2007 Nissan Urvan Review

2007 nissan urvan review

I'm piloting a vehicle with a mid-mounted engine coupled to a close ratio transmission. The steering feel transmitted through the chunky helm is sublime, matching Bimmers of yore. Wearing a maniacal grin, I [hypothetically] pitch my whip into a corner at an [allegedly] injudicious speed, listening to the engine, passengers and tires scream. As I clip the apex, I punch the throttle. The powerplant howls as the chassis adopts hooligan-induced oversteer. I saw at the wheel, maintaining a sideways slide. Audi RS4? Chevrolet Corvette? Nope. I'm driving a tall, skinny, eight-passenger Nissan Urvan.

I recently spent some quality time with the Urvan as part of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Normally, the United States Air Force (USAF) favors Ford E-Series vans. In this theater, though, they purchased a fleet of Urvans for USAF flight crews, aircraft maintainers, security forces and anyone else in the service needing a cheap, reliable carryall.

Despite resembling a rolling refrigerator (especially in heat-resistant white), the Urvan (a.k.a. Homy I kid you not) sports a Spartan yet elegant, almost European look. The blacked-out window surrounds set the pace. Nissan offers several options to spruce-up its workhorse (e.g. a brush bar with large spotlights and alloy wheels). Of course, the Air Force favors the basic box.

Inside, hard, GI-resistant plastic abounds. Heavy-duty blue and black-striped cloth covers the seats. And yet the emphasis on durability and utility doesn't detract from Urvan cabin's ambiance, well-thought-out ergonomics and welcome details. For example, the driver's and front passenger's seats feature 350Z-style thigh bolsters; perfect for eight hour treks across parched sand dunes. The Urvan's pedal placement lends itself to easy combat boot heel-and-toeing, despite requiring a vertical movement more suited to stomping on camel spiders.

While raked at a very un-Porsche-like angle, the Urvan's steering wheel falls readily to hand. The cupholders don't interfere with the operation of the very effective air-conditioning nor the gearshift lever.

In short, Chrysler should take notes from the Urvan on how to create an inexpensive, easy-to-use plastic interior that conveys durability without screaming "cheap!"

While European and Far Eastern Urvans tend towards a 3.0-liter oil burner, Uncle Sam's desert-plying Urvan's sport a 2.4-liter 148hp, twin-cam four-cylinder mill. The gas engine is life-or-death reliable while delivering acceptable power and reasonable fuel efficiency. Coupled to a precise yet long-throw five-speed shifter, the Urvan ambles to 100kmh in about 12.5 seconds. (Bonus! An 80's Toyota Supra exhaust note.) Terminal velocity arrives at 180kmh (112mph); a daunting prospect considering the 190mm of airbag-free crumple zone immediately ahead of the driver.

The Urvan lacks a tachometer in all but the highest trim levels, but the a/c belt squeal lets you know when to shift. Engine access is via a hatch beneath the driver's seat, shading desert drivers who might, say, repair the shift linkage with a coat hanger or patch the water pump with window sealant.

The Urvan's handling displays true genius. Drivers can use the standard rack-and-pinion power steering to thread through Abu Dhabi traffic like a local, albeit without Range Rover cachet. The Urvan's body leans like an Oklahoma fencepost in the wind, yet the chassis' stability– featuring independent double-wishbones (front) and semi-elliptical leaf springs (rear)– could serve as a model for the Arabian Peninsula. The body bobs on bumps but never feels out of control. The Urvan's skinny tires are able to cope with all but the most extreme maneuvers.

Despite the Roman chariot-style rear leaf springs, the Urvan's ride presents an excellent compromise between durability, comfort and handling. Stomp on the brakes, and the Urvan nosedives like Britney Spears' career, yet manages to stop in an amazingly short distance.

And there's drifting. Yes, drifting. It is entirely possible (if highly improbable) to treat an Urvan's passengers to a view of the road ahead coming at them through the side window. Just get up a lick of speed, tap the brakes, flick the steering wheel and voila! Tokyo drift, for a LOT longer than you'd ever imagine. While I would never, ever recommend this behavior for anyone charged with the safety of U.S. government property, it is, in theory, a hoot.

