While it doesn't make the activity any more enjoyable, having the right vehicle for the job is the difference between loading and unloading half a dozen times and doing it once or twice. When taken as a whole, a proper moving van can shave hours off a day of labor, not to mention untold years of physical and mental stress for those who must take to their wheels every day.
That truism was borne out once again when I borrowed a loaded Nissan NV200 SV to help my girlfriend move into her new house. The little Nissan was a comfortable and able companion throughout the day, managing everything from a mattress and box springs to countless boxes of clothes, dishes and other necessities. Throughout the day, the NV impressed not just with the amount of stuff it could fit in its cavernous back end, but with the features it had to make moving anything easier.
I'll say this up front: Even in a class of unfortunate-looking conveyances, the NV200 is not the most handsome of vehicles. The exterior isn't spartan – for a van, there's actual style and substance – but it isn't particularly attractive. Its short hood combines with its upright fascia to lend it a bit of a hook-nosed look. The front fascia clearly fits in with Nissan's familial look, giving it the appearance of a gluttonous Versa Note.
The front fascia clearly fits in with Nissan's familial look, giving it the appearance of a gluttonous Versa Note.
As you'd expect, it's a slab-sided rig, aside from stylish cutouts for the front windows that form funky rhomboid shapes. Taken together with a nice character line in the sliding rear door, there's more attempt at actual design here than one might expect from a cargo van. The back, with its split barn doors, features a low rear bumper but annoyingly small rear windows.
Unlike Ford's first US-spec Transit Connect, the NV200 has a pretty nice interior. The materials are hard and utilitarian, giving a sense of durability without feeling too cheap (unlike the Transit). It feels like this cabin is a frill-free workplace, until you pay attention to the features. The steering wheel is plastic, but it's been plucked from the Nissan Cube and features audio controls and cruise control. Meanwhile, a 5.8-inch touchscreen display sits front and center on the top-level SV model (lesser models make do with a standard interface), and features a number of items that solidly blow the analog Transit Connect out of the water. Like the affordable Versa Note we tested a few months ago, there's Bluetooth, Pandora connectivity, Google Send-To-Car, navigation and a rear-view camera. That last one is a clutch feature in a van with no side rear windows and high, split barn doors.
In a past life, I used a Transit Connect to haul some friends up to Boyne Mountain for a skiing weekend. It was a horrible idea, chiefly because the TC's cabin featured seats that could numb one's buttocks in just over an hour. That was nearly two years ago, and I still catch flak for it. After a week with the NV200, I feel like making the trip in the NV wouldn't be nearly so bad. The seats are durable cloth, befitting a worker's van, but are soft and supportive. After lifting a few dressers and such into the back end, I looked forward to taking the wheel, thanks largely to the seats.
The sole transmission is – because there's a Nissan badge on the nose – a continuously variable unit.
Forward sightlines are quite good, although the NV lacks the spacious feeling of the Transit Connect and its tall windows and windshield. Unfortunately, there's not a single iteration of the NV200 that's available to consumers with side-window cutouts (unlike Europe's NV200 Combi). The little Nissan makes up for it with substantial side-view mirrors, although after a week of driving, I was begging for blind-spot monitoring to be available along with the rest of the tech goodies. The rear window, meanwhile, scores a solid "C," as the beam that intersects it is fairly large, but the 60/40 split means angling the interior rearview mirror correctly can cover most of the larger window.
Making the NV go is Nissan's familiar MR20DE 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, tuned here to put out 131 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 139 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. The sole transmission is – because there's a Nissan badge on the nose – a continuously variable unit. Power is shifted to 15-inch front wheels wrapped in JK Tyre American Cargo rubber out of New Delhi. No, I hadn't heard of that brand, either. Taken as a whole, Nissan claims the NV200 will return 24 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
As I said earlier, moving is not easy. Thankfully, the NV200 features a generous 122.7 cubic feet of cargo volume (for comparison's sake, the short-wheelbase 2014 Transit Connect offers just 105.9 cubic feet, though the long-wheelbase model musters 130.6).
On paper, it looks like the 3,255-pound NV wouldn't have enough power, but that simply isn't the case – it's just right.
Despite its stubby footprint, this two-seat van is the very definition of cavernous, all while featuring a mostly flat load floor and split rear doors that can be locked at 90 or 180 degrees. The bumper is low – nearly below knee level on your six-foot, one-inch author – and the two sliding side doors allow selective access to stuff. There are six floor-mounted cargo rings available on SV models, perfect for ratchet-strapping heavier items into the hold. Finally, the passenger's seat can fold forward, making space for extra-long items. Nissan quotes total lengthwise storage at an impressive nine feet, eight inches with the co-pilot's chair folded. As is the case with this class, payload maximum is listed at a modest 1,500 lbs – Ford's latest Transit Connect musters 210 more. For what it's worth, Ram is set to join the small Euro-style delivery van market with its Fiat-based Promaster City, but it has yet to provide specifications for comparison.
