First Drive Review: 2012 Nissan NV Series Vans

First Drive: 2012 Nissan NV Series Vans

Nissan’s all-electric Leaf small car may be getting the lion’s share of attention these days, but the company’s all-new NV full-size vans are the most researched vehicles the company has ever built, according to Nissan execs on hand in Miami for this week’s first drive with journalists.

Nissan has spent six years creating its North American light-commercial vehicle group from scratch. During that time, a team of former Detroit Three managers and engineers identified full-size vans as a market opportunity because their research showed van owners’ needs weren’t being met, according to Larry Dominique, Nissan’s vice president of product planning for North America.

“There are no more dissatisfied customers than the people who drive [full-size vans] around, Dominique said. “Most people hate their vans. We asked what needs we could address to make them happier, and that’s what you see in these vans.”

Nissan’s target buyers? Many are current full-size pickup owners who used to be van owners. To attract these buyers, Nissan has combined some of the best attributes of both vehicles in its NV vans.

The pickup truck design elements are obvious before you even step inside.

Instead of a conventional short-nose configuration, where part of the engine sits in the cab next to the driver, the NV has a long-nose front end, like a full-size pickup. Nissan positioned the engine ahead of the A-pillar and firewall. That’s not surprising, since the NV is based on a heavily modified version of the Nissan Titan half-ton pickup’s body-on-frame platform.


Nissan is offering a broad lineup from Job 1. There are three NV models to choose from: the light-duty NV1500 and heavy-duty NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD. A 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 is available for the NV 1500 and 2500, and a 317-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 is available for the NV 2500 and 3500. There’s also a choice of standard and high-roof models, with the latter offering enough room for a 6-foot 3-inch person to stand upright in the cargo space. Two-wheel drive is the only driveline available.

We sampled the NV 2500 V-6 and NV 3500 V-8 standard and high-roof vans on the highways and crowded surface streets around south Florida.

Standard Roof NV3500 HD S 5.6-liter V-8

The first van we drove was the NV3500 HD with the 5.6-liter V-8 and five-speed automatic transmission. It’s the same powertrain that propels the Nissan Titan half-ton pickup.

Inside, we immediately noticed the extra legroom in the foot wells. The long-nose layout allowed our legs to naturally extend and relax instead of being pushed back toward the chair. In the area that would normally be occupied by an engine “doghouse” was a pair of cup holders and storage cubby.

Between the driver and passenger seats was a generous storage bin plus pull out storage drawers beneath the chairs.


Unloaded, the NV3500 weighed about 5,900 pounds, some 500 pounds more than a crew-cab Nissan Titan. We’ve always liked the performance and liveliness of Nissan’s 5.6-liter V-8 in the Titan, and it performed similarly in the NV. Jumping on the freeway was a snap, even with the relatively conservative 3.54-to-1 rear axle ratio.

A major mechanical difference between the NV vans and Titan is the use of heavy-duty recirculating ball steering instead of light-duty rack and pinion. The change makes sense, since the vans can manage 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of payload, depending on the model. Steering was a bit heavy and numb at times, but Nissan said it’s still being tuned for production.

If you buy an NV van, you’ll probably rarely drive the truck completely empty, like we did. In this scenario, ride quality was comfortable. The truck skipped a bit on rough pavement, but no more so than an unloaded pickup.

Nissan has done a nice job engineering the seats for ride comfort, though an air suspension option is not available for severe duty use. Extra-sturdy construction used in the seat bottom bolster near the door should keep wear to a minimum even if the driver frequently enters and exits the truck.

We stopped briefly at a Lowe’s hardware store, where our van was loaded with several hundred pounds of construction supplies to be donated to Habitat for Humanity. The cargo floor has six "D" ring mounting points that are rated up to 1,124 pounds. They made it easy to strap the pallet securely in the van.


Nissan has also delivered in the engineering of the cargo doors. They’re designed to open and fold to the sides of the van – up to 243 degrees – like in the smaller Ford Transit Connect van. This feature is unique in full-size vans and makes for a safer loading experience on tight surface streets. The doors provide unimpeded access to the back of the van and greatly reduce the chance of another vehicle coming along and knocking the doors off their hinges.

