SAN DIEGO, CA.: The compact commercial van—you wonder what took so long.
As thick as ants on the ground in Europe and Asia, North America was devoid of a small work van until three years ago when Ford started importing the Transit Connect with its compact car platform and outsized cargo area.
If you look back a few years earlier it all started with the Mercedes-Benz/Dodge Sprinter that quickly muscled in on old-school domestic work vans such as the Ford E-Series and Chevy Express.
This emerging market was not lost on Nissan, a company that had a Euro compact commercial van of its own which it quickly turned into the NV200 Compact Cargo we see today.
Everyone now wants into this segment, with GM inking a deal to have the NV200 built under licence as the Chevrolet City Express.
The NV200 joins the NV1500/2500/3500 Cargo full-size cargo van and Nissan NV3500 Passenger four-row/12-person passenger van.
Nissan claims the NV200 has the best in class fuel economy, which is a moot point because the only one other competitor at this time is the Ford Transit Connect. But as noted above, it won’t be a party for two much longer.
Because the Europeans and Japanese have been building these vans for decades, they make every millimetre of length, height and width work.
The NV200 has a payload of 679 kg and a cargo volume of 3,474 litres with a cargo height of 1,346 mm (53 in). To increase cargo volume, the passenger front seat can be folded flat.
The result is a large cargo area on a small footprint with minimal wheelhouse intrusion plus six floor-mounted D-ring tie-downs and 20 integrated cargo and roof mounting points.
To aid loading/unloading, the NV200 has tall cargo door openings (including the standard 40/60-split rear doors) and a low cargo floor lift-over height of 21.1 inches.
There are literally thousands of ways to custom fit everything from workbenches to storage bins in the NV200.
One interesting example at the recent press reveal in San Diego, was a mobile Gibson Guitar service truck with rollout rear platform including all the tools needed to repair/service guitars.
Like Nissan, Gibson has a huge plant in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll bet we’ll see more of a relationship similar to what VW is doing with Fender.
The chassis is loosely based on the last generation Sentra with a front-mounted 2.0-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder powering the front wheels through Nissan’s ubiquitous Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission).
Producing 131 hp and 139 lb/ft of torque, fuel economy is listed as 8.7/7.1/8.0L/100 km on regular gas.
Towing is not recommended.
My co-driver and I took the NV200 out in its natural environment, the San Diego inner city, with mostly one-way streets, hoards of pedestrians and deeply rutted pavement.
The surprisingly tight turning circle (11.2 meters/36.2 feet) immediately stood out while the feedback through the steering wheel was only enough to tell you the wheels were turning but not a lot more.
This could be due to the high-pressure commercial tires on the NV200, which are necessary to cope with usual work loading.
We took the NV200 into the parking lot beside the USS Midway floating museum in San Diego to see how handy it would be parking in tight situations.
Here mirror positioning was key. Thanks to the almost dainty width and wheelbase, parking was a breeze and actually easier than a full-size minivan.
Available technology includes Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System (standard on the SV model), available NissanConnect with Navigation with 5.8-inch touch screen display, Nissan Voice Recognition for audio and navigation, with NavTraffic and NavWeather (Sirius subscription required, sold separately), POIs powered by Google, Google Send-to-Car, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging assistant, USB interface and RearView Monitor.
With raised seating, Nissan likes to call the driver/passenger area a “mobile office” with centre console featuring laptop/hanging file folder storage, pen/pencil tray, CD holder and dual cupholders.
This is aided by recessed storage areas provided on the upper instrument panel for folders and documents. In addition, the passenger seat folds down to serve as a worktop or lunch table, or it extends the cargo space for hauling longer items such as pipe or lumber.
Passenger seat slide travel is nearly 9.5 inches. The durable 15×13-inch tray built into the seatback can fit most laptops and includes a penholder for use as a desk.
Power windows with auto up/down are standard, as is a 12-volt power outlet on the instrument panel and an additional 12-volt power point in rear of centre console is available. There is also a passenger-side underseat storage tray, drive computer, battery saver feature, AM/FM/CD with auxiliary input and two front door mounted speakers.
The NV200 Compact Cargo is sold in two models, the S at $21,998 and the SV at $23,398. Options are few with Bluetooth ($250) on the S; and a glass rear door ($250) and the Technology Package ($700) which includes expanded connectivity for the SV.
Ride time was brief because the main reason for being in San Diego was to drive the 2014 Versa Note hatchback, but the NV200 showed no vices even with the hard-riding high-pressure tires.
But through it all, I couldn’t help thinking here is the basis for a next generation Nissan minivan/people mover and a real challenge for the likes of Mazda5, Dodge Journey and Chevrolet Orlando.
Nissan has already committed to supplying New York City with the “Taxi of Tomorrow” yellow cabs based on the NV200.
As for a mini-MPV, a Nissan Canada official told me “we’ve looked at it” but it’s not in the cards at the present time probably because they will have their hands full trying to meet NV200/City Express demand from the production plant in Mexico.
One thing for sure is the emerging demand for smaller, lighter and more agile commercial vans has Nissan very much on top of this trend with the 2014 NV200 Compact Cargo.
Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo 2013
Body Style: Compact commercial van.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder (131 hp, 139 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: (Regular) CVT as tested, 8.7/7.1/8.0L/100 km city/highway/combined
Cargo: 3,474 liters; payload, 679 kg
Tow Rating: Not recommended
Price: S Base, $21,998 (optional Bluetooth, $250); SV Base, $23,398 (optional glass rear door, $200, Technology Package, $700)