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First Drive: Nissan NV

Nissan jumps off deep end into commercial van segment.

by on Feb.03, 2011

Nissan enters the commercial cargo truck segment with the new NV line.

Nissan, which does 20% of its business worldwide in light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles, trucks and buses, has never offered a commercial van in the North American market.  Until now.  And the one they’ve finally introduced is the biggest one available.

Starting next month, at 250 carefully selected dealerships in the U.S., Nissan will offer a whole family of what it calls its NV vans, in 1500, 2500HD, and 3500HD conventional and 2500 and 3500 high-roof versions, all in a heavy-duty, body-on-frame construction.

Each participating dealership has committed to the installation of higher service-bay doors to accommodate the high-roof versions, plus at least one heavy-duty service lift, along with special training for mechanics and parts department personnel.

There's plenty of space - and the NV is designed for easy shelf installation.

The NV 1500 and 2500 will be offered with Nissan 4.0-liter V-6 engines, and the 3500 and high-roof versions will come with the same 5.6-liter V-8 engines as used in the Nissan Titan pickup truck.  With the V-8 engine, the NV can tow up to 9500 pounds of trailer and cargo.  All versions come with a 5-speed automatic transmission, eight-lug, 17-inch truck wheels and truck tires.

Initially, the NV vans will come only on a single 146-inch wheelbase chassis, but Nissan commercial vehicle honcho Peter Bedrosian told us that next near, a longer-wheelbase version will be offered, as will a fully windowed 12-passenger version.

Powertrains are the only carryover from the Nissan Titan pickup line.

The standard version is rated at 234 cubic feet of cargo room, and the high-roof version can carry 323 cubic feet of cargo, with ten feet of cargo length at floor level, far bigger numbers than the traditional domestic competitors.

Nissan engineers told us that, other than powertrains, there are no borrowed parts from pickup trucks or SUVs on the NV series, which was designed in America for North American users and will be built here at the flexible-manufacturing plant in Canton, Mississippi.  (What will Nissan do with the next-gen Titan pickup produced at Canton? Click Here for more.)

The cargo doors swing wide for easy access - and to avoid blocking traffic or pedestrians.

The roof sections and interior panels have been designed so that roof racks, ladder racks and other special aftermarket equipment will go into the mounts already provided, so that no drilling of sheetmetal will be required and no rust or corrosion can result.  The same design was used on the interior walls, so that racks, toolboxes, and storage bins can be attached without drilling new holes.

Nissan said they have been working on the NV project for seven years, conducting clinics and talking to small business owners and fleet operators so that Nissan could compete effectively from the first day against the smaller offerings from Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, and the Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Sprinter high-roof vans.

A functional and comfortable cabin.

That’s why the NVs look the way they do.  Their long noses contain the entire engine and transmission assemblies so as not to intrude into the cockpit.  The NV cockpit ends up looking and feeling much more like a pickup truck cockpit, with room for legs, feet, and a gigantic lockable storage console between the bucket seats that will hold hanging file folders and/or a laptop computer.

While the instrument panel is prosaic and businesslike, with a traditional white-on-black graphics layout, the cloth-and-vinyl bucket seats are huge and comfy and designed for long-term abuse.  The sunvisors are also huge, and designed to hold on-the-job paperwork and stuff.

The flat sheetmetal sides of the NV have far less tumblehome (inward curvature from bottom to top) than the Ford or GM vans, which means that aftermarket shelving or cabinets can hold more with a wider aisle between them.  They come only with sliding side doors on the right-hand side, and rear doors that open out to 243 degrees to get the cargo bay open as wide as possible and to keep the doors from interfering with traffic, pedestrians or those loading or unloading the trucks.

All models come with not one, not two, but three overhead lights in the cargo bay, plus six cargo tie-down rings in the floor, each with a capacity over 1100 pounds.

The optional equipment list includes items like rear door and/or sliding door windows, all-vinyl seating, XM Sirius satellite radio, satellite navigation, rearview monitor, Bluetooth, USB port, iPod docking, pull-out storage trays under the seats, twin 120-volt power outlets, and two very special options that are unique in the segment.

First, Nissan will assist buyers with the design and execution of up to 70 square feet of vinyl graphics for the huge bodysides of the NV.  Or, Nissan will offer assistance with upfitting of Adrian Steel interior racks, shelves and cabinetry.

We drove an NV 1500 V-6, an NV 2500HD V-8, and an NV 3500 HD V-8 high-roof in and around Miami for a day, and found them each to be very comfortable, very roomy in the cockpit, relatively quiet (for big, empty steel boxes), very easy to drive in traffic with their oversize and convex mirrors, and all very willing to accelerate on the flat and level roads of Southern Florida.

For such big vehicles, they have impressively small turning circles, and huge, sports-car-level 14.2-inch front and 14-inch rear ABS disc brakes, both important for the in-city driving that they are very likely to do in customer hands.  Traction control and stability control are standard, too.

Nissan says pricing will start at $24,590 for the NV 1500 V-6, $25,590 for the 2500, $27,990 for the 2500 high-roof, $28,190 for the 3500, and $30,590 for the 3500 high-roof, prices that are up to $10,000 less that some of the competitive models.

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