Auto journalists are a crafty bunch. We're here to help you and to give you honest feedback on the cars we drive, but once in a while, we can be selfish, too. I once booked a sexy red Audi RS 5 Cabriolet to test drive, and my week with the car happened to conveniently fall on my birthday week last year.
This time around, I was moving into a new home and couldn't think of a better time to test Nissan's new NV200 cargo van. This may seem self-serving, but how can you properly test a cargo van if you didn't have a huge amount of stuff to haul? Don't call me a hero or anything, but this test was for you, the readers. The move was just a handy bonus, you know, to add context to the story.
The NV200 only comes in two trim levels, the S (starts at $20,240) and the SV ($21,230). To keep the price low, the van does not come with a huge list of standard features, but for the small price difference, the SV offers a lot more value and more opportunity to add useful options to get the most utility out of the van.
The first thing that takes getting used to is the NV's lack of rear windows. There's also no rear-view mirror, because, well, there's nothing to see. Luckily, the NV (in the higher SV trim) has an optional backup camera that makes parking the compact cargo van incredibly easy. This feature alone makes the SV's price premium worthwhile.
A high seating position, a large windshield, thin A-pillars with a window cut-out and big front windows make forward visibility fantastic. The NV's side mirrors are also huge and have a focus point on your blind spot, so despite not having rear windows, being fully aware of what's around you isn't a problem.
The rest of the interior is what should be expected from a compact cargo van: it is utilitarian. The grey, plastic dashboard is not a beautiful thing, but it's not supposed to be because its main goal is to be durable and easy to clean.
Everything is also logically laid out and user-friendly, and the cabin is filled with useful bins and cubbies big enough to store anything from file folders, to laptops, to loose parts. True to its "mobile office" aspirations, the passenger seat also folds all the way forward so you can use it as a desk, and there is a hidden drawer under the seat for more storage. The van also features two 12-volt power outlets and a USB input jack (both optional).
The front seats are not the most comfortable for long trips and they could use more bolstering, but they come with useful vinyl patches where the most wear-and-tear is expected. The inclusion of an arm rest is something that's often overlooked, but in a cargo van, it's very important, and the NV has it covered. Legroom is also very accommodating.
Moving rearward, the NV's cargo area means business. Behind the front seats, there is a cavernous 3,474 litres of cargo space and the van is rated to have a payload capacity of 679 kilograms. To make the most of that space, the NV includes 20 integrated and reinforced cargo mounting points so drivers can install custom shelving. In SV trim, six floor-mounted D-rings are standard, so you can tie down your cargo and keep it secure.
Some things I wished for were a brighter light in the cargo area and more cubbies or a cargo net in the back.
When I was moving boxed hardwood flooring to replace the dingy, old carpet in my newly acquired townhome, I found the cargo area extremely accommodating. The van's floors are flat, making it easy to slide large items in and out, and the load height is low to the ground (lift height is just about half a metre), so there was no heavy lifting needed. The 137-cm by 187-cm rectangular opening accessed by the 60/40 split cargo doors gives easy access to all your stuff.
Even when loaded close to capacity with hardwood flooring, the NV200's 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine never felt overwhelmed, although I would never refuse more power (or even a diesel option!). The direct-injection engine, which outputs 131 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque, is paired to a CVT, which I still feel lacks responsiveness; highway passing (especially with a payload in the back) takes a bit of patience.
Otherwise, driving the NV200 was even easier for me than driving a pickup truck. The NV200's compact dimensions and tight turning circle made it easy to manoeuvre in the city and in and out of busy Home Depot parking lots during my move.
If you have a business and need room to haul, the NV200 is a solid choice. Its versatility, durability and endless customization options paired with its easy-to-drive nature means you don't have to make huge sacrifices for practicality.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014