The Truth About Cars » full-size van The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:03:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » full-size van Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.


With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s “levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.


2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very “ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.




2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6


The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.


Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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Review: 2013 Nissan NV3500 HD SL 12 Passenger Van (Video) Sun, 13 Jan 2013 14:00:20 +0000  

Every now and then a journalist sticks his foot in his mouth, and so it was with me and a Nissan PR person. PR person: we go the extra mile to make sure the press has access to everything we make, we don’t hide anything. Me: (after a long pause) oh yea? What about the NV Passenger van? How about that!? Eh? Why haven’t I seen one before? Hiding something? My Nissan minder whipped out his phone, made a call and a ginormous shiny black box appeared a week later. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I did not, I repeat, did not grovel and beg to Nissan’s top brass to get my hands on a full-size van.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Public opinion on the NV’s styling ranged from “I love the bold grille” to “dear God, put my eyes out.” Let us know what you think in the comment section. The dominant feature on the NV is certainly the front end which features an honest-to-goodness hood. This might sound totally banal at first glance, but anyone who has worked on a GM van knows the engine isn’t under the hood; it’s mostly under the dash with a bit inside the cabin. (This is why minor repairs on a GM van tend to start with “first, drop the engine”). The NV looks more like someone grafted a bread van box to a Nissan Titan, which in many ways is exactly what Nissan did.

Personally I like the shape of the NV. It looks different from the current crop of domestic people movers, I like chrome bling and I have a soft spot for a long hood. Am I crazy? Perhaps, I like the way the Ford Flex looks too. Looks aside, there’s a practical benefit to having a hood: the engine isn’t in the foot-well. In the GM and Ford vans the engine position means your legs are cocked to one side and your right foot is cooked after a 2 hour road trip. The hood allowed Nissan to lower the floor up front improving head room and making the vehicle feel more like a typical SUV than a big-rig.

The NV’s dashboard is formed from hard plastic, just like GM and Ford’s passenger vans. Hard plastics in general put up to hard abuse better than trendy minivan squishy bits. The NV’s interior showed no early wear despite our tester’s gig as a Nissan shuttle for drunk journalists for most of its 6,500 mile life. Although Nissan felt the need to dress parts of the dash in matte black ala GM/Ford, the color choices seem more modern than the competition.

Shoppers have three trim levels to choose from: S, SV and SL. The $31,990 S model is the starting point for the NV vans. Creature comforts like power locks, power windows and cruise control can be added for $650 or come standard along with map lights, a center storage console, 120V inverter, two extra cup holders, backup parking sensors, power driver’s seat, two more speakers (6 total), and a CD player on the $34,190 SV model. The top-of-the-line $37,690 SL model adds dual-zone electronic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, leather surfaces on all 12 seats, heated front seats and Nissan’s “low-cost navigation” system with backup cam. All models come standard with a rear HVAC unit with vents in the ceiling and the floor for rear passengers. Nissan priced the NV carefully, slotting it between the GM 2500 and 3500 series vans (and considerably less than a “comparable”  2WD Suburban if you’re wondering.)

Our SL had Nissan’s standard 5-inch touch-screen nav unit (available on the SV for $950). The nav system also includes XM radio, XM traffic, USB/iDevice integration, Bluetooth speaker phone functionality and a much-needed backup cam. If you’re familiar with aftermarket nav systems, you’ll feel right at home with the Nissan system’s snappy and straightforward interface. The music player interface is fully featured, but the only voice commands built into the system are for the phone interface. While the system will let you browse your iPod or dial a phone number while you drive off the road, you must be completely stopped to enter a navigation destination.

The front seats and most of the switchgear are borrowed from the Titan, complete with adjustable head rests and driver’s lumbar support. Instead of a full-vinyl seat on the S and SV (like Ford and GM) Nissan uses a tough, car-like fabric for the seat and vinyl side bolsters for improved durability. Front seat comfort proved exceptional during my week with the NV, something that is even more impressive when you consider the Savanna and E-Series front seats were not designed with the human back in mind. The rear seats are far more comfortable than the competition but not overly comfortable in general thanks to moderately firm padding and an upright seating position.

Instead of 3-4 person bench seats, the NV takes a page from the minivan playbook and splits the rear thrones into 4 two-seat and 2 singe-seat modules. While the seat modules can’t be described as light, they are easier to remove and replace than those in the competition. Nissan claims the 6 seat modules allow for 324 different seating configurations. All you need to know is: you can carry 12 people and limited cargo, 10 people and 10 suitcases or 8 people with camping gear. Try that in an SUV.

