By on April 16, 2012

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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42 Comments on “Commercial Week Day One Review: 2012 Nissan NV Cargo Van...”

  • avatar

    Passenger version? Will it cost a lot more, and how many seats? Thanks for the informative review, I don’t think I have seen a review of a commercial van before. Maybe the Connect when it first came out.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Yes, but the Express/Savannah boast one attribute (!!) that NV (and to a lesser degree, the Ford Econoline) lacks: they completely suck.

    No, seriously. There is no vehicle on the road today that’s as uniformly awful as the GM vans. From the handling to the seats to the sheet metal than dents when you close the door, they’re just wretched. I used to work for an aftermarket van/truck body maker, and the Econoline outsold the GM vans handily because, frankly, it didn’t suck. Even people who wanted GM product would skip the van in favour of something built off the HD or MD trucks instead.

    And it’s not like this is a new situation: GM vans sucked since they’re inception. They’ve sucked through various generations.

    Unless you were beholden to GM because you’re a brand nut, have a brother who owns a dealer and/or live in, eg, Oshawa, there’s no good reason to pick one.

    • 0 avatar

      This might be slightly myopic, but I see quite a few more GM vans than the Econoline in the Toronto area. I used to work for a school board in the general area that basically bought nothing but Expresses (it was a fight to get one pickup in the fleet for someone who genuinely benefited from the bed).

      But you’re right, they’re pretty terrible (especially when contrasted against a $25,000 Silverado). They’re just easy enough to justify on the balance sheet.

  • avatar

    It happens that I was reading up on these yesterday. Give it windows in the back and AWD, and it could be my next ride. With that full standing headroom + lots of room for bikes and other gear it might be perfect for my outdoor pursuits.

  • avatar

    You could fit an excellent mural on the sides of one of these.

  • avatar

    No side door?

  • avatar

    Not so sure about the Sprinter not being competitive due to its higher up front costs compared to the cheapo domestic branded vans and this Nissan NV.

    I know a fleet owner who has a wide variety of vans, and the most popular with drivers is the Sprinter. The seats are nicer for all day driving and fuel economy (especially with the 5 cylinder) is fantastic. They’re also quite durable as most of them are well past the 600k, there are even a few that are over the million mile mark and show no real signs of slowing down. Some of them have had the head gasket replaced around the 400k mark on the 5 pot engines.

    His V6 Sprinters are still babies at less than 200k miles, so I can’t account for any anecdotal reliability matrices on those.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it would be worthwhile to review the Sprinter to see if the price premium is worth it. The people that I have talked to who have driven them love the low beltline, visibility, handling, and fuel economy. Are these attributes real, and if they are is it worth the price premium?

      Good to see the Nissan review. These vehicles are an important part of out economy and sell in far higher quantities than exotic sports cars. However, the press junkets (if they exist) are probably a lot less fun.

    • 0 avatar

      Down here in Palm Beach County, Sprinter vans serve as elaborately painted mobile billboards for the businesses they support. The artists obviously love the huge canvas, and I suspect the cachet of the Mercedes-Benz logo doesn’t hurt matters. Sales seem to have increased significantly since they became Mercedes.

      I’d be quite curious to know how they drive …


      • 0 avatar

        Sprinters have been sold in the US as a Mercedes, Freightliner and of course Dodge.

        Most of the artwork you see on the side of them is non-permanent vinyl wrapping.
        In fact there’s a Sprinter delivery truck in the area with a Jägermeister vinyl wrap so impressive that it makes me nauseous, just like Jägermeister does.

    • 0 avatar

      Having some Sprinter experience, they drive extremely nicely, (only caveat here is that they get pushed around lots in a crosswind) and are frugal on gas. I think, though, that because servicing is a lot more difficult/expensive, you need to be a fleet person in order for it to make sense financially. This is just my guess seeing the local van fleets: bigger users favor Sprinters, while the white van crowd is still strong with the Econoline.

      I`m weirdly excited about all this van reviewing.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing I do notice about the Sprinters – they rust out quickly. About 1/3 of the Sprinters I see on I-90 have rust bubbling up from door hinges and random spots on the body. Most modern vehicles at least tend to keep their rust confined to the undercarriage for the first decade on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Vance Torino

        ‘Tis true.

