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Nissan’s NV delivery van reinvents the business

Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily auto writer
Special to the Daily 2012 Nissan NV 2500
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As a somewhat perverse exercise in product placement (sometimes the biggest part of my job, truth be told), I set out for a week in a vehicle seemingly beyond the range of most folks’ comprehension.

The gigantic red behemoth you might have seen rolling around on Sunday in Keystone and Breckenridge was indeed my new Nissan NV commercial van, a strange new machine that may eventually become a more common sight.

Looking like an older Scion xB that suddenly underwent puberty overnight, or a cross between a FedEx truck and a mailbox, the NV is indeed unlike anything else on the road.

Nissan created the vehicle and builds it in Mississippi to compete in the not insignificant world of heavy duty commercial delivery vehicles, one that’s mostly captured by General Motors and Ford. The Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter, now sold by Mercedes, is probably the closest competitor in terms of odd but usable proportions.

In Nissan’s case, they opted to keep an entirely truck-styled nose to avoid that gigantic igloo of in-cab engine you find in flat-fronted vans. Hence the very odd and foreign looks, accentuated by a black plastic or chrome grille that gives the NV huge nostrils.

Get behind the wheel, however, and you’ll be quite surprised, as its wide and generous wheelbase makes it more like a giant pickup truck than a wobbly, top-heavy van.

Even with a 5,900-pound curb weight in the 2500 model I drove (powered by a 4.0-liter V6), NV is amazingly easy to drive, with flat cornering, easy braking and rather amazingly truck-like handling. The only issue I encountered was some pronounced bouncing on the concrete sections of Hwy. 285 through Aspen Park; otherwise it was smooth and flat.

The V6 makes 261 horsepower (there’s also a 317-HP 5.6-liter V8) and was able to do 75 mph while cruising (empty, admittedly) or maintain a steady pace up Hoosier Pass, although it did need a lot of kickdowns to maintain speed while heading up I-70 at Georgetown Hill.

Like a GM truck, there’s a thumb control on the wheel-mounted shift lever to manually flip though the five-speed automatic when you’re headed down steep grades. And I got as much as 18.5 mpg during regular driving.

The performance was a bit surprising considering how huge the NV is. Some 240 inches long, 80 inches wide and 84 inches tall (or 105-ish in its high-roof format), the NV does indeed consume space, though the two-tier side mirrors and an optional rear-view monitor in the rear-view mirror allowed me to parallel park it in nearly normal-sized parking spots. With more than a few practice runs at first.

The real story is the bare-bones interior, set up to be fully customized by commercial customers. The low-roof model will absorb 3,142 pounds or 234 cubic feet of merchandise, in a space that’s 10 feet long and more than 5-and-a-half feet wide. A Fiat 500 could almost fit inside – I did not try this, but the numbers make it pretty close – and with gigantic rear doors that can swing 230-plus degrees to the sides and be held in place by magnets, the NV will indeed absorb some large cargo.

Inside, it’s also a pretty driver-friendly spot, though you really do need both the footwell, the A-pillar handle and maybe the steering wheel to help you climb aboard.

Depending on the package, it can be plain and work-ready with vinyl seats or made more comfortable with large fabric seats and the biggest center console I’ve ever seen, complete with a flat, sliding top for writing up your work orders.

Nissan’s standard audio system suddenly goes all speakerbox loud when you roll around with an empty cargo area; touchscreen navigation and XM radio are an option.

And with the gigantic front and side windows and your high perch, you can see mountain scenery as you’ve never seen it before. The front sun visors are the size of boogie boards. Everything is remarkably out of proportion, but effective.

The big question remains: Will the price (about $26,000) and Nissan’s reputation for reliability outweigh the NV’s ungainly looks? I too will be looking out for them in the months to come, to see.


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