Innovation has been absent from the van market for so long things like headrests in the rear seem like a novelty. The reality is they’re an essential safety feature providing greatly improved neck protection in rear-end accidents. This shouldn’t just matter to customers with large families but to businesses worried about liability lawsuits as well. In addition to the headrests, Nissan tosses in curtain airbags for all four rows (the competition covers the front row only) and seat belts  integrated into the seat modules. Integrated seat belts improve safety system geometry in a crash, they also keep you from having to climb through a seat belt jungle to get to the back row and when the seat is removed so are the belts.

As nice as these improvements are there are still a few things that would bug me if I needed a large family vehicle. The rear seats don’t fold which would make cargo hauling without removing the benches easier (they don’t recline either.) There is also a distinct cupholder shortage in the NV with 10 cup receptacles for 12 passengers (and 4 are up front leaving the 10 people in the back to fight over the remainder.) If you’re a baby-on-board type, the NV has three LATCH equipped seats and two more seats with extra top-tether-anchors.

Under the NV’s long hood you’ll find two engines. The S and SV models come standard with a 4.0L V6 lifted from Nissan’s Frontier pickup truck. The VVT equipped V6 is good for 261HP at 5,600RPM and 281lb-ft of twist at 4,000RPM. Nissan’s 5.6L V8 engine (a close relative to the Infiniti M56′s engine) bumps power to 317HP at 5,200RPM but more importantly cranks out 104lb0ft more twist than the V6 (385 total.) Nissan makes the V8 standard on the leather-clad SL, and a reasonable $900 option on the SV and $990 on the S. Both engines are mated to Nissan’s heavy-duty 5-speed automatic which sends power to the rear wheels only. If you need AWD, visit your Chevy or GMC dealer. The 5-speed auto is a welcome improvement over E-350′s 4-speed, but one cog shy of GM’s new 6-speed in most Express/Savanna models. (GM’s 1500 series vans still get ye olde 4-speed in both RWD and AWD configurations.)

Before you buy the V6 in hopes of better fuel economy, let’s go over some numbers. Our V8 SL tipped the scales at an eye-popping 6,862lbs, the V6 is only 200lbs lighter. Next, consider the payload. An “obese of Americans,” that’s my new collective noun, can reach or exceed the NV’s payload range of 2,408 (V8) to 2,700lbs (V6). Put in perspective the V8 is at its limit after 200lbs of cargo and twelve 180lb occupants. If your clientèle (or family) is on the waiting list for America’s Biggest Loser, look at GM’s 3500 series van. It can haul 3,515lbs of American beef. Trailer owners will be pleased to know the NV still boasts a stout 8,700lb V8 tow rating.

If you’ve been paying attention you will have added these numbers up and discovered a fully-loaded NV weighs a cheeseburger shy of 9,300lbs. Even with the V8′s 33% improvement in torque and a downshift-happy 5-speed, freeway entrance ramps require a heavy right foot, careful preparation and fervent prayer. Add an 8,700lb trailer and 12 campers and you have 18,000lbs to get up to speed. With numbers like these the slight power differences between the Nissan 5.6L and GM6.0L V8 and the extra cog in GM’s transmission just don’t make much difference in acceleration. Should you need more consistent shove, consider GM’s 6.6L diesel, just be prepared to shell out some serious cash since the 525ft-lb Duramax is a $14,000 option.

With a gross vehicle weight (GVWR) starting at 9,430lbs the NV isn’t required to wear an EPA fuel economy sticker, but considering the lighter Titan scores 13/18MPG with the same engine, keep your expectations low. Over a 550-mile week we averaged 13.8MPG in mixed driving and observed a high of 15 on the highway and a low of 10 around town. Most of that time the NV was nearly empty. That may sound bad, but you should keep in mind it’s no worse than the GM and Ford competition. It’s also likely more fuel efficient to carry 12 in one vehicle than driving two 6-passenger SUVs.

By putting the engine under a hood rather than under the dashboard (like GM and Ford), the NV had to be longer than the competition to carry the same number of people. This means the 12-passenger NV is about the same length as the 15-passegner Savana (18-inches longer then a Suburban) making it difficult to find parking spaces. Thankfully Nissan managed to give the behemoth a 45-foot turning radius which is several feet smaller than the GM and Ford vans and just two feet larger than a Suburban. Thankfully our SL model had standard front and rear parking sensors and a backup cam which proved essential in parking lot maneuvers.

