By on January 13, 2013


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.

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

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41 Comments on “Review: 2013 Nissan NV3500 HD SL 12 Passenger Van (Video)...”

  • avatar

    So, Alex, is this the heaviest vehicle you’ve ever tested?

    I’m shocked its even available with the V6 with the stats you provided us.

  • avatar

    How far off can 3/4 and 1 ton Titans be? They’ll be rolling down the same assembly line as these HD vans, so it’s just a matter of reaching over for the HD parts.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    Seems very short-sighted to not have easily removable rear seats to enlarge that cargo area. Although, I am thinking those can be removed, then a weathertek mat thrown back there for a cargo zone, and the seats becoming a new garage couch. It’s a win-win!

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The rear seats are fairly easy to remove but they are still heavy and they don’t fold like a minivan’s seats would. Compared to the GM/Ford vans they are about 10x easier to schlep.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi, Alex….Love your review on this vehicle from Nissan. My question is thus: to be able to carry 10 people with 10 suitcases, how many rows must I remove and how heavy is each row? And if I am carrying 8 people, same question, please.

  • avatar

    Did you reverse those numbers? Why would the V8 have less max. payload than the V6?

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Thanks for this. I’ve been curious about this vehicle and eager to learn more without exposing myself to the usual BS of my local Nissan dealers.

    One note, there’s more than a few typos and in para 13 an editing error. One mention of a 5.7 Nissan engine, a teh and a few other bits.

    Still, a much appreciated contribution.

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Steege

      Yeah, this was very helpful since our church is considering replacing a few of our antique Vans, many of which are older than much of the congregation.

      After our past experiences with Ford, GM and Dodge Vans, my concern would be ready parts availability since members of the church drive the Vans, maintain them and repair them when necessary.

      Like most churches, our Vans are in use 7 days a week so reliability is what appeals to us. Factory warranties are great, but if a Van breaks down, we’re still without transportation for however long it takes to get fixed.

      We’ll consider this Van as well. Thanks for the article.

      • 0 avatar

        You may want to check out the Sprinter. They have been on the market for at least a decade and there are many in service so parts availability should be pretty good. They also have larger windows and a lower beltline which passengers would appreciate. The turbodiesel is known to be fuel efficient and relatively durable.

  • avatar

    Hideous. Makes a juke look gorgeous. Shame bec i like the idea of having an option for another a van for real work. I wish VW would bring over their nice diesel work and passenger vans with the 2.0 diesel.

    I remember waiting for the Titan to come out to replace my magnum ram 2500. It drove like plastic CRAP. same with the armada. Bought a new hemi ram. This was 2005. And I really wanted a Titan.

    That dash looks same as the plastic Titan.

    Saw a convertible Muran. silly jacked up HIDEOUS car. unbelievable. no idea what nissan is doing.

    • 0 avatar

      chas404 you are wrong about the titan. I bought a new one in 04 and its the best truck Ive owned to date. Ive had all of them..Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and International. It has been reliable and after 122,000 miles still does not have a single squeek or rattle. One more thing…I easily get 65,000 miles on a set of tires. When is the last time you’ve seen a Ford or Dodge do that?

      • 0 avatar

        I stand corrected. I had one of the original hardbodies v6 was great truck. titan just felt tinny to me. in the end i needed a 3/4 ton and longer bed anyhow for heavier work. i have an F150 now and it is super nice and tight but 29,000 miles. time will tell. I think that van will be fine i see workers using it already. just seems that nissan makes super ugly cars now. juke. bubble sentra. now this van. that altima is sharp.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to agree with you, it does look hideous. I don’t care too much for some of the body styles coming out from Nissan. I see now that the Altima’s look a lot like the Maximas. The Nissan’s are durable, quiet and comfortable but some of their models lose quite a bit of trade in value. For instance the Maximna loses almost $10,000 trade in value within the first year and there’s not much after market mods to distinguish one car from the next.

  • avatar

    With the engine compartment so far forward, the NV3500 is more of a RWD panel truck than a van.

    For me, four rows of seats makes this puppy too long. I’d prefer a short wheel base.

  • avatar

    Seems like Nissan went out of their way to do just about everything wrong with this one.

