First Drive: 2012 Nissan NV

Building A Better Box For Your Budding Business

2012 Nissan NV – Click above for high-res image gallery

Nissan has been a player in the world's commercial vehicle market for a long time. In fact, 2011 marks the company's 75th year in the industry, and these workhorses represent 20 percent of Nissan's total annual sales volume. Nissan's commerical trucks and vans are used around the world, with over 700,000 units sold in 2010 alone. Yet, it's highly unlikely that you've ever even seen a Nissan commercial vehicle.

Nissan doesn't sell its commercial vehicles in the United States and Canada – instead, General Motors and Ford own the market. Things could change very quickly, however, because the 2012 NV commercial van is poised to hit the U.S. market. The Japanese automaker set out to build a commercial van to the exacting needs of this country's small business owners. It asked them questions and incorporated the thousands of answers it received. GM, Ford and even Mercedes-Benz should pay close attention, because the NV could be just what this country's blue-collar workforce ordered.

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Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

The 2012 Nissan NV is offered in three versions with a choice of two roof styles. The NV1500 is offered only with the Standard Roof, while the NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD can be ordered with either the Standard Roof or a High Roof. In Standard Roof guise, the NV looks like the automotive equivalent of a pit bull – it's handsomely ugly. The High Roof model still looks like a pit bull, but this pooch prefers a high-top fade that would make Kid and Play jealous. Neither version will win any vehicular beauty pageants, yet either one might just win you over should you press it into service. That's because the NV is basically a slab-sided cargo shed on wheels designed to maximize interior space. Its designers were only allowed to only throw in so many curves before Nissan's engineers stepped in and took away their pencils.

2012 Nissan NV

Those designers were granted a few of their wishes for the production model, as seen in the flared front fenders, sinewy hood bulge and set of 17-inch styled-steel wheels. The nose is filled out with a super-sized Nissan grille and large headlamps, while sharp lines traverse across the flat plains of the NV's side and converge at a crisp edge that sets up the rear end. Out back the design is more function trumping form, and the upright rear doors stand straight at attention. Particularly on the High Roof model, the van's substantial posterior takes on a monolithic appearance, and when wearing black paint, the whole thing looks downright Kubrickian.

The exterior proportions start to make far more sense when you see the inside of the NV, which is an engineering odyssey for interior space. Once you open the sliding side door and 243-degree-opening rear doors, you're treated to 234.1 cubic feet of cargo space in the Standard Roof NV, while the High Roof model adds an additional 89 cubic feet up high for a grand total of 323.1 cubic feet of storage. Both versions feature a low floor for easy loading and easy-to-reach grab handles for simple entry and exit. You'll have to bend down when standing in the Standard Roof NV but, at six-foot, three-inches tall, your author had an inch or so to spare standing straight up in the High Roof.

2012 Nissan NV side view2012 Nissan NV front view2012 Nissan NV rear view

You'll want to take a seat, however, in the front cabin of the 2012 Nissan NV. Instead of stuffing the NV with the cheapest seats in its factory, Nissan fitted a pair of thrones covered in premium cloth. The material is waterproof and has wear-resistant patches built-in to help the seats survive the grueling indignities of commercial duty. Traditionally, full-size work vans are fitted with stereos plucked from Wal Mart's bargain bin. In this Nissan, the base S trim NV gets a simple AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary input as standard equipment. Opt for the SV trim level and you get an additional two speakers (four in total), power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat and rear parking sensors.

The ideal interior specification, however, come courtesy of the available Technology Package. A five-inch color touchscreen featuring the Nissan Navigation System and XM NavTraffic gets mounted into the center stack. When in Reverse, that five-inch screen shows you exactly what's happening behind the big-butt NV thanks to a rear-mounted camera. Bluetooth, USB ports and XM Satellite radio round out the optional upgrades and the entire bundle costs just $950. Nissan is quick to remind that a similar setup in a 2011 Ford E-Series will run you $3,275.