With 245/70R17 rubber on all four corners, an SUV-like 8.1 inches of ground clearance, recirculating ball steering and a rear suspension that uses leaf springs and a solid rear axle, the NV behaves like a full-size pickup truck or 1990s full-size SUV out on the road. Nissan’s choice of steering mechanisms may sound odd, but it results in the NV having a more predictable on-center feel on the highway and requires less effort in the parking lot. Honestly, it still has more road feel than a BMW with EPAS.

As you would expect from a vehicle with a high payload capacity, the NV tends to get “bouncy” on broken pavement if the rear seats are unoccupied but overall the ride is closer to a Suburban than a cargo van thanks to the extra weight in the rear. Visibility is the major complain in the NV with the sea of whiplash-reducing headrests making rearward visibility nearly impossible even without passengers in the van. In addition the NV sports an incredibly large B-pillar on the driver’s side which creates a large blind spot on your left. The optional backup cam solves part of the rearward visibility question, and Nissan does include blind spot mirrors on both sides of the NV but I still found the thick pillar bothersome because I’m used to looking over my shoulder when required.

When I tested Nissan’s cargo NV last year I found it to be the most civilized and comfortable van on the market, well priced and ideal for the owner/operator man-in-the-van. The passenger version of the NV sets a new benchmark in a phone-booth sized (and often overlooked) market segment. If you’re looking for a comfortable and upscale vehicle for your airport shuttle business or the most comfortable way to transport your family of twelve, you don’t have many options. Ford’s new T-Series van shows plenty of promise but won’t be on sale for nearly a year. Until the T-Series is out and we can get our hands on one, the Nissan NV should be the first and only van on your list.


 Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.510 Seconds

0-60: 9.52 Seconds

¼ mile: 16.55 Seconds @ 85.9MPH

Average fuel economy: 13.8MPG over 550 miles

2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, badging, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Front 1/4 View, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Exterior, Rear with cargo doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seat Cupholders, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Engine, 5.6L V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Engine, 5.6L V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Front Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, ceiling, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, ceiling HVAC vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, front seat controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Navigation Radio, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Navigation Radio, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Navigation Radio, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Navigation Radio, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Gauge Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van, Interior, Gauge Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 41
Commercial Week Day Three Review: 2012 Ford E-Series Cargo Van Wed, 18 Apr 2012 16:26:25 +0000 Our look at Nissan and GM’s van offerings would be out-of-place without including the Van “built Ford tough”. We know that the E-Series days are numbered – Ford recently announced the American Transit van T-Series will come with the holy grail of Ford powertrains, the 3.5L twin-turbo Ecoboost V6. Turbo love aside, is it wise to stock up on old-school vans before the trendy new models come on the scene? If you’re worried about new model glitches and want a van that’s as old as time, with a bullet-proof Ford modular V8 and a transmission that’s a bit shy on gears, it might just be your choice. With the E-Series’ days numbered and the commercial vehicle segment being as exciting as Wonder Bread, the lack of press fleet vans was no surprise. What’s a rag like TTAC to do? Spend a week in a Hertz special.

Although we ended up with a passenger van, and not a commercial van, all E-series vans feature a large front grille and longer hood thanks to a refresh in 2008 to make them look more like the F-series. Wagon and recreation vans use aerodynamic headlamp modules and acres of chrome, while base commercial cargo haulers have a blacked out grille and sealed beam headlamps. The chrome bling and modern headlamps look decidedly more attractive, but on a practicality level there’s a problem: those  snazzy duds are more expensive to repair when John Doe (your least careful employee) rear-ends Ms Daisy on Main Street. For $235 Ford will sell you their middle-of-the-road package which retains the black bumper cover but upgrades the lamps and grille. I’d stick with the base model if you’re not driving your own van. Out back the E-series vans all feature swing-out doors that open to a full 178 degrees making them almost as useful as the doors in the Nissan NV (the NV’s essentially fold flat to the side of the van) and more convenient than the 165 degree doors on the GM competition. Like GM, Ford offers your choice of a sliding or 60/40 split side door.

Our E-350′s interior is circa 2009, when Ford raided the Super Duty parts bin which means Ford’s SYNC radio and navigation units are on the E-series menu, a notable upgrade from GM’s infotainment options. Should your fleet need some big brother love, the CrewChief GPS tracking and monitoring system is available on most models. Our van was a rental, which meant of course that it had been driven hard, put away wet and had a vague aroma of spoilt milk and dog urine. This wasn’t some primped press car folks. After a quick wipe-down to prepare it for the camera, it was obvious the hard plastics inside were built to last showing little wear, just like the GM and Nissan offerings. On the creature comfort side, A/C is standard and Ford makes a backup cam, backup sensors and the aforementioned navigation system with SYNC optional. Volume purchasers beware, adding SYNC will bump your MSRP up $1,010 as it requires you upgrade to the four-speaker package and inexplicably you must add cruise control to the party.  If those items were already on your menu, then SYNC (with Bluetooth) itself becomes a $475 bump. Ford also offers an integrated trailer brake controller for $230 and a set of in-dash auxiliary switches (the same as in the Super Duty trucks) for $85 making it easier to pimp your ride.

