Vans and cutaway van platforms are some of the hardest-working, most underappreciated vehicles on the market today. They serve everyone from your local electrician to EMTs, and are the basis for some of the most popular RVs on the market. Plus, they're often employed as 12- to 15-passenger transportation for families, church groups, and schools. Yet despite the importance of this category, it has mostly remained stagnant over the last several years. Nissan came to a similar conclusion: The company did extensive research on the van market, and learned that owners in this segment are the least satisfied with their vehicles, evidence that vans desperately need to be upgraded. Vans are so slow to change that it seems the product life cycle is at least double that of pickup trucks.

In response to what it sees as an opportunity, Nissan has introduced the first new vehicle to the van market in a decade. The NV line consists of the 1500 (standard roof, V-6 only), 2500 HD (standard or high roof, V-6 or V-8), and 3500 HD (standard or high roof, V-8 only). Nissan hopes there are plenty of small-fleet owners -- companies with fewer than 15 vehicles -- and individual buyers who are interested in big vans. All models are sold as S or topline SV. Wheelbase and overall length are the same for the three models. The big difference between the 2500 HD and 3500 HD is that the 3500 uses heavier-duty springs and a slightly different size tire, a 70 aspect ratio versus 75. Power comes from a 4.0-liter, 261-horse V-6 (the same as in the Frontier and Xterra) or the Titan's 317-horse, 5.6-liter V-8, both backed by a five-speed automatic. We figured with the partnership between Nissan and Renault and the numerous diesels both offer around the world that a diesel option in this van would be a no-brainer. At launch, there will be no diesel, but Nissan is considering it for the future. There are some concerns about pricing with a diesel option that have kept other automakers from offering one in half-ton pickups. We hope demand will encourage Nissan to change its mind and make a 50-state-legal diesel available. At this point, though, the NV is only one of two full-size vans without an available diesel. (The last year the E-Series had a diesel option was 2010.)

Nissan has been making commercial vehicles around the world for 75 years, but had no full-size van for the U.S. market. Six years ago, when the company considered entering the commercial van market here, it looked at some of its world-market products. But because the vans are used differently in the States -- lots of straight-line commuting, the need for more power in a durable work truck, not as much stop-and-go, for example -- the other vans didn't quite translate for this market. So Nissan created the NV.

First glance suggests that the NV is just a van body on the Titan platform. And the original project started out that way, with the goal of building a van version of the Titan. By the time the engineers were done with the body-on-frame platform, though, the only things the NV line shared with the Titan were an engine, transmission, and a similar-looking snout. It even has a different rear axle. The NV2500 HD is longer than the comparable Sprinter, but the standard roof height is similar to that of the E-Series (see sidebar). The NVs are manufactured at the plant in Canton, Mississippi; moving production of the QX56 to Japan made room in the plant, which also underwent an $118 million renovation and expansion.

We briefly drove a preproduction 2500 HD high-roof with the V-8. This combination is expected to be the volume seller. Side and rear glass packages and a 12-passenger version will be coming in about a year, but our preproduction tester had no glass behind the B-pillar. Despite limited visibility caused by the lack of glass, maneuvering though traffic is fairly painless. The side mirrors are very helpful and come with a fisheye-type lower third. There are also optional towing mirrors for those who want a wider view.

While the V-8 feels almost like overkill in the Titan, in this van, the power is just about perfect. Acceleration is excellent, even when carrying a payload. Braking is linear and responsive, providing the same level of confidence. The ride is firm, but smoothes out with a load in back -- as it should in any vehicle designed to do hard work. And this van falls in that category. Aside from the 323.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume, the NV's maximum payload capacity is 3925 pounds, and it can tow up to 9500 pounds with the V-8.

There is no trailer brake controller option with the NV, but the optional tow package includes a Class IV receiver hitch, seven-pin connector, and brake controller prewiring, heated extendable side mirrors, two front tow hooks, transmission with tow mode, and a heavy-duty battery. All NVs come with 14.2-inch disc brakes up front and 14.4s in back with four-channel ABS, plus dual front airbags.

Lots of interior room up front is due to Nissan's decision to give the NV a pickup-like nose, which pushes the engine forward, out of the passenger area. Down side? Not everyone is going to like the styling. One of the cool features in the cabin is the passenger seat that can fold flat and serve as a work area. The many storage cubbies throughout include several above the sunvisors, as you would see in an RV. Available creature comforts are navigation, satellite radio, aux jack, and rear camera, plus the NV has VCD and traction control standard. Other options are power windows and locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and the addition of side and curtain airbags.

The Nissan NV1500 starts at $25,570, the lowest price in its class (but keep in mind that the E-Series' base engine is a V-8, and the Sprinter's engine is a V-6 turbodiesel). With that, you get graphics or a base shelf and rack unit for no extra charge.

