Commercial users on a budget need look no further than the Nissan NV200.
First it was the Ford Transit Connect. Now it seems like everyone else wants an invite to the party - the compact van party, that is.
Billed by Nissan as "the right size," the Nissan NV200 is the panel-van version of a purpose-built taxicab headed to New York's streets.
Hike up your work pants to avoid the dreaded "plumber's crack" and hop inside as we take a first drive in the second member of Nissan's NV line.
Doesn't do windows
The NV200 is the slab-sided little brother of Nissan's big bruiser NV commercial van, which currently performs every task from package delivery truck to a bus outfitted to haul 12-passengers.
This little brother, based on a modified version of the Nissan Versa's platform, has large expanses of real estate on its flanks, perfect for company signage and mounting rigs to carry tools or materials. Although it's hardly a looker, the NV200 has shed the large proboscis of its big brother.
Devoid of any frills, the NV200 extended nearly 8 inches more than NV vans offered in other global markets. That helps it realize a cargo capacity of up to 122.7-cubic feet in a small, city-friendly footprint, a figure 6.5 cubes lower than the Transit Connect.
Late next year, Nissan will begin rebadging NV200s as the Chevrolet City Express for General Motors, which means you'll probably be seeing a lot of these pint size haulers running around.
Still, with a 115.2-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 186.3 inches, the NV200 has about the footprint of a midsize sedan. Of course, it's what's above that counts, and with a low step into the cargo area that's 54.8 inches wide (48 inches between the wheel wells) and 54 inches tall, it should be just the thing for light duty delivery. And with a cargo hold designed to hold a maximum of 1,500 lbs., the NV200 is clearly not a replacement for a full-size van.
But that should be just fine for many users, Nissan reckons. To that end, they've installed 20 mounting points and six cargo hooks, all of which are lined up for upfit racks and shelves.
The NV200 is powered by the identical 2.0-liter transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine found in the Nissan Sentra. Bare-bones in its execution, it makes 131 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT. The ride comes from a twin-tube strut system with stabilizer bar in frontand a tried and true multi-leaf/twin tube shocks and solid axle package at the rear.
Stopping power comes from 11-inch discs in front and old-school 9-inch drum brakes at the rear. Steering is by an electric power assisted setup with engine speed variable assists.
On the fuel economy front, the EPA expects 24/25 mpg, the latter of which is clearly affected by the NV200's urban-oriented shape.
Inside and out
We should stipulate that. by its nature, the NV200 is a case of form following function. Wheels are pulled outward to maximize cargo capacity. Although our tester was the high-zoot SV model, the entry-level S comes in a cost-saving contrasting black bumper set and unadorned steel wheels.
The NV200 is equipped with dual sliding side doors for quick access to the cargo area. The rear door, which opens in a 40-60 split (traffic side/curb side) is designed to keep people safe from wayward traffic when unloading in urban areas.
To that end, the driving position is also designed with utility users in mind. High with a commanding view of the road ahead, it makes the best of a workday compared to the more carlike Ford Transit Connect.
To that end, Nissan has included front seats with reinforced side bolstering to guard against excessive wear on the upholstery and the automaker offers both Bluetooth and an in-dash navigation system as options. An integrated work-oriented array like Ford's Work Solutions isn't available, but Nissan has indicated that interest in such a costly system is very low.
We found the 2.0-liter engine offered adequate power, but were only able to try the NV200 with an empty load. Never wavering in response, the engine and CVT combo nevertheless kept that upwardly climbing sound coming from underhood to let you know the engine was hard at work.
A full load of tools and materials may present a challenge to the Sentra-based engine, but we think once the NV200 is underway, it can run under its own steam. What it didn't do was sound like we were riding around in the world's largest soup can, so credit is due to Nissan's NVH engineers for generally providing a pleasant place to whittle away the miles between jobs.
Handling, as you might expect, is of the "just adequate" variety. But who's going to go corner carving in a cargo van?
Leftlane's bottom line
The NV200 might be just the ticket for a small business owner tired of being saddled with big fuel bills after each job.
At about $23,000 well-equipped, the NV200 isn't quite as flexible as the Ford Transit Connect, but it's a lot cheaper. For commercial users, that's often the only thing that matters.
2014 Nissan NV200 base price, $19,990.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.