If the phrase “all-new drivetrains” sets your loins on fire, skip this section. Ford offers a limited engine selection compared to GM – two V8s and a V10. The observant will notice that a V6 or diesel V8 option are conspicuous by their absence (the V6 was dropped in 2008 and the diesel in 2009).  While Ford markets the E-150 as the only full-sized van with a standard V8, I’m not sure 225HP and 286lb-ft (13/17MPG) are anything to trumpet when Buick’s 2.0L turbo four cylinder beats both figures and delivers them across a broader range (durability concerns aside of course). The optional 5.4L V8 bumps the power figures to (a still less than competitive) 255HP and 350lb-ft (12/16MPG) and was the engine in our rental. Even empty acceleration was sluggish and when loaded with 5 passengers and a weekend’s camping gear it was best described as “glacial”. The problem is not the 255HP, the Ford’s ancient 4-speed automatic which is the only transmission available with either V8. GM’s base 4.8L V8 may deliver less torque at 295lb-ft, yet combined with the modern 6-speed transmission the GM van never feels out of breath even in mountainous terrain. The E-Series on the other-hand often seemed like it was hunting for a gear that didn’t exist, especially on mountain highways and in steep urban settings. Ford’s optional 6.8L V10 brings a newer 5-speed auto, but it is still a cog behind GM. Despite superficially healthy numbers for the Ford V8 (305HP/420lb-ft), GM counters with a 6.0L V8 at 324HP/373lb-ft and one extra gear making it yet again the performance and “driveability” winner. On the green-cred front, Ford’s  V8 engines can be ordered with liquid propane or compressed natural gas prep packages; all you do is have a conversion company add the gas cylinders. Beware though, that the CNG conversion costs $13,000. While your gaseous E-Series may deliver fewer MPGs on the road and the “savings” are dubious, California and a few select states will allow solo CNG drivers in the HOV lanes with permanent stickers if your conversion is done at the time of purchase.

A van’s mission is to shift the most stuff. Both Ford and GM offer extended vans to swallow more, but how they extend differs. Ford offers an extended body while GM extends both the wheelbase and the body. Neither option is an outright winner so which option is better? That depends on what you’re hauling and where. GM’s regular wheelbase of 135 inches is shorter than the E-series’s 138 inch model and this helps GM’s V6 van be the most nimble with a 43-foot turning circle vs the E-Series standard 48-foot. Adding the V8 to GM’s van bumps the circle to 49-feet. The E-Series’ standard 216-inch length (vs the 224-inch long Express) is responsible for its slightly smaller cargo capacity able to swallow 12.5-foot long items vs GM’s standard 13-foot sword swallowing ability. Extending the rear of the E-Series takes cubic cargo capacity from 237 cubic feet to 278 cubic feet and allowed 14.6-foot items to be carried from the dash to the rear doors, while that sounds good, GM’s extended wheelbase vans measure in at a whopping 20-feet-5-inches holding 313 cubic feet of cargo and swallowing items that are 16-feet long (if placed carefully inside). The downside to GM’s wheelbase stretch is the enormous 54-foot turning circle making U-turns difficult even on the widest of expressways. The upside of the extension is superior handling when the cargo area is full by spreading the weight more evenly between the front and rear axles.

As my week with the E-Series van came to a close I had more questions than answers. Why would anyone that owned and operated their own van buy the Ford van over the Nissan NV which offers more creature comforts, more power and better fuel economy? Similarly, who would a large commercial customer buy the E-Series van over GM’s Express/Savana van with a wider selection of options, heavy-duty six-speed transmissions, greater hauling capacity and better fuel economy? At the end of the day the E-Series is a tired workhorse that knows it’s being sent to pasture, yet sales remain high for one reason; companies like a homogeneous fleet. Fleet buyers like being able to buy the same van they brought 10 years ago, knowing the same custom widgets will bolt right on. Perhaps that’s why Ford has pledged that the E-Series will soldier on even after the introduction of the Transit T-Series in America. With an advertised 25% better fuel economy on tap, let’s hope Ford can convince the commercial buyer lemmings to switch to a better product rather than defect to the competition.


