side doors – one (driver’s side) opens car-style and outward, the other (passenger side) minivan-style – as well as dual (and outward opening) rear doors. The floor has multiple tie-down points and you could easily install shelving/storage cabinets along the walls.
Unfortunately, the NV 200 does not offer the innovative glass breakage sensor that’s available in its big brother, the full-sized NV van.
You can class up the joint by ordering the Exterior Appearance package, which adds body colored front and rear fascias, mirrors and door handles, as well as nicer wheel covers. SV trims can be ordered with a Technology Package which includes a 5.8 inch LCD display in the center stack, GPS, integrated back-up camera and a better stereo with satellite radio and hands-free text-assist.
There is no IC engine more suited to low-speed/stop-and-go delivery-utility duty than a diesel engine. The Ecoboosted (gas turbo) Ford Transit barely gets into to the 30s – best case, on the highway. A vehicle like it – or the NV – would probably deliver 30 or better in city driving with a diesel.
But thanks to Uncle – the same Uncle who constantly carps about the need for vehicles to be more “efficient” – such vehicles are not available here.
Nissan was going to offer an “E” (electric) version of the NV van in the U.S. (as with the diesel-powered NV, it’s already available in Europe) but so far, no word as to when. And even if it does become available, the up-front costs – probably close to $30k – are likely to make the economic case for such a vehicle pretty dubious.
Ford offers some pretty neat contractor-minded features in the Transit such as a bar code inventory/tool tracker system (and the previously mentioned front windshield electric de-icer).
Nissan has such gadgets. They’re just not available in the NV.
They should be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The NV is basic, but basic has value. Just over $20k, sticker, to start- vs. over $22k to start for both of the NV’s main competitors. For small businesses – and bigger ones, too – that $2k saved up front is no small thing.
It could keep you in franks and beans for a year, down by the river.
Throw it in the Woods?