Load floor space is also excellent. There’s 54.3 inches of space between the wheel housings. That’s three more than Ford’s E-Series vans and enough room to lay down a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood flat with room to spare. Cargo length at the floor is 120 inches and 111 inches at the belt line.

When it goes on sale, the van will be available with a painted steel floor or with optional soft-feel material, which makes it difficult to push heavy objects on. A laminated floor option is expected later in the year.

The NV has dedicated mount points in the cargo area. There’s no drilling or cutting to install racks and bins. Nissan’s upfit hardware comes from a partnership with Adrian Steel, a well-known van cargo management and storage product maker.

We departed Lowe’s to drop off the supplies at Habitat for Humanity’s warehouse. The V-8 shrugged off the extra heft as we drove over Florida’s flat roads. Ride quality improved a bit, as the NV’s rear leaf springs soaked up the weight.

Nissan isn’t required to provide fuel economy figures for its vans because all three models have gross combined weight ratings above 8,500 pounds. Commercial reps on hand said the NV vans will meet or beat the competition, but that remains to be seen. In the NV3500 HD, we averaged 12.1 mpg in mostly city driving conditions, according to the van’s trip computer.

High Roof NV3500 HD S 5.6-liter V-8

After dropping off the construction supplies, we changed vans. This time, we chose the high roof NV3500 HD. It was a duplicate of the standard roof version, except its added height allows tall people (up to 6 feet, 3 inches) to stand upright in the cargo area.


The tall roof configuration is similar to that of the Mercedes (formerly Dodge) Sprinter, but whereas the Sprinter starts at $36,000 with a standard 3.0-liter V-6, the NV starts about $10 thousand less for the high roof.

We drove the high roof completely empty and found no issue with power and ride. The only major difference we noticed was the extra wind noise the taller profile brought into the cabin. It sounds like a window was open at speeds as low as 45 mph. Wind noise would likely drop by adding optional interior side paneling to insulate the bare metal walls or with racks and shelving full of tools and supplies.

Noise levels in the cockpit area were very low. It was easy to have a conversation with our driving partner without ever having to raise our voices.

The high roof rode comfortably, and we soon forgot we were driving a van with an 8.8-foot-tall profile. It will be a bad day for the driver who forgets just how tall this version is and drives into the roof of a garage or tunnel. It almost warrants a warning on the windshield so the driver doesn’t forget.

Standard Roof NV2500 HD SV 4.0-liter V-6

The last NV we drove was the six-cylinder standard roof version. Even though it had the standard engine, it featured SV trim, which adds electric window and mirror controls and a power driver’s seat. It also came with two 120-volt 400-watt power outlets in addition to two standard 12-volt power outlets.

Despite a rear axle with a 3.36 ring and pinion, the 261-hp engine had good off-the-line performance, but we’re concerned about its strength in mountainous regions and cities like San Francisco, with its steep hills, when the NV is loaded to its max. We have the same concern about GM's lower-rated 195 hp 4.3-liter V-6 but that engine is limited to use in the half-ton Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans, while Nissan offers the V-6 in both the light-duty NV 1500 and three-quarter-ton mover 2500 HD we drove.


Our drive in the V-6 lasted only several miles, so we couldn’t get a feel for its fuel economy. In the Nissan Frontier, the same engine is about three miles per gallon better in fuel economy than the Titan. Both the V-8 and V-6 vans share the same five-speed transmission and transmission gear ratios.

All NV vans come with a manual shift option, which can be controlled on the transmission’s steering-column-mounted shift stalk. We tried it out and found it worked acceptably, upshifting and downshifting on demand.

The NV2500 seemed a bit more squirrelly driving around empty compared with the heavier-sprung NV3500. The rear axle chirped a bit under moderate push while making turns. Weighted down with stuff in back, we’d expect the truck would settle down just fine in the handling.