2012 Nissan NV interior2012 Nissan NV gauges2012 Nissan NV nav2012 Nissan NV seats

Regardless of how the 2012 NV is equipped, the driver's seat is comfortable and offers a high level of visibility from its perch. Large side mirrors enable clear views of both sides of the NV, and built-in convex spotter mirrors help reduce blind spots. If you want to increase visibility further, an all-around window package is offered. It's not entirely necessary thanks to those side mirrors and optional rearview camera, plus the sheetmetal keeps prying eyes away from your tools and cargo.

Pushing those tools and cargo around requires an engine with some grunt and Nissan has two options available. The NV1500 and NV2500 HD are equipped with a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. A stout 5.6-liter V8 is optional on the NV2500 HD and the only engine offered with the NV3500 HD. The eight-cylinder engine develops 317 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 385 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. Both engines are paired with a five-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually from the column shift lever.

2012 Nissan NV High Roof sliding door2012 Nissan NV High Roof cargo space

The six-cylinder engine is perfectly qualified for the task of lugging a loaded NV. Throttle response is a tad sluggish, but after a quick beat, the 4.0 leans back and powers forward. The 5.6, however, is a very different animal and responds instantly to a light touch of the gas pedal. It roars like a linebacker leaning into a vicious sack, and with the optional Tow Package equipped is capable of pulling 9,500 pounds, the same GVWR as Ford's E-Series.

Around town, both Standard and High Roof Nissan NV vans are surprisingly easy to maneuver. Up front sits an independent double-wishbone suspension, while out back the NV sports a solid rear axle surrounded by rigid leaf springs and a stabilizer bar. Driving a full-size van often feels like hustling around a scaled-down city bus, yet the NV feels more like a full-size pickup truck. If it starts to rumble down the road a little too quickly, the NV is easily reeled in by its four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

2012 Nissan NV cargo area2012 Nissan NV with pallet

Nissan is positioning the 2012 NV as a step above the full-size offerings from Chevrolet and Ford, yet the company is also aware that the NV sits a notch below the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Both the E-Series and the Express are offered in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions just like the NV, yet the Ford and Chevy have higher base MSRPs across the board. The NV1500 starts at $24,590 compared to $24,860 for the Blue Oval and $26,055 for the Bowtie. The price discrepancy is similar as you climb up their respective trim ladders. On the flip side, the Sprinter is available as a 2500, 2500 High Roof and 3500 High Roof, costing $35,995, $38,350 and $39,915, respectively.

Thus, the 2012 Nissan NV represents a real value for business owners. It's offered with attractive standard features, affordable options and pricing starts just below the competition. Nissan isn't stopping there, however, as NV buyers can choose between a free interior cargo system upfit or an Original Wraps custom graphics package with their purchase.

2012 Nissan NV headlight2012 Nissan NV grille2012 Nissan NV wheel2012 Nissan NV badge

Nissan has also gone out and spent time with business owners to determine what they need from a commercial van. This wasn't a marketing ploy where Nissan simply jotted down notes and collected emails to spam later. Nissan listened to what people were saying and then incorporated their needs into its heavy-duty work vehicle. The 2012 Nissan NV is easy-to-drive, offers a huge volume of usable cargo space and comes with a choice of free upgrades that should help ease the pain felt in a business-owner's wallet when making a big investment like this. It's also built in America in Nissan's Canton, Mississippi plant, something that many business owners are particularly conscious keen on.

Since those owners will need to work with dealers, it's also vital that Nissan lays the ground work for a strong network of support. A number of dealers are already eager to be a part of the new Nissan Commercial Vehicle network. By the end of 2012, Nissan expects to have 300 locations around the country ready to handle the unique demands of selling and servicing commercial vans. It already has 250 dealers signed up.

2012 Nissan NV rear 3/4 view

Nissan Commercial Vehicle dealerships will feature dedicated service bays, heavy duty vehicles lifts, in-stock parts, extended service hours and priority service scheduling. The company's commitment to serving business owners is evident in both the design of the NV and amount of support at the dealership level, but it will take at least a few years to know if Nissan has well-and-truly nailed the commercial brief... or if they've made a costly misjudgment.

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Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

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