        Those “Gen I” (1995–2006) Sprinters are OMG rust buckets. Never in my live have I seen vehicles rust out like those beggars. And Columbus ain’t no Cleveland or Detroit. Never intended for Midwest salt, they look terrible these days. I mean really, obviously, appallingly disgusting.

        Now I now know now early Japanese car adopters felt.

        The “Gen II” haven’t had enough time yet, but seriously… Pathetic. Another arrogant Mercedes fail.

        Can’t wait for BIG TRANSIT!

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve noticed the rust on the first gens as well. I figure it’s because these kinds of trucks see a lot of very unwashed and neglected miles in the rust belt.

      • 0 avatar

        I was going to mention this if you didn’t. (In fact, I guess I just did anyway.)

        The only other late-model vehicles I’ve seen that rust out as visibly and quickly as these are Dodge trucks and Chrysler minivans.

        Hmmm, seems there might be a pattern here.

    • 0 avatar

      After the dodge aspen debacle federal laws mandated auto rust through standards of something like 5 years (maybe 10) – does this apply to trucks as well?

  • avatar

    0-60 in 8 seconds?? In a VAN?? Does this toilet paper really need to be delivered THAT quickly? Only selected few suffer from chronic diarrhea.

    The european diesel Sprinter does the job with 20 MPG combined:

    The USA is such a wasteful country.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    The problem with the Sprinter is that a comparably equipped Sprinter is at least $10,000 more than the GMC Savana. None of the fleet buyers we interviewed with fleets over 1,000 units considered the Sprinter competition. The issue was that GM’s new 6 speed transmission and small V8 deliver 17MPGs on regular unleaded making the fuel economy pay back very long term and you can buy quite a bit of gasoline and maintenance for the $10,000 cheaper price tag. Also, fleet discounts for GM and Ford are very aggressive while Mercedes takes a different approach. The high top and extended Sprinter vans have no equal from GM or Ford and I am told that Merceedes sells a large proportion of extended wheelbase and high top vans which makes sense given they dominate that factory niche.

  • avatar

    I have wondered about these since I saw them come out. I have not seen many on the road yet. My 1995 Ford Club Wagon Chateau was the best passenger vehicle ever. But Ford has so de-emphasized the well-trimmed passenger version so much that they are never seen now. Psarhjinian sums up my feeling of the Chevys. The Sprinters are ungodly expensive, and I have understood that they have very expensive failure modes.

    A really nice minivan-quality interior and seating for 8-12 would be a nice niche to mine.

    • 0 avatar

      We would have bought one of those mini vans last month if they existed. Instead we had to choose between a stipped down e250 and a loaded Grand Caravan. We ended up with the caravan and renting a 15 passenger van for 4 days anyway.

      The big vans just feel so barbaric. Families expect fold down seats and a lot of versatility. Which you could really do in a big van, it would just be pricey.

  • avatar

    I`ve seen Nissan NVs a few times, and my (not at all fact based straight from the gut response to them) is that they are stupid.

    Why? Because it is like all the other domestic competition: a thirsty van based on a full-size truck. I mean, it`s possibly the only market Detroit has all to itself, and that`s reflected in the products: while Asia and Europe has a highly competitive market, Detroit puts out two products that exist in a cheap plastic limbo, never changing, never improving. So into this stagnant market comes Nissan with…a product like the other ones already offered?

    I remember an Air Force Captain on TTAC reviewing the weird yet highly useable van Nissan makes overseas. Bring that thing here, and then we`ll see. (And yes I understand Nissan was just trying to find something for an underutilized factory to do, and this sort of talk might be entirely contrary to the completely rational world of fleet van buyers, but I felt like it had to be said.)

    • 0 avatar

      The domestic vans have evolved slowly because there hasn’t been a lot of demand for change. They do the job they’re supposed to do well as is. Fleet buyers are typically a bit afraid of change – large fleets have already invested in training for techs to service the vehicles and changes to the powertrain require new training and increased costs. Similarly, many companies don’t run these vans bone stock. They upfit and upgrade the vans to meet their own needs and every change in the body requires changes to the racks, bins, shelves, dividers, bulkheads, etc, that fill the customization roles companies need.