Compared to full-size vans from Ford, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz, the NV offers the best combination of price and functionality in the segment. No other full-size van provides its unique combination of features and capability out of the box at close to its starting price of $24,590. But that advantage comes with a unique consequence: The NV is ugly.

We’re confounded by the van’s looks. We understand that form follows function and don’t mind the squared-off back end, but the front end could benefit from rhinoplasty, stat. It should be about 20 percent smaller than it is. There’s so much chrome on the front end of high end models, we wonder how Earth’s chrome mines are ever going to keep up with demand should the NV become the sales success Nissan hopes it does.

Nissan expects that 80 percent of sales will have basic white paint jobs, but red, silver, blue and black are also available.


In a unique program, Nissan will let NV buyers design up to 70 square feet of custom vinyl graphics at no cost to call attention to the owner’s business, though we don’t think attention will be any problem driving this van.

Future Options

There are no plans to offer a diesel engine option in the near future, unlike the Sprinter, which offers a standard diesel V-6.

While most pickup truck owners are enthusiastic about a diesel engine, that’s not the same with van buyers, Dominique said. We don’t disagree. Higher upfront purchase costs for diesel engines because of added expense to meet U.S. emissions, plus higher fuel costs, conspire to make it unlikely we’ll see a diesel for the NV vans anytime soon.

Cargo vans will be the only version available at the start of sales, but a 12-passenger version is likely by early 2012 or sooner.

Purchase Information

250 Nissan dealers have been signed up around the country to sell NV vans. They’ve committed to upgrading their service bays to handle the tall and heavy vehicles and will offer special service hours for commercial customers – up to 60 hours per week.

Nissan will finance NV buyers with special tools and options, including custom payment arrangements and rolling upfit costs into scheduled vehicle payments. As mentioned earlier, buyers can get up to 70 square feet of customized vinyl wrap free of charge to place on the exterior of their vans for promotion and advertising.

An incentive program offers substantial benefits to qualified commercial customers, including a choice of one of the following packages at no charge: A cargo partition and three 44-inch shelving units on either high-roof or standard roof models, or a cargo partition and a three-bar utility rack for standard roof models, or a cargo partition and an interior ladder keeper for high-roof models.


What we like:

  • Comfortable seating for driver and passenger
  • No-nonsense functional cargo layout that’s ready for immediate upfit
  • Low step-in height to cargo space
  • Cargo doors open up to 243-degrees – moving out of the way of traffic in tight loading conditions
  • Cavernous space in the high roof model with a starting purchase price almost $10,000 less than Mercedes Sprinter
  • Tows up to 9,500 pounds with V-8 and up to 7,000 pounds with V-6
  • Strong V-8 performance
  • Excellent visibility (for a full-size van)

What we don’t:

  • Uninspired front-end styling that doesn't measure up to cargo management and driver comfort innovations
  • No telescoping steering wheel option
  • Lack of standard USB ports and Bluetooth wireless connectivity for cell phones
  • Soft load floor option makes it difficult to push heavy materials around cargo area
  • Unknown maintenance and performance record – for both the van and Nissan's new commercial dealers
  • Trailer sway control not available for towing


When are we going to see a van shoot-out? ;)

The Nissan appears to me to be the best van out there for the money, if I was in the market I think it would be my choice, despite being massively ugly.

@Sean: I think we'll do a full-size van Shootout after the Ford Transit comes to the U.S. But who knows? Maybe sooner. ;-)

Mike, Do you only cover Nissan Vans? Sorry I didn't see any coverage on any other vans.

Great review Mike! I wonder when Ford comes out with a new E-series van. They need to update it badly; old engines, transmissions, the bodywork is 19 years old. Even GM has more updated design. If there is any excuse to "spend" money on designing a new Ford van, this New nissan van thing is a good excuse. Ford has all the right pieces ready (i.e. new engines including a new diesel, trans, chassis). Offer them in a new package (van) is a problem... sounds very 1967-8 pre-Cobra Jet mustang familiar, doesn't it?:)

@Fred G: I made a decision to cover the new Nissan vans because they have heavily modified version of the current Titan's frame that could be used to underpin a heavy-duty version of the Titan.

