Nissan continues the measured roll-out of its new commercial vehicle lineup by adding a passenger version of the full-size NV van, which starts production in Canton, Mississippi this February. At least to start, the van will come in one configuration only: low-roof, 3500-series (roughly 3200-pound payload), 12-passenger, low-roof, with rear-wheel-drive. Both the V-6 and V-8 engines will be available, and if you're looking to buy an airport shuttle for your ski resort, the 4x4 van experts at Quigley Motors Inc. are already at work on a conversion, and if they find enough takers perhaps Nissan will consider adapting the Titan's 4WD system to the NV. That wouldn't be a trivial task, as their ladder-frame chassis are quite different, but because Nissan has found many of its customers returning from pickup trucks, some are accustomed to 4WD and asking about it. Trailer towing capacity is a robust 7000 lbs for the V-6, 9500 for the V-8.

Three trim levels will be offered: Base S (rubber floor covering and fabric seats), SV (add carpet), and SL (leather and carpet), but all will get rear heating and A/C vents and controls, reading lamps for all positions, cup-holders that slide out from under the seats, side-curtain airbag coverage for all rows, and best of all: every seatbelt is mounted to its seat, so there's no hacking your way through a jungle of shoulder belts to reach the rear seat. And while all NV passenger vans come with a dozen seats, they can be configured 324 different ways. The middle two rows each consist of a two-passenger section and a one-passenger section, each of which can be mounted in two locations, so legroom can be increased when the rearmost row is removed. That four-seat row is split in half. All clamp in and out easily, though they're not light. Figure about 85 pounds to muscle a two-seater out, 50 for the single thrones. There's no driver-side rear door, and the cargo doors in back can be opened way around to almost flush with the bodysides. Because Nissan expects most customers to use the NV for short-haul shuttling, there's no provision for rear-seat entertainment systems, though the conversion company Roadtrek will be happy to set all that up.

The seats are not adjustable for rake (van seats seldom are), but they're comfy as is, and between tidying up the seatbelt situation and standing the side windows of the van up nearly vertical, it's quite easy to access the back row. Each of those four seats is narrower than the three across in the middle rows, however. The middle-position of each row (left-middle in back) is equipped with LATCH child-seat attachment hardware. The front row enjoys the same mobile-office console with storage for hanging files and a laptop with a power outlet, and a passenger seatback that folds flat, to roughly level with the console to increase the work surface. Ford doesn't currently publish head-, leg-, and shoulder-room dimensions for its E-series, but relative to the Express, the NV measures slightly roomier in front (68.3 vs 65.4 cu ft), slightly tighter in the second row (53.8 vs 55.3), then bigger in the back rows (59.0 and 58.4 vs 53.7 and 55.0). Cargo dimensions have not yet been released, but the passenger trim panels shouldn't nibble away too much at the short-roof cargo version's 234 cubic feet (the standard Express cargo variant boasts 240).

Expect base pricing to undercut Ford's E-series and Chevy's Express, neither of which is offered with a V-6. We're told the NV turns tighter than those key competitors too, despite its longer schnoz. The NV's design is rather curious to me, as it neither capitalizes on high-volume commercial truck architecture in use in Europe (like the Mercedes/Freightliner Sprinter), nor does it simply ride on cheap, amortized heavy-duty truck mechanicals (like the E-series Fords). That's because during the NV's extensive five-year planning phase, the company determined that there was an opening in the market for a less-expensive high-roof, heavy-duty application like the Sprinter that wasn't being met by Ford and Chevy. The Nissan/Renault products out of Europe were not deemed robust enough, and the Titan isn't available in one-ton trim, so its frame required strengthening. The long nose was chosen to reduce maintenance cost and cabin noise levels while improving space and comfort.


2012 Nissan NV3500 Passenger Van
Base price $28,500-$35,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, RWD, 12-pass, 3-door, van
Engines 4.0L/261-hp/281-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 5.6L/317-hp/385-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 6300 lb (est)
Wheelbase 146.1 in
Length x width x height 240.6 x 79.9 x 84.0 in
0-60 mph 8.5-10.0 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ Not rated
On sale in U.S. March, 2012 /td>