This is part three of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford Transit Connect:



 TTAC searched high and low, found the best web coupons and rented an E-350 van for a week for this review. Gas was expensive and not included.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 10.1 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 10.4MPG over 896 miles


IMG_4337 IMG_4338 IMG_4339 2012 Ford E-350 Van, Exterior, grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4341 IMG_4342 IMG_4343 IMG_4344 IMG_4345 IMG_4346 IMG_4347 IMG_4352 IMG_4357 IMG_4358 IMG_4359 IMG_4361 IMG_4362 IMG_4363 IMG_4364 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Commercial Week Day Two Review: 2012 GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express Tue, 17 Apr 2012 18:28:03 +0000
The Nissan NV may be an exciting newcomer, but the tried-and-true GM and Ford vans are the staple of the commercial market. Our own Mike Solowiow took exception with the 2007 Chevrolet Express passenger van as a passenger hauler back in 2008. Will the no-frills cargo hauler variant find favor with us here at TTAC? More importantly, can GM’s smorgasbord of configuration options dethrone Ford as the volume van seller during the upcoming T-Series transition?

There’s not much styling to discuss when it comes to GM’s full-size vans, but is that important in a work truck? When you’re buying a fleet of work trucks, or just one or two vans for your delivery employees to drive, repair costs are a critical factor. (Seriously, have you seen how cargo-van-drivers drive?) If this describes your employees, buying a Nissan NV with it’s large shiny chrome bumper could be a bad business move, as bumper covers for the Express and Savana go for $75 online. The story is the same from stem to stern eschewing expensive aerodynamic plastic headlamp assemblies (available on the passenger vans) for sealed-beam halogen units, acres of easy-to-Bondo panels and a rear end that’s as discount as it gets. Shoppers have their choice of four standard paint colors, four $150 optional colors, or the ever so popular full-body vinyl wrap. If you’re shopping off the lot, expect to get any color you want so long as its white. 1500 models get a 17-inch steel wheel while 2500 and 3500 models get a 16-inch wheel wrapped in 245 width 75 series rubber for added load capacity.

Nissan’s NV is clearly designed for owner-operators, and it shows with driver oriented features, comfy seats and the positioning of human-room over cargo room. If you thought the last van sporting engine access inside the cabin was driven by the A-Team, think again. Because cargo is king for the GM vans, the engine is pushed as far into the cabin as possible maximizing interior volume and minimizing the external footprint (that’s all relative of course). Having the engine located between the driver and front passenger footwells both limits legroom and cooks the driver’s right leg on long drives. It also means the transmission is under the van between the seats resulting in a fairly high step-in height. On the flip side it means the Savana and Express can swallow 13-foot items in short wheelbase form and the long wheelbase version can schlep 15-foot goods. (The E-series comes in at 12.5 feet and 14.6 feet). Standard equipment includes seats and a steering wheel but stops short of in-dash entertainment of any variety. Buyers have the option of an AM/FM radio, a mid-level unit with a CD player and a higher end unit that brings basic iPod/iPhone functionality. Sadly no navigation system is available in any model.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Let’s be honest. If I’m buying a van for my business and my employees are the ones driving it around, all talk of driver comfort is comparatively less important than the rest of this review, so let’s talk hauling. No other commercial vehicle comes in as many variations as GM’s vans. From 8-15 passenger versions for Zeta Cartel affiliates, two different wheelbases, and cab-only cutaways for shuttle bus and ambulance duty all of which can be had with a variety of engine and transmission choices, there are more variations than you can imagine. As you would expect, payload capacities range from 2,000lbs 1500 models to 4,184lbs in 3500 models. The only area where the Nissan NV clearly trumps GM’s offerings is height with it’s optional 6’2″ interior cargo area. Although you can have a conversion company extend your roof, it’s not as clean as Nissan’s solution and usually the doors left at their regular height, making it difficult to load large cargo. GM fights back with hinged side doors and a considerably longer cargo hold in the extended version.

Although GM offers the widest selection of engines,shoppers should choose carefully as there are some questionable selections on the menu. Let’s start with the 1500 series vans. First up is the ancient 190HP, 260lb-ft 4.3L V6 delivering the best fuel economy at 15/20MPG (city/highway), a 310HP, 334lbft 5.3L V8 with variable valve timing is optional on the 1500 RWD (13/18MPG) and standard on the 1500 AWD van (13/18MPG). Both engines are mated to a light duty four-speed 4L60E automatic transmission. Buyers should know, our informal polling of several large GM fleet customers indicated the 4L60E is notably less reliable than the heavy-duty 6-speed 6L90 used in 2500 and 3500 vans since 2010.