The Urvan has an unpretentious connection with the mechanicals very few vehicles possess any more. While the Urvan hardly rivals the Mazda3 for cheap thrills, the Nissan lives up to the design requirements of its demographic perfectly, while providing sufficient dynamic pleasures to keep a sports car driver entertained. To drive an Urvan, nay, to FLOG an Urvan stirs feelings of hooliganism in all but the most cold-hearted Marine sergeant.

The Urvan is a van that refuses to die, runs on pennies, puts a grin on a pistonhead's face and boasts a distinguished U.S. Armed Forces combat history. Will Nissan bring the Urvan stateside to tussle with the Econoline? Probably not. For that, Ford should be thankful.

[Captain Mike Solowiow is an Air Weapons Officer on an E-3 Sentry AWACS jet. The opinions expressed here are his and not those of the U.S. Air Force, nor do they constitute a product endorsement by the USAF.]

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  • K_graham K_graham on Mar 07, 2008

    You don't have to go Iraq to see these, simply hop the border to Mexico. you will see 10,000 running around as Combi's. These are the people movers of Mexico, running a route like a bus but much quicker. They come regular style like shown here and with raised roofs about 18" higher as seen on this one from Mexico. I've not been in one with air conditioning but I'm told they can be ordered that way. They have a passenger side sliding door with a modification of a rope and lever system to speed customer entry and exit. All I've seen have the seats on side and across back. Modifications may include a Toyota rear axle as the Toyota carries a larger passenger load. These units have no airbags, no sheet metal in front to take a crash. They do go a lot of miles. Here is a unit with the raised top. Location South Western Mexico on Pacific Coast but beside Central Americas tallest Mountain. http://picasaweb.google.ca/kgraham.printer/TapachulaToTacanaMexico

  • Problemchild Problemchild on Aug 18, 2009

    HEY I ONCE OWNED ONE AM FROM THE CARIBBEAN AND THESE ACT AS YOUR EVERYDAY VEHICLE ITS VERY ECONOMICAL AND THE PERFORMANCE IS TOP RATED DRIFTING IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES BUT FOR THE SHEER THRILL TAKE IT UP TO 120MPH WHICH IS MAX SPEED I MISS THIS VAN HANDLES JUST LIKE A CAR

  • Renewingmind The idea of a silent smell free world of vehicles sounds wonderful from a quality of life standpoint. Start with diesel trucks. Especially big ones. They are the worst offenders for fumes and noise.
  • DenverMike Pininfarina I know it's not related to this, I just like saying it.
  • Matt Posky I don't understand the appeal of fake meat and this seems to operate under a similar premise: You don't want the V8 because someone says it's bad for you. But you can have something designed to mimic the experience because that's what your body actually wants. The styling is cool I guess. But I don't understand why EVs don't just lean into what they are. Companies can make them produce any wooshing or humming noises they want. Buiding an entire system to help you pretend it still has a combustion engine seems a little lame.
  • DenverMike I'm sure it would have a volume control. It's nice to sneak into my neighborhood at 2am quietly. Or creep out, 4am. I don't get much sleep OK, but I always keep my V8 exhaust stock, as much as I love the sound of others loud. My stereo would make it pointless anyway.
  • FreedMike I’d love to see more tracks, or off-road parks if that’s your jam. But for those of us who’d love to take part in this kind of thing, practicality is the limiting factor. Racing has always been expensive, and most people don’t want to do it with their daily drivers - I’d love to see what my GLI would do on a track, but not at the cost of voiding my warranty, or potentially wrapping up the car (which I’m pretty sure would put me on State Farm’s Keith Moon-trashing-the-Holiday Inn list). As a practical matter, you have to have a vehicle that is intended to be used for racing, and the ability to fix it; most folks don’t have that kind of money or skill set.
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