2012 Nissan NV 2500 Test Drive

2012-Nissan-NV-25002012 Nissan NV 2500

My neighbour thought I’d called a plumber, and my friend figured she was getting a courier delivery when I pulled up in front of her house. But no, it was just my week’s test vehicle, the 2012 Nissan NV.

The what, you say? Well, it stands for “Nissan Van,” and it’s the Japanese automaker’s first move into the full-size work van market here in Canada. We’re really only familiar with Nissan’s work vehicles in the form of its pickup trucks, but it has been making commercial vehicles for 75 years, and 20 per cent of its business worldwide is in vans, buses and trucks. It’s now poised to compete with the Sprinter – initially a Dodge, now badged as Mercedes-Benz, the company which always built it – along with the GMC Savana, Chevrolet Express and Ford E-Series.

The NV is available as a 1500, 2500 or 3500. The 1500 comes with a 4.0-litre V6 borrowed from the Frontier pickup. The 2500 can be had with the V6, or as with my tester, a 5.6-litre V8 from the Titan. The 3500 comes strictly with the V8. Both engines use a five-speed automatic transmission. There is only one body length, but the 2500 and 3500 can also be ordered with a high roof. So far, the only configuration is one sliding door on the passenger side, two seats, and no rearward windows; Nissan hasn’t confirmed if it will turn the NV into a passenger van. It’s also single-rear-wheel only, and there’s no diesel option with none planned. The company says there just isn’t enough interest from van buyers.

Tempting as it may be to think of the NV as a Titan with a body, it shares only its engine and one crossmember with that pickup truck. The rest of it, built in the company’s factory in Mississippi, is unique to it, including the fully-boxed frame. Pricing ranges from $30,998 for the V6-powered 1500 in base S trim, to $39,668 for the high-roof version of the 3500 in the higher SV trim line.

My tester, the 2500 SV V8 with standard roof, clocked in at $35,678. That got me 17-inch steel wheels, Class IV receiver hitch, chrome bumpers and grille, power mirrors with integrated convex spotter tow mirrors, rear cargo mat, rear parking sensors, eight-way power driver’s seat, deep “mobile office” centre console, air conditioning, CD stereo, tire pressure monitoring system, side seat and curtain airbags, and three cargo lights.

It’s sold and serviced through specific Nissan dealers that offer priority scheduling for commercial customers, extended service hours, and dedicated service bays that can handle the height of the roof.

While many people think a work van is just a box on wheels, the reality is that an enormous amount of thought and planning went into the NV, and it shows. There are all kinds of little touches throughout that indicate the company didn’t just draw it up on the computer, but listened to people who use their vans each day and incorporated many things that would make it better.

For starters, it’s built similarly to a pickup truck with its engine completely in front. That gives it an odd-looking bulbous nose (which isn’t so bad with the chrome grille, but pretty hideous with the base black one), but it also means that since the engine compartment isn’t protruding into the cabin, there are full-size footwells that will easily accommodate long legs and clunky work boots. That’s part of the marketing too, as Nissan hopes to target buyers who buy pickup trucks because they dislike a van’s tighter seating, but who don’t like burrowing under the truck’s cap to access their tools.

mdm-1377-2012-nissan-nv_jm_009-1377 The seats are comfortable, clad in a water-repellent cloth fabric but with a vinyl patch on the cushion’s side, where full days of getting in and out tend to wear that area faster. The stitching is on the bottom as well, rather than across the top of the seat where the threads would be more prone to wear. A pocket on the front of the driver’s seat can be used to stash a cell phone, along with cubbies in the dash and front floor console. The door pockets are huge. The passenger seat folds flat and has a deep plastic cove in it. It’ll work as a table or lunch stand, and long lumber can be tucked into the cove to prevent it from sliding forward into the dash.

There are storage drawers under both seats and they slide out sideways, which makes it easier to pull them open when you’re standing outside the vehicle. The centre console is deep enough to hold a briefcase, laptop or files, and there’s a spot on the upper part of the lid where papers can be clamped, turning it into a quasi-clipboard. For those who need to access the rear part of the van from inside, the console can be unbolted and removed entirely to leave space between the seats.

The interior is also pre-drilled with numerous threaded holes on the walls and ceiling so that racks can be accommodated. Buyers can opt for a no-charge interior rack system or a roof rack – and holes are pre-drilled up top as well. The wheel wells are flat-topped, and the fuel filler tube is hidden and protected to prevent damage from cargo being knocked against it.

mdm-1383-2012-nissan-nv_jm_007-1383 As with the Sprinter, the rear doors can be opened straight out, or the hinges unlatched and folded against the side. The sliding door can still be fully opened even when the back door is swung around. However, while the hinges are easy to open, they’re not as simple as the Sprinter’s to close back up again. You have to pull on a small metal lever to release them – it takes a fair bit of pressure – and if you forget to do this before closing the door, it pushes the mechanism back into the latch. I learned to keep a small stick in the rear door pocket, because if I forgot and pushed the latch in, I had to use the stick to pry it back out.

While most of us will never drive an enclosed work van as a pleasure vehicle, those looking at it for the job site will be pleasantly surprised. Making 317 horsepower and 385 lb.-ft. of torque, the V8 is strong and quiet. The V6 makes 261 horsepower and 281 lb.-ft. of torque, and I’ve driven both of them fully loaded; neither one leave you wanting for more power. The five-speed automatic includes a tow-haul mode and manual shift mode mounted on the shift lever, and with the factory-installed hitch, the V8 is rated for a 9,500-lb towing capacity. The NV is large enough that it doesn’t have official fuel figures, but in a week of driving it primarily empty, I got 17.1 L/100 km (17 mpg Imp).

mdm-1387-2012-nissan-nv_jm_008-1387 The ride is springy when it’s empty, and smoothes out when it’s loaded. The short turning circle makes it easy to work your way around city traffic and into tight spaces, while those fold-back rear doors let you back it right up to a work station or loading dock. Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are standard. The convex spotter mirrors are a great design: a car has to be directly behind you and right on your bumper before it disappears from sight.

It’s a small segment, but Nissan is hoping to tap into it in a big way. GM and Ford’s vans have been virtually unchanged for several years, while the Sprinter, having switched from the more mainstream Dodge badge to the upscale Mercedes-Benz star, must overcome perception from buyers who might now see it as pricier (the MSRP has come down, which helps to offset dealers’ higher labour rates) and worry about customer perceptions (as in, is my plumber charging me too much when he can afford a Mercedes?). For trades people who don’t want a diesel or need an extended-length van, the NV is a must on the test-drive list.

Pricing: 2012 Nissan NV 2500 V8 Standard Roof

  • Base price: $35,678
  • Options: None
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,350
  • Price as tested: $37,128
  • Autos.ca