However, the segment isn't covered in detail by other outlets. What do you think? Should we also cover vans?

I think It would be interesting to read about vans too, since they do share a lot of components with full size trucks.
Recently I read that Ford in investing into Kansas City plant to produce Transit vans that will replace E-series. I wonder what would be next move for GM.

@ Mike Levine

I see no reason not to cover vans. It's a small segment of the market, but nobody else seems to cover it. As long as you don't start branching into minivans and crossovers that is...

You are completely right! The NV is one ugly car!

Is it me, or do these look like Brinks armored trucks?

243 degree doors- I don't think these are unique in the segment- the Sprinter has them (270).
A dually would be nice- something that can carry 2 skids of salt, etc, or one and a lot of plumbing crap.
Mike L- do you suppose the Transit is coming to the US in FWD, like in Mexico (and the Ram Ducato), or RWD, like other vans here (and the possible Ram Daily)?

This thing is an eyesore. If you are standing in front of it, with both front doors open, I bet it looks like a puppy dog. Not as cute though. Datsun needs to put something on the front bumper that will look like a tongue?

If you can get past the does has some nice features. I hope that Ford does not blow it with the upcoming Transit. The Econoline has a long respected history (ambulances, contractor vans, shuttles, and van pools). General Motors might have a chance to dominate the van market, with the Express and Savana, if the Datsun and Ford vans turn out to be flops?

Nissan answered a question that no one asked by making these vans , Nissan should get back to making compact pickups instead .

I'm glad to see an infusion of competition and ideas in this segment. It has been badly needed. Indeed the van is ugly, but if it works and is reliable, they will sell.

Mike, did they mention if there will be an option for split side doors and a driver's side door like what is available in the Express/Savana?

Wonder if Datsun is taking this for a test drive in the hopes of cutting the box off and having a 3/4 and1 ton truck?

It's a shame they couldn't keep going with that whole command center concept. I thought that was really cool, but it's probably more than useless to a general contractor.

It looks like an oversized Nissan cube with a grill stolen form a Ford that was ran over by a semi. The matte black grill and bumper looks better. I'd have to give credit to Nissan for trying to introduce a new product in a neglected market segment . They need a diesel option. Most vans I see are Ford Econoline vans.

This great for Small Business.

I see alot of Transit Connects around here.

My buddy works for ADT Security. They all switched from Rangers to Transit Connects.

Where is the 7 speed automatic?
The 5 speed automatic doesn't have any ratio spread.

Sprinter has a high top extended wheelbase van that gives you a 15' cargo floor. The article here says the Nissan has a 10' cargo floor. That is a little too short to invest that much money and not have the cargo space needed. I would want the longer floor and the high top of the Sprinter. But Sprinter is more expensive and has a diesel - costs more to fuel.

It is also good to see someone say you need to slide heavy cargo across the floor. I was in a disagreement with someone about that awhile back. You can't just set something heavy into a cargo bed. You also need to slide it. So the floor would have to be fixed.

One thing about the Sprinter - you can't build one online - no build and price. Not sure if it is that way for all Mercedes but that is annoying. Also the nearest Mercedes dealership is almost 2 hours away one way from me. That would not be good for repairs and maintenance.

Ford needs to come out with a HIGHT TOP (6' 3" inside height) and extended wheelbase van (up to 15' ft cargo floor) like the Sprinter. A cargo partition would be a must.

YES, start reviewing and covering vans, specially cargo vans.

The Nissan is indeed an ugly looking thing. I would be concerned about the lack of power on hills when fully loaded. It appears to be smaller than the Sprinter and would compete with the Hyundai I-Load and Fiat Ducato Van medium sized vans. All are small diesels

Fiat Ducato 3 Litre diesel FWD.Can be almost Sprinter like in size. The Front looks a lot better than the photo when actually viewing the vehicle.

i dont think it will sell very well, but i can see airports using them to carry cargo

@Jon, The Ford Transit proper, with a diesel like the Sprinter comes in all sorts of combinations in Europe.