The NV lineup went on sale in March at about 250 Nissan dealerships that have been retooled with larger bays, heavy-duty service lifts, and new "Nissan Commercial Vehicles" signs. What's interesting about the conversion of these dealerships is that it suggests they would be ready for more models in the future, such as a smaller van, or maybe even something else. Nissan is considering a cutaway version, and we'd expect the RV industry to take interest in this platform as well.


HOW THEY STACK UP
Standard Roof 1500 Commercial Van
  Chevrolet Express 1500 Ford E-150 Nissan NV1500
Wheelbase 135.0 in 138.0 in 146.1in
LxWxH 224.0x79.2x83.7 in 216.7-236.4x79.4x82.4-82.6 in 240.6x79.9x83.9 in
Base engine 4.3-liter V-6 4.6-liter V-8 4.0-liter V-6
Horsepower 195 hp 225 hp 261 hp
Torque 260 lb-ft 286 lb-ft 281 lb-ft
Curb weight 4950 lb 5300-5450 lb 5800-5850 lb
Cargo volume 239.7 cu ft 237.8 cu ft 234.1 cu ft
Cargo area LxWxH 124.6x75.5x52.9 in 122.4x73.6x51.9 in 120.0x54.3x55.8 in
Width betw wheelhouses 52.7 in 52.5 in 54.3 in
Towing capacity 7300 lb 5600-6100 lb 7000 lb
Payload capacity 1722 lb 3296 lb 2535-2590 lb
Base price $25,840 $27,170 $25,570
High Roof 2500 Commercial Van
  Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Nissan NV2500 HD
Wheelbase 144.0-170.0 in 146.1 in
LxWxH 232.5-289.2 in 240.6 x 79.9 x 105.0 in
Engines 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 4.0-liter V-6, 5.6-liter V-8
Horsepower 188 hp 261 hp (V-6), 317 hp (V-8)
Torque 325 lb-ft 281 lb-ft (V-6), 385 lb-ft (V-8)
Curb weight 5150-5700 lb 5800-6000 lb
Cargo volume 371.0-597.0 cu ft 323.1 cu ft
Cargo area LxWxH 128.5-185.0x70.1x76.4 in 120.0x70.2x76.9 in
Width bet wheelhouses 53.1 in 54.3 in
Towing capacity 5000 lb 7000 lb (V-6), 9500 (V-8)
Payload capacity 2872-3402 lb 2756-2921 lb
Base price $37,985 $28,970

2012 Nissan NV
POWERTRAIN
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD
Engine 90-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.76 x 3.62 in
Displacement 241 ci/4.0L
Compression ratio 9.7:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 261 hp @ 5600 rpm
SAE torque 281 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Optional engine 90o V-8, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.86 x 3.62 in
Displacement 339 ci/5.6L
Compression ratio 9.8:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 317 hp @ 5200 rpm
SAE torque 385 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
Transmission type 5-speed automatic
1st 3.83:1
2nd 2.37:1
3rd 1.52:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.83:1
Reverse 2.61:1
Axle ratio 3.36:1 (V-6), 3.54:1 (V-8)
Final drive ratio 2.79:1 (V-6), 2.94:1 (V-8)
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Wheelbase 146.1 in
Length x width x height 240.6 x 79.9 x 83.9-106.0 in
Track, f/r 68.7/68.9 in
Turning circle 45.2 ft
Approach/departure angle 17.5/17.4 deg
Ground clearance 8.1 in
Curb weight 5800-6150 lb
Weight distribution, f/r 52/48%, 53/47% (depending on configuration)
Max payload capacity 3142 lb (V-6), 3925 lb (V-8)
GVWR 8550 lb (1500), 9100 lb (2500 HD), 9900 (3500 HD)
GCWR 13,400-16,000 lb
Max towing capacity 7000 lb (V-6), 9500 lb (V-8)
Seating capacity 2
Headroom 42.8-63.6 in
Legroom 42.0 in
Shoulder room 65.7 in
Cargo volume, behind 1st row 234.1-323.1 cu ft
Cargo area LxWxH 120.0 x 70.2 x 55.8-76.9 in
Width bet wheelhousings 54.3 in
Load lift height 28.5 in
CHASSIS
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs
Steering type Recirculating ball
Ratio 19.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 4.6
Brakes, f/r 14.2-in vented disc/14.4-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5x17-in alloy
Tires 245/70R17 (245/75R17 3500 HD) 119R Firestone Transforce HT
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $28,970
Price as tested $33,000 (est)
Airbags Front
Fuel capacity 28.0 gal
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy Not rated
CO2 emissions N/A
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded/ Premium unleaded/ULSD
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