The compact cargo van market is becoming a big deal for carmakers and small-biz owners alike.
Sales growth in the segment is near the top of the charts.
Many reasons. And yes, it helps that compact cargo vans did not exist until the last few years. Nissan arguably kicked off the trend that now includes the Ford Transit Connect Cargo, RAM ProMaster City and even the Chevy City Express … ( itself an NV200 clone)
Why are these vans so hot right now? And how does the revised-in-2015 NV200 rank versus the best out there?
Let’s find out…
HD Drive Video
What a friendly face. The NV200 cannot help its slab-sided practicality – and may not be a design icon for the ages as a result. Even so, this SV trim level with its $200 appearance pack does have much charm.
Our Cayenne Red example wears painted front and rear bumpers versus the black plastic that comes standard. We also have chrome for the V-motion grille in the front – where the cheaper NV200s make do with yet more plastic.
Decoy foglamps in the nose help break up what is a very tall and pretty narrow set of proportions nicely. Standard DRLs are a helpful safety detail, and are the main headlamps dimmed to about 70-percent.
The nose aspect of the NV200 is actually very inoffensive – and there is clear aerodynamic logic in the doorstop nose and windshield angle. A single graphic raises above the windshield glass at the same angle as the hood – to a body-color roof with strength-enhancing roof stamping of that metal on top. This will keep the roof in the right shape when/if you start hauling even more goods/services on the roof – versus just inside the enormous cargo area + cargo doors.Silver wheel covers are pretty nice to have versus simple steel wheels that might be acceptable for old-school van drivers. The wheels are pretty tiny all around on the NV200: just 185-series 15-inch tires, after all. So the wheels are slightly tiny, but this doesn’t spoil the mood.
Around profile, the NV200 is similarly clean with the Appearance Pack greatly helping give a fairly premium look.
Double sliding doors are gigantic and bring much of the lower sill and roof with them as they slide open with barely a tug on the handle. These doors are steel throughout – but sliding doors with glass windows are available as a cost option.
A 60/40 split pair of cargo doors lives out back in the NV200, with our loaded SV packing the glass rear window option. We highly recommend this detail – even if it will soon be blocked by all your packages and deliveries!
The glass back windows help to make the NV200 feel like a normal car on your first few drives. They also help with backing up – even though the NV200 SV we tested includes a backup camera and even rear sonar sensors. For drivers new to piloting any kind of van, glass back there is a nice bit of familiarity that instantly lets you feel comfortable driving the machine like a normal car.
Normal car might be the theme of the NV200 from inside and up front, too. 2015 upgrades to the model brought a full-featured NissanConnect touchscreen nav and infotainment system to the NV200 – and is most welcome.
Beyond the central touchscreen, other familiar conveniences abound. Things we might take for granted… until they are missing. Gasp!
Rear defroster for the big part of the split-opening back doors, defrosters for the side mirrors, and keyless entry are all things you’ll use daily (at least in wintertime).
More frequent yearround are power windows and locks for all the doors. Don’t scoff – many work vans do not have this.
Fairly comfortable cloth seats are an upgrade versus vinyl, non-adjustable perches in other compact cargo vans. The NV200 has a fixed steering column without tilt or telescopic adjustments at all, but the seat’s pump-action height moves, fore/aft slider and recline handles let almost everyone feel pretty comfortable in seconds.
Simple controls throughout are instantly comprehensible. We felt extra blessed to have full steering-wheel audio volume/source and preset adjustments right on the mickey-mouse-shaped steering wheel.
Cruise control is a much-appreciated detail that comes as standard on the SV but not the base NV200’s, like many of the above-mentioned details.
In terms of actual cargo capacity back there…. Is almost goes without saying…. It is SO HUGE.
Huge huge huge. Just barely 20 inches off the ground at the back or side entry points? Near-zero liftover too, make loading and unloading a piece of cake. 4×8-sheets of plywood? Yep. A max load volume of 122-cubic-feet? Larger than any Suburban can manage with all its seats down or removed? Yes.