  • avatar

    I continue to be amazed that Renault/Nissan can keep the Titanic factory down in Ole Miss going with the minimal volume they have – 1700 in March. Do they run the assy line one shift one week a month?

  • avatar

    Big and cush – but $250 to $300 worth of fuel to drive 950 miles.

    Where did you find a parking spot in San Francisco? The wheel base looks to the same as full-bed crew cab.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Having logged tens of thousands of miles driving Express and Econoline vans in a former job I’ve been intrigued by these . The tall height would certainly work hauling jumbo-sized props and flower arrangements for the party planner I used to work for . The problem might be more for a small business owning only one van . Obviously the tall roofline wouldn’t fit in many of the loading docks I’ve been in .I can see this working better for a business with maybe several vans in their fleet . And I can imagine it being blown around in a cross wind-possibly more than in a box truck . A competitor had a Sprinter van and crosswinds were their main complaint-the driver I spoke with was very disappointed with it . Another thing I wonder is if the long hood might make for some fun parallel parking on urban streets though it would be nice not to roast your left foot like I always would in our Express van .Also my understanding is that the reliability of the Nissan Titan and similiar sized SUVs has been pretty bad but maybe its improved as of late .

    • 0 avatar

      The length of the nose/hood on this seems to be the major drawback. The engine placement on current vans isn’t pushed so far back to make it difficult to service – it’s because having less hanging out front makes the van easier to maneuver and park in tight environments that many delivery and service vehicles find themselves in.

      A lot of the popularity of the Isuzu and Mitsubishi Low Cab Forward trucks is because having nothing protruding beyond the windshield makes the vehicle much easier to maneuver and much more flexible for any kind of crowded or heavily trafficked environment.

  • avatar

    Interesting read. I can’t ever see myself buying one of these, but hopefully one of these is available for rental next time I need to haul something. The interior is definitely a step up from the cheap ‘n’ nasty Safari/Savana.

    Incidentally, it still amazes me that Nissan crammed a cousin of this van’s engine into their M56 sport sedan. True, the Infiniti’s VK56VD makes more horsepower than this van’s VK56DE due to direct injection and VVEL, but the two motors aren’t that different.

  • avatar

    As a fleet mechanic, I’ve worked on all the vans, besides Nissan, and driven all of them too. The one I would buy with my money (from used vehicles sales), and might turn into a Class-B RV would be the Sprinter.

    I went through some Sprinter training. The van is not that hard to work on. It has a standard firewall, and the hood is larger then you think. However, even the American makes aren’t too bad once you remove the doghouse, which isn’t that big of a task. I’ve replaced the spark plugs on a GMC 4.8L express;it’s not a hard job. Now, when they cram a Diesel into them, like in the Ford E-series with a power stroke…… To work on the front of the engine, you have to pull the whole front of the van apart, including something normally simple like replacing a accessory drive belt.

    I’m telling you as someone in the field, who knows the mechanical end of these vans and has driven all of them, you NEED to review the Sprinter. They 2nd gen is reliable, easy to work on in most cases, and rides and drives far better then the Ford/Chevy, and probably the Nissan too. The company I work for must have at least a few thousand of them; they’re good vehicles.

  • avatar

    The NV is a 3/4 ton on a Titan chassis so could a 3/4 ton Titan be that far off? One ton dually Titan? Titan 4500 & 5500 series? There’s plenty of potential for 3/4 ton through medium duty Nissan (and Toyota) trucks. If you think they’re not looking to expand there, some time in the not so distant future, you’re crazy.

  • avatar

    Toyota already has Hino for this market, so I don’t think you’ll see Toyota-branded 3/4 or medium-duty trucks any time soon. That said, it might help Tundra sales if the urban cowboys that avoid them now (“because Toyota doesn’t make a real truck”) knew that Toyota does actually make medium-duty trucks, so rebranding Hino as Toyota in North America might make some sense.