So will transit be unibody like Sprinter?

Mike, if you start covering vans, please don't cover mini soccer mom vans and crossovers, BOF SUV's would be nice to read about also.

@Fred It varies in Europe. The Van is unibody, but a Cab Chassis variant(used as F250-F350 replacements in Europe) carries vastly more.

Smaller Ford Transit Van , with small diesel
Box Truck variant
Cab Chassis variant with crane

I agree it's ugly. I think it would look better without the big grill. Maybe use something similar to the GMC Sierra's grill. They would have been better off without so much overhang in front. Full size vans are hard enough to park in urban areas as it is. That said, the pickup like leg room would be nice. It'll be interesting to see Nissan going at it with GM & Ford in the commercial sales arena. They better be ready to deal, cause it's a tough market. I like the idea of seeing vans on PUTC, just no minivans.

I just downloaded a bochure on the Euro Ford site for the Transit Van.

I'll take a Jumbo Van with the high top. This has a 13.5' load floor. It also comes in AWD. Looks a hec of a lot nicer too. If it comes to the US I would want an EcoBoost engine.

"I'm glad to see an infusion of competition and ideas in this segment. It has been badly needed. Indeed the van is ugly, but if it works and is reliable, they will sell...." -BigT

Datsun is still waiting for the Titan, with ideas and features not available before from the competition, to start selling. They have not been successful in full-size trucks. Perhaps they will do a little better with full-size vans?

@Mike L.

I would read the article about vans if you write them. In the ever changing world of business, the term service vehicle is not limited to only one type of vehicle. It may not be pretty, but I think the return on investment with this vehicle could be quite high as it fills into many different job titles.

If you write it, they will read it.........

This looks like a cross between a Ford Flex and a Super Duty. So now we know what SD Flex would look like.
It's definitely a utilitarian and built to get the job done. They've used knew ideas that no other maker has, so they deserve some credit.

This may be a stupid question, but why doesn't anyone make a four wheel drive full size van? It would make a fabulous hunting rig.

Quiqley offers 4x4 full size vans. Small company serving a very small market.


You are correct! My guess is demand is low.

Sportsmobile, is another outfitter that converts 2-wheel drive vans into 4-wheel drive vans. They make sweet Class B motor homes also.

What I like: its a Van. I used to only drive vans, but SUVs and trucks just had better legroom and towing. This has good legroom and towing.

What I don't: no 4 wheel drive (or even all wheel drive, which is all I'd want) option for us in snowy climates, as 2 wheel drive and a few thousand pounds of payload do not go well together, and the ugly front end. That its longer makes sense, but certainly it didn't need to be that long?

why fwd - a lower load floor for easier loading and unloading, better fuel economy and payload, more interior space.

that's what ford says in their transit brochure.

there is also a rwd option which they say is better for heavy work and towing, and awd for loose surfaces or heavy snow - says good for rescue services or utility companies where field work is undertaken.

The Nissan NV vans do seem to appeal to contractors and other trademans who need a vehicle to fit their needs. My father-in law has a locksmithing business (mobile). He previously went through a Dodge and Ford vans. (both vans gave up their transmissions, rear ends, and various other parts with increasing frequency). He purchased the Sprinter van and has never looked back (superior efficiency, load handling, fold flat rear doors, reliability). The problem with the existing domestic vans was that while advertised as contractor grade, those vans exhibited premature wear even when laden well within limits(in essence passenger van platforms converted to "contractor" use)
THe Nissan NV seems to address these issues by tailoring these vans specifically for commercial use.

I will probably buy one.

Sprinter in expensive, forces you to go through a long ordering process and diesel is a drag.

All other vans suck.

When is the real Transit going to arrive. I wish it was tomorrow. It should be reasonably priced since it will be built here.

2012 is what wikipedia says.