All 2500 and 3500 models come standard with a recently revised 280HP, 192lb-ft 4.8L V8 with VVT mated to GM’s 6-speed automatic good for 13/18MPG. An optional ($995) 324HP, 373lb-ft 6.0L V8 with VVT is available should you feel the need for speed in your cargo hauler. If you believe in burning oil, GM is happy to sell you their 6.6L Duramax V8 diesel engine which is de-tuned from truck duty to 260HP and 525lb-ft (from 397HP/765lb-ft) and delivered 18.8MPG on average for us. Don’t expect the diesel to save you money however as buying it will set you back a whopping $12,000. Perhaps the most enticing option for the GM vans however is the factory built CNG version, one of only two factory built CNG vehicles on the road (the other is the Honda Civic GX). Based on the 6.0L V8 and putting down 279HP and 320lb-ft of twist in gaseous-guise the option will set you back $15,885 and provides a 300+ mile range at the expense of a 5 cubic feet reduction in cargo capacity. While the option seems best suites to markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles where there is a moderate CNG infrastructure (or if you install a “home” refill station), at $1.95 per gallon “equivalent” in the option will pay for itself before you hit 100,000 miles. (Based on current California gasoline prices)

Nissan does not release MPG numbers for the NV vans, but our high-top V8 averaged 14.2MPG and a 40 mile test drive in a standard roof V8 yielded 14.8MPG. From the blue oval competition their 4.6L V8 will do 13/17, the 5.4L V8 drops to 12/16 and the 6.8L V10 rounds out the bottom at 10/14. We average a solid 17MPG during a 90 mile mixed-driving trip with the 4.8L V8 in a base 2500 series van making it the best cost/performance ratio option in this segment.

Towing may not seem like an obvious consideration, but a quick check with the construction crowd confirmed it is important. While the V6 Nissan NV 1500 boasts a 7,000lb tow rating vs GM’s 4,300lb rating for their 1500 series V6 van, Nissan’s 261HP/281lb-ft V6 is probably best pitted against GM’s 4.8L V8 (280HP/296lb-ft) which starts with a 7,400lb towing capacity. We were only able to get our hands on a 5,000lb load to haul with the Nissan and GM vans, but  the difference was enlightening. (Note: tests with the 1500 series GM van were completed with a 4,000lb trailer because if its reduced towing capacity). With trailer attached, GM’s V6 van could barely get out of its own way, while Nissan’s more powerful V6 and 5-speed transmission performed well maintaining 55MPH on a 6% grade, but passing wasn’t really in the cards. GM’s hunt-happy four-speed automatic was as much to blame for this problem as the V6′s specs.

Nissan’s V8 (317HP/385lb-ft) proved a willing tow companion on the same grade able to accelerate from 50-60MPG without drama for passing uphill. GM fights back their 6-speed automatic making the 6.0L V8 the better tow partner, but most importantly making the 4.8L V8 a logical and economical alternative. For those considering the jump from 1500 to 2500 series vans to get the 6-cog transmission, our up-hill towing test demonstrated just how important extra gear ratios are with the less powerful 2500 series (4.8L V8) easily outperforming the 1500 (5.3L V8) due to the two extra gears. Should you need the maximum schlepping ability, GM’s 3500 van with the 6.6L diesel V8 is good for a class leading 10,000lbs of trailering and 4,148lbs of in-van hauling. Ford is of course the other major player in this market, but time and progress have left the E-Series behind. Ford offers only three engine options at this time: a 225HP/286lb-ft 4.6L modular V8, a 255HP/350lb-ft 5.4L V8 and a 305HP/420lb-ft 6.8L V10. Both V8s are available only with a four-speed automatic while the V10 gets a 5-speed.

As I said in our review of the NV, pricing commentary is difficult when it comes to a commercial vehicle. I was unable to get specific rebate numbers, but I am told that fleet buyers should expect around $1000 back with a purchase of five vans and around $2,500 for 25 vans plus the usual bevy of enticing freebies. Don’t take those numbers as gospel, fleet buyers should contact the manufacturers for ordering details as the configurations are near endless. While the NV 1500 is a hair cheaper than a Chevy Express 1500, GM’s 2500 series van is only around $755 more expensive than an NV 1500 netting the buyer the heavy-duty transmission, brakes, and increased hauling capacity. Compared to the present competition, GM’s Chevy Express and GMC Savana twins deliver high-capacity hauling, more variations, and thanks to the new 6-speed transmissions, class leading fuel economy making them easily the top pick for fleet use. If however you’re driving your own van, the slight reduction in utility  and observed fuel economy of the Nissan NV are offset by vastly improved creature comforts and more room for the driver at a very compelling price. Until the blue oval can get the new T-Series van online, the best hauling options on the market seem to be from Nissan and GM, check out our E-Series review for more on that tomorrow.