    Nissan could probably play in this market, but it’s already kind of crowded (Hino, Mitsubishi Fuso and Isuzu, not to mention the domestics). It’d be easier to just buy out someone else than to try to muscle in.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I know Hino medium duty trucks well, but I’m talking about pickup based Nissan and Toyota medium duties like the Dodge 4500/5500, F-450/550 and soon to be GM twins. Of course Toyota and Nissan wouldn’t make that jump without starting with 3/4 and 1 ton dually pickups first and Nissan already has the part on the shelf to put out a 3/4 ton pickup. I’ll admit it would have to blow the ‘domestics’ out of the water before I’d buy one, but the more choices, the better. Guys like me are just too conditioned to believe it’s just not a truck (full-size anyway) if it’s not a Ford, Dodge or GM. With the Y gen, who knows?

  • avatar

    A few years back Nissan said they’d use the Cummins 5.0 V8 light duty diesel in these vans.

  • avatar

    I am going to guess you somehow got your hands on a UPS van. Yes?

    ‘as the American cargo van has been short on innovation for decades.’

    Absurdly so. I know a work truck can be basic but it doesn’t have to be primitive. I rented a cube van not too long ago with a GMC cab. Every time I got in the car, I’d end up driving along and opening and slamming the doors shut; the wind noise through the enormous gaps was so loud I was convinced I hadn’t closed them properly. Don’t leave your lunch in one…mice (and possibly squirrels) would have no trouble squeezing in through a gap and having a snack.

  • avatar

    I bought an 06 Sprinter cab chassis and had a 14 foot box body put on it. It replaced a Ford F350 with box body. I paid for the Sprinter with fuel savings. I drove approximately 1000 to 1200 miles per week. The miles rolled up fast, I was having dealer service done every three months. The Ford with 7.3 liter diesel engine average around 9 miles per gallon. It was an old U-Haul truck with over 200,000 miles when I bought it. The Sprinter averaged about 16 miles per gallon. This is not too bad considering the box body. I kept the van until February this year. I sold it after closing my business. I had the transmission rebuilt one time for $4400. The only other problems were the clutch on the AC compressor failed and the vibration damper failed. After the first hundred thousand miles, I changed the oil myself. I replaced the brake pads when necessary and replaced the brake discs one time front and rear. Overall, I liked the truck. It made me money and almost always was ready to go with no problems. After buying the Sprinter, I kept the Ford as a backup for three years. I wound up driving the Ford once a month for 15 or 20 miles to keep it up. After three years I sold it because The Sprinter was so reliable. After six years there were small rust spots in places where rocks had scratched the paint. Living in the south, with no salt on the roads may have helped with the lack of rust, but if I needed another van, I definitely would look at a Sprinter. One thing, I think I had four windshields put in the Sprinter. The windshield was constantly getting rock chips. After a while the windshield would have to be replaced.

  • avatar

    Somebody please explain to a European why a working commercial vehicle like this needs a gas guzzling V6 and V8 engine?

    These vehicles aren’t about performance. They’re about efficiency and low costs for operators so I would think an economical yet torquey and powerful 4/5/6-cylinder turbodiesel would be ideal.

    • 0 avatar

      Would be glad to explain it. A typical work van ( plumbing, gereal contractor ect) has anywhere from 500-1500 to 2000 lbs of tools and equipment jammed into them. You need a big motor to move all that stuff and over the long term it will work less thana small motor that must be flogged to run.
      The reason these vans have not “evolved” is that the durability is more important than looks or performance. A work van makes no money if it is broken down so using simple strong components is the way to go. As an example I fully agree with the above poster who did not like the chevrolets . They have very thin metal that dents easilly, thier transmissions routinely fail at 100K miles and they have too much plastic for things like bumpers ect that are easilly broken in a work environment. The fords get the worst fuel milage yet are strong long term vehicles that hold up well. I say ths even after having just replaced a transmission in one after 166K. Even in thatsituation since it is a common part it was reparied and back out making us money in 2 days.

  • avatar

    I agree with the review, some drawbacks are the accessories. The ladder rack can be too short and you rub the ladder on the roof. The drawers can have the disadvantage of rolling out on turns, they lock closed with a key. The parts bins can be too shallow and mix parts on bumpy roads. Review the accessories in person before purchasing them.

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