"Ford has stated that the fourth generation Transit platform will be global, also acting as a replacement for the long running E-Series range in the United States and Canada. It is expected to be released by 2012.[19] In the interim, Ford introduced the smaller, mechanically unrelated Transit Connect to the North American market for the 2010 model year."

Lot of ideas in this van. Great for my contract business and Ill be signing up. High roof is a killer app and the seating space is a game changer, have any of you sat in an Econoline or Express lately? Engine cover is in your lap, all day in those things kills you. Switched to a HD pickup to get away from that and now Nissan has made the combo...van with comfort.

Ford has been talking about the Transit for years and has done nothing, GM has no plan for anything else. Ain't gonna happen...

Thanks Nissan.

Looks like a good commercial truck. Now the question is when will Nissan have a suitable commercial pickup? The Titan is probably the least suitable full size pickup for commercial applications (no regular cab, no base model, 1/2 ton only). Seems odd that Nssan has a van that's exculsively a commercial truck, and a pickup that's exclusively a personal use/RV truck.

i like it. kindda reminds me of the ram van in a way. i would like to see a van shootout too.

It looks like a super sized Frontier in front. It may not be the prettiest thing, but I've seen uglier vehicles on the road. It'd be cool had they mounted the license plate housing on the bumper, like they do pickups...maybe. That's just me. It will make a nice competitor, on the other hand. I'd also like to see GM, Ram and Ford's next van designs. Bring the Ford Transit over here! Transit Connects are for girls!

I want to hate this but this solves all the problems I usually have w/ vans. Looks like Datsun did everything right. My only complaint is no 4x4 im sure there are guys out there who need a 4x4 van but Im sure it will come out in time

@ Mike L: Is that long nose not making it a lot harder to manouvre in city's?

As pointed out above the doors on the Sprinter can open all the way through to 270 degrees (as can the EU Ducato / any other van on the market in the EU). The Sprinter can also be had with dual rear wheels, 4x4, tipper (dump) body and total vehicle weight of up to 6 or 7 metric tonne (don't know exactly, the Iveco (Fiat) Daily does just over 7 tonne anyway).

This looks like an uneconomical, unwieldy thing to me. That engine is to big to be efficient and the nose to long to fit into tight urban spaces. Ford needs to get the Transit over to the US as it is much better looking / more frugal / more versatile!

@ UK Diesel Driver. This NV Nissan looks like it would have no where near a GVM or GVWR of 15,300lbs. The Towing ability would be seriously derated here in Australia , 7000lbs for a Nissan 4 Litre petrol/gas engine???

I've been working in commercial 1/2 to 1 Ton vans(Ford/GMC) for 20 years. The nose on this thing is retarded, you loose so much cargo volume by not keeping the cab as far forward and mentioning the turning radius. Why have a 1 ton with such a short cargo floor? all that GVW on or behind the rear wheels would create a lot of front wheel scrub! and if your not using the van at max GVW why have a V8. Go have a look in Rivera Myan Rivera(Mexico) at all the brand new fullsize vans running around as tourist haulers....Mercedes, Ford, and Toyota

Good point, guy. They should make the 3500 series model with a long wheelbase and/or an extended body, and some dual rear wheels. Sprinter broke the market when they came out with such a van. I'd like to see more six-wheeler (dually) regular-body vans as I do pickups!

I have driven ford, Chevrolet and sprinters, as a service tech. and the biggest problem is how uncomfortable the driver's position is. nobody drives one of this vehicle by choice. by nissan making this van feel like a suv or a pickup truck, they are going to become the workers preferred van. if they can only put a small fuel sipping diesel on it, they could also make the accountants happy. most vans are driven all week, and on average go thru 1 1/2 tanks of fuel. that translate to $150 a week. the sprinter will do the same work for $75. i would like for car writers to do a bit more investigating before they put out their conclusions. most vans are driven mostly empty and are used in city like setup with very little grade. tile mans and steel worker need to buy 7 liter dually monster pickup, the vast majority of service worker just want a comfortable big box that is cheap to buy and run.

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