This is part two of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect


General Motors provided the vehicle, one tank of diesel and insurance for this review

0-60: 9.4 Seconds

 Average fuel economy: 18.8MPG over 435 miles

IMG_4221 2012 GMC Savana Cargo Van, 6.6L Duramax diesel engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4224 IMG_4225 IMG_4227 IMG_4228 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, rear doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4231 IMG_4232 IMG_4233 IMG_4234 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Side doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4236 IMG_4240 IMG_4241 IMG_4242 IMG_4243 IMG_4244 IMG_4245 IMG_4246 IMG_4247 IMG_4248 IMG_4249 IMG_4250 IMG_4251 IMG_4320 IMG_4321 IMG_4322 IMG_4323 IMG_4324 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, headlamps and grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Duramax diesel engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Interior, Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 31
Commercial Week Day One Review: 2012 Nissan NV Cargo Van Mon, 16 Apr 2012 12:15:02 +0000

The man-in-the-van makes the world go round but our brothers in white rarely get any love. That’s what this week is all about, it’s TTAC’s first ever commercial vehicle roundup. Plumbers, carpet cleaners, satellite TV installers, couriers, builders, we have heard your cries! Inspired by the lack of decent cargo hauler reviews (one review contained the line: “It has 8 cylinders which makes it a V8” ouch), we have assembled the cream of the commercial crop for your reading pleasure.

Today we have the new comer in the group, the all-new, all-Nissan NV2500 followed tomorrow by GM’s cargo hauler, Ford’s E-Series and Transit Connect and a special left-field review on day 5. Stay tuned! You’re probably thinking I forgot Mercedes’ Sprinter, but I didn’t. Commercial buyers I interviewed thought the Sprinter’s 6-cylinder diesel and high MSRP put it in a niche that didn’t directly compete with the white-vans of America. Can Nissan beat Detroit at its own game?

The NV has an honest-to-goodness hood. This might sound totally banal at first glance, but anyone who has worked on a GM van knows the engine isn’t under the hood; it’s mostly under the dash with a bit inside the cabin. (This is why minor repairs on a GM van tend to start with “first, drop the engine”). The NV looks more like someone grafted a bread van onto a Nissan Titan, which in many ways is exactly what Nissan did. Nissan’s research indicated many owner/driver “man-in-a-van” customers had defected to pickups as the American cargo van has been short on innovation for decades. Available in 1500, 2500 and 3500 variants, the NV uses a heavily modified Titan platform with a beefier frame, recirculating ball steering and heavy-duty suspension. Despite the hefty changes, the NV3500 is only 500lbs heavier than a crew-cab Titan allowing the high-roof NV3500 V8 to sprint to 60 in a rather surprising 7.9 seconds.

Looks aside, there’s a practical benefit to having a hood: the engine isn’t in the footwell. After three weeks driving Ford, GM and Nissan vans back-to-back, the difference in the Nissan was extreme: my size-12s actually fit in the footwell and weren’t cooked to perfection after a 1 hour drive. The NV’s seats benefit from the Titan connection being considerably more comfortable than the competition. Instead of a full-vinyl seat, Nissan opts for a vinyl side bolster and tough fabric, allowing better breathing and increased durability on the edge that gets the most wear. Base S models have standard air conditioning and a CD player while the SV model we drove includes cruise control, power accessories, two extra speakers and parking sensors (a life saver when navigating the high-top NV3500 around the streets of LA).

Plastics are hard, but that’s exactly what you would expect from a work truck, and they didn’t show early signs of wear like the plastics in last year’s Ram 3500. Borrowed from the Versa is Nissan’s “low-cost” navigation system with a 5-inch touch-screen, XM radio, XM traffic, bluetooth and iPod integration for $950. While an aftermarket GPS is about $500 cheaper, the integrated unit works extremely well and is probably one of my favorite factory nav systems. Shoppers should keep in mind that the side-impact curtain airbags are not standard, so if you’re buying off the lot, check the window sticker.