    • 0 avatar

      I love the idea of this new van. I’m not crazy about the looks, but I’m not buying it for looks. I just got back from a long road trip(4,600 miles total) with four kids in a 08 pathfinder which we love, but unfortuneately we are out growing the pathfinder. This van is way nicer than other full size vans. I dont want to spend 50K+ on a suburban size suv, but I still want to be able to toe over 3000lbs. So for me the only thing this van may be missing is all wheel drive option. Does anyone know if nissan is making plans of an AWD?

  • avatar

    Curtain airbags on all four rows – good move. When this class of passenger van gets into a bad accident the body count can be high.

    For the money operators of migrant workers may find a used, short platform school bus a sturdier choice?

    • 0 avatar

      I have never seen anything other than retired school buses or ex-Navy buses (which amount to the same thing) used for field worker transportation. I’d suspect that no one would use a new vehicle for that.

    • 0 avatar

      Is it possible that curtain airbags + headrests and other modern safety features may make school districts a customer for big vans again? A lot of the school districts stopped using them after a few rollover incidents with the old-style vans.

      The schools switched instead to mini-buses that hold 14 kids + driver. The reason that 15-passenger vans and these mini-buses only hold 15 people is that driving 16 people requires a commercial driver’s license in many states, so it meant that teachers without a CDL could drive them on school trips.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Slap a crosshair grill on it and a Hemi under the hood and you have a new Ram Van. Though chances are Fiat will produce something like it.

  • avatar

    This seems like a really good truck for people that don’t need 12 seats, but want a less equipped Suburban for less money.

  • avatar

    What about a Sprinter? Not enough power? Too pricey in the US? Or too repair prone?

    I’ve spent some time both driving and being driven in one, and have to say I’m impressed by the level of refinement it offered.

    • 0 avatar

      I think TTAC did a review quite a while ago, that had some good comments.

      From what I gather for myself (not being an owner of one), Sprinter is great in fuel economy and interior volume, not so good in drivetrain longevity. They also improved it noticeably despite all the odd ownership transitions along the product run.

      Don’t ask me for a comparo though, this is what we have TTAC for.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The Sprinter is kind of an odd duck out in the “American van” segment. The Mercedes is considerably more expensive to start with, and although I like the diesel engine, the Sprinter is underpowered compared to the large V8 competition and certainly underpowered compared to GM’s 6.6L diesel. The sprinter is also much larger being a room on wheels compared to the more traditional van segment.

      • 0 avatar

        I see maaaany rusty Sprinters for some reason. I think they have extra-thin metal. Compared to Transits of the same vintage, used for the same sort of work which have no rust.

  • avatar

    Where I live the number one customer for the full size Chevy and Ford carry alls is local rental agencies. They are rented quite regularly for Mennonite and other communities whose members are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle. They hire a driver and a van and all the Yoders go to Walmart. Now that Ford is getting out of the E series business it’ll be interesting to see if Nissan works its way into the rental fleets of America.

  • avatar

    I like that this has an honest-to-goodness hood. It will probably be great for mechanics because the engine bay won’t be as cluttered.

    I also think people give the Ford and GM vans more crap than they deserve. I have ridden in many an Airport shuttle van (not bus) and always found them to be comfortable enough. These are work vans, the point of them isn’t to fondle the dashboard, they are for a utility purpose.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to say I rented a new chevy van recently and it was stunningly horrible. To have that suspension and steering in a contemporary vehicle is astounding. I’m also amused that almost every one you see driving on the highway is crabbing. Sorry – they really are bad.

  • avatar

    That is one seriously ugly van.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto Levi, I had to stop looking at the pictures after the first few… eyes started to hurt and a felt a headache coming on.

      • 0 avatar

        It must be a lot cheaper to make a really ugly vehicle than a reasonably decent one. There has to be some kind of cost savings involved with an ugly car, truck, or van. There’s no other explanation.

  • avatar

    Nissan Cube’s big brother. As far as looks are concerned, the Ford and Chevy vans aren’t winning any fashion shows either.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of my former 05 xB – ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside. The interior is actually pretty nice.

    The more I read the article, the more I warmed up to this vehicle. The fuel economy is frightening, though. Towing would probably push you down into single digits.

    There is no way I’d get the V6 – it’s just going to be working too hard all its life, even without a payload.

  • avatar

    My dad bought one with an extended roof. He loves it. His newer Chevy Van he purchased new was falling apart on him although the one before has been reliable. This thing is just huge though, way larger than the Chevy.

  • avatar

    All your spellchecks are belong to us.

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