A max payload of 1500 pounds seems jumbo, and the mini wheel-well intrusions are a side benefit of the solid torsion-beam rear axle design. Others being its uncomplicated and easy-to-fix/hard-to-break nature. All good stuff for the NV200’s target buyers.
A folding front passenger seat to bump the max parcel length up by 3 feet? Yes.
Our favorite detail in back, though, was the lined cargo floor. This is insulated and topped with a rubberized mat to keep things in place. In stark contrast to the RAM ProMaster City we drove… with its steel floor making carwashes into a scary echo chamber inside.
Six simple D-bolts in the NV200 help as cargo tie-downs… but we would like a few more cargo organizers for the tall sides of the machine. Aftermarket solutions abound, but not much from Nissan officially.
The lined floor back there does a terrific job keeping cargo planted somewhat securely — or at least not sliding quite as readily as a steel floor might.
It also helps out on the road – where the NV200 could not be more normal in how it drives.
131 ponies and 139 pound-feet of torque mean the NV200 is never going to be a fastlane king. But the Xtronic CVT honestly makes the most of this power. The NV200 has very admirable urge off the line and even up to highway speeds.
We strongly preferred this powertrain to the RAM ProMaster City, which also has a four-cylinder but a nine-speed automatic that gets lost in its gear range somethings.
The Nissan’s defining drive trait is that it is calm and chill at almost all times.
It also hums along with 25-mpg city and 26-mph highway – rounding out to a realworld 25-mpg in nearly all circumstances.
The CVT is, as ever from Nissan, a supreme cruiser. Once you have hit your speed, the NV200’s somewhat vocal engine just shrinks into the background. It takes almost no effort to keep the NV200 with traffic — and does so with effortless smoothness.
Justy super calm and relaxed, then.
We did not have the opportunity to load up the cargo to near its payload, where the handling will surely change a bit for the worse versus its unladen state.
Even so, the NV200 is a charmer even around corners.
Our one wish was not the usual (More Power!) but actually a bit more grip. Taking a very tight and decreasing-radius offramp, we noticed the tail about to break grip. It took a second of “Wait, is this slipping!?” to realize we’d overcooked the ramp. Luckily, in that same second the ESP stability control had already pipped the inner back wheel. All balance restored, thankfully.
But it was dry out that day, and cargo bay unloaded. With a full load and some rain or snow… that ESP would be less active if the tires were wider.
This was only an instant, though. In 99.9-percent of driving, the NV200’s resounding endorsement is how normal it feels. You honestly have to check over your shoulder to recall that this is indeed a panel van. It is just so EASY.
The NV200 starts from 20 grand, where it is ridiculously, absurdly practical and capable for small and big business users alike.
The Tech Package atop the SV’s 22k base price is another $1050. Back glass, rear sonar, exterior appearance pack (!) and floormats add about another grand, all together. Check the windowsticker yourself… it really is just $24,420, on the road.
Compact cargo vans might not set your pulse racing, but their practicality is beyond reproach. Yet they are usually super nimble in tight urban roads, and also manage far better efficiency than any full-size van like the old Ford Econoline could dream of in its wildest fantasies.
The NV200 is clearly one of the best. You know this by its sheer ubiquity on roads nationwide. The Taxi version basically runs the NYC market these days, and its panel-sided sibling is quite popular as well.
Theories on ‘why’ cargo vans are having their moment now in 2016? A huge explosion in delivery-to-your-door services – everything from Amazon packages to dogwalkers, restaurant deliveries and even groceries. Ordered from mobile, and delivered just a matter of hours later?
Perfect place for the NV200 to be the ideal “last mile” vehicle that actually takes something made 5000-miles away… right to your front door. This last leg in the logistics chain is often the most challenging for shippers and small-biz folks alike.
The NV200 makes it a whole lot easier.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.