Despite the modest output and even with a full back end, I never really found the NV lacking for oomph. Mid-range torque is strong, and there's the sense that a driver could jump into the throttle and be rewarded with a few more miles per hour without much effort. The throttle is linear and predictable, while being easy enough to modulate. On paper, it looks like the 3,255-pound NV wouldn't have enough power, but that simply isn't the case – it's just right.
Knowing that, it's a lucky coincidence that the 2.0-liter four sounds pretty agreeable under load. The sound isn't racy or rich, but it doesn't come across as objectionable, and it certainly lacks the buzziness of the mill in the old Transit Connect (I'm still waiting to get my hands on the new-for-2014 model, particularly with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost). Still, this is not a quiet vehicle overall, largely because the back end lacks even the most basic sound deadening – it's mostly exposed sheetmetal. The issue is more one of road and impact noises, rather than wind noise (which is quite well controlled). Because there's virtually nothing to soak up the sound of bumps and imperfections, it's best to drive the NV with the two-speaker stereo at a slightly higher level than normal. Not that it matters much in this type of vehicle, but even with just two speakers, the stereo isn't horrible.
The NV is rated at 24 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, with a combined average of 24 mpg.
While we make no shortage of complaints about continuously variable transmissions, the truth is that Nissan pretty much has the technology figured out. This is particularly true in the NV, where the Xtronic CVT operates in a mostly unobtrusive manner. It responds well to sudden pedal inputs, yet it rarely holds revs longer than is needed. With a sensible right foot, it does a fine job of keeping the revs low.
The NV is rated at 24 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, with a combined average of 24 mpg. My experience was slightly lower than that, although the EPA cycle doesn't take into account a loaded rear end. Before my weekend of moving, I was resting at just under 24 mpg. My average plummeted quickly yet not too precipitously once I started hauling stuff. The mix of highway and surface streets combined with a back end that was full 50-percent of the time left me running between 21 and 22 mpg. That's a good "real world" indication of what most NV owner can expect in mixed driving with loads.
Helping with the fuel savings is an electric power-steering system, and it works pretty well. There's not a lot of weight in its action, but what's there arrives in a progressive, linear fashion. As this is a cargo van designed for city use, its relative lack of heft seems spot-on for tight maneuvering and long hours. At speed, there's not much feedback, although the overall sense coming from the front wheels is one of stability. The NV doesn't feel caught out by bumps or imperfections influencing the direction of the front wheels.
The NV doesn't feel caught out by bumps or imperfections influencing the direction of the front wheels.
That doesn't mean the ride is particularly smooth, though. The NV features a multi-leaf solid rear axle and, not surprisingly, it suffers for it, particularly when empty. The ride is truck-like, and not like those air-suspended pickup trucks coming out of Auburn Hills – the NV feels like an old-school truck. It's bouncy and you're acutely aware that you just smashed a pothole when it happens. It's rough and unsophisticated (blame the short 115.2-inch wheelbase as much as anything else), but somehow, it's still fun to drive.
That aside, the NV200 feels not entirely unlike a larger version of the Nissan Versa Note I reviewed a few months ago. It is slightly more ponderous in its actions, but where I doled out demerits for the Versa's handling (because it's a small car and could – and should – be fun) the NV is a hoot because it's a van, which has no business putting a smile on the face of its driver. Sure, it rolls and is mostly uncommunicative, but its light steering and compact footprint make it a fun van to zip around town in. Meanwhile, despite having never having heard of them, we had no real issues with the no-name tires. Grip is reasonable and tire-roar isn't too noticeable.
The brakes on the NV aren't what I'd call sophisticated. There are 11.14-inch discs up front and 9-inch drums in the back, and while the sense of security provided by discs at all fours might be preferred, even when loaded with heavy furniture, the NV's binders are up to the task. Braking is sure, and the pedal has a smooth, predictable modulation. These are, after all, vehicles meant for work, where the driver might be wearing a set of thick-soled Red Wings or Timberlands instead of Pumas – there can't be any surprises from the brake pedal. And in the NV, there weren't. It's probably fair to assume the vehicle's somewhat modest brakes will provide lower operating costs, too, a decision that ought to help fleet managers sleep a bit better at night.
Prices for the NV200 start at $19,990 (not including destination), significantly undercutting the $22,000 Transit Connect. You'll probably want to option up to the SV trim and perhaps add the $950 Technology Package (5.8-inch display and all the goodies we mentioned above, aside from Bluetooth), for a total price of $22,790, including $860 for destination and handling. Our van went a bit further and added Bluetooth for $250, a rear window for $190 and an Exterior Appearance Package (body-colored exterior trim and a chrome grille) for another $190. As tested, we'd be signing a check for $23,265.
There's more to the NV200 than just cargo – it's fun to drive around town.
The move went well, with much of it thanks to the Nissan. It really was the right tool for the job, being big enough to handle everything from furniture to boxes of clothes, cooking utensils and whatever else my significant other felt the need to pack. The NV lives up to its billing because it manages to combine a huge cargo space in a nimble footprint that is ridiculously easy to access with a reasonable purchase price and fuel economy.
But there's more to the NV200 than just cargo – it's fun to drive around town. It isn't pretty and it's about as simple as a modern vehicle can get, but if your job necessitates a company van, you can do far worse.