NVs get a choice of engines; the Titan’s 317HP/385lb-ft 5.6L V8 or the Frontier’s 261HP/281lb-ft 4.0L V6. Both are mated to a 5-speed automatic with power sent only to the rear, as Nissan doesn’t have plans for an AWD version right now. The extra cog is a welcome improvement over Ford’s 4-speed auto in the E-Series, but one shy of GM’s new 6-speed in most Express/Savanna models. Absent from the NV is a diesel option, something only GM provides at the moment. Nissan claims the NV will meet or beat GM and Ford’s MPG numbers, but that’s not really saying much when the competition runs around 10MPG.

The NV’s V8 is a thirsty companion, averaging around 13MPG in mixed driving and 14-15 on the highway, which merely matches GM’s 6.0L V8.  This is an issue for large fleet operators as gas prices climb. If you can give up a little power, GM’s 4.8L V8 equipped van delivers 14/19MPG which beats the V8 NV handily.

Instead of offering the NV in different lengths, Nissan decided the sky was the limit and offers two different heights. In order to compare the NV with the ubiquitous GM boxes, I dropped by Coit Services and snagged a 3500 series extended van. The difference was enlightening. Outside, the NV is about as long as the extended GM van, but interior space is similar to the GM regular wheelbase version. The optional high-roof makes no difference when it comes to jamming long ladders into the vehicle, but the 6-foot 3-inch ceiling height makes working inside the van a far less back-breaking. Depending on your business model and the length/height of your cargo, this $2,550 option may be worth it, especially considering GM/Ford high-top conversions usually don’t increase the height of the doors. Just be careful with those short parking garages.

The 120-inch by 70-inch cargo area can be equipped with a 120V outlet, and a variety of load-floor material choices, including a laminated wood option for easier pallet loading. Channeling your inner dominatrix, six D-ring hold downs are included and good for 1,100lbs each. Aiding ingress and egress, the rear doors open to a full 243-degrees and have magnetic latches to keep the doors practically parallel to the side of the van. Once you have your pallet loaded the wider track (54.3 inches between the wheel wells) of the NV makes walking around the load to secure it much easier than in the E-Series or Express/Savana twins. Mind you, 4×8 sheets of whatever will fit easily in any of the Detroit options. The only cargo-area features Nissan left out are dual-side sliding doors or a double hinged side door.

As I had to fly to Los Angeles to pick up the NV, I had a 5-hour journey back to San Francisco to become acquainted with the NV. On the highway, the NV impressed with light steering effort but very straight tracking making highway miles easy to deal with. I’d like to say we tested the handling limits of the NV, but Nissan said they would rather we didn’t flip the only van they had in California. Absolute limits aside, the NV drives more like a large SUV than I expected. You can thank the 385 lb-ft of torque for making freeway on-ramps and merging an easy task. Nissan rates the payload capacity at a healthy 3,925lbs for the standard roof NV3500 and 3,637lbs for the high roof model we tested. If towing is your thing, the NV will haul 9,500lbs when V8 equipped and 7,000lbs with the V6. In comparison, GM’s 3500 series delivers 4,394lbs of cargo capacity and a 10,000lb tow rating.

Pricing is a difficult discussion when it comes to a commercial vehicle. While we all know that there’s usually some good money on the hood with the American products for a single purchase, fleet buyers get manufacturer rebates for purchasing certain numbers of vehicles. While I was unable to get specific numbers from Nissan, I am told that fleet buyers should expect around $700 back with a minimum purchase of three NV vans and around $2,000 for 25 vans plus the usual bevy of enticing freebies.Apparently, domestic brands typically offer a larger rebate. If you’re a man-in-a-van, fleet discounts don’t matter, but the $24,950 base price of the standard roof NV 1500 which is a hair cheaper than the $25,090 base price of the Chevy Express.

For large volume fleet buyers, GM’s longer and larger cargo area, steeper discounts, a wider variety of engine choices and low repair costs probably trump things like driver comfort, well thought out features, and an engine that’s easy to work on. However if you own and operate your own van (or you care about the comfort of your employees), the Nissan NV delivers driver-oriented features that simply can’t be beat by the competition. With the NV , Nissan has created a solid work van that would be my choice for a daily driver, and with the recently announced passenger version of the NV, a van that has definitely put the Americans on notice.


This is part one of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect

Nissan provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review. Nissan did not however pay the cost of the round-trip Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles to pick up/deliver the NV.

Statistics as tested:

0-30: 3.010 Seconds

0-60: 7.96 Seconds

¼ mile: 15.98 Seconds @ 91.9MPH

Average fuel economy: 14.2MPG over 950 miles (est: 12/17MPG low roof, 14/19 V6)

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