For any contractor who has ever grumbled about the shortcomings of their Ford E-Series or Chevrolet Express cargo van, the 2012 Nissan NV is welcome news.

With its new NV commercial van, Nissan has updated the decades-old silhouette of the Ford Econoline and the Chevy Express.
Photo: Alan Rider for ENR
With its new NV commercial van, Nissan has updated the decades-old silhouette of the Ford Econoline and the Chevy Express.
Nissan Presents a Practical, Lower-Costing Alternative to the Traditional Contractor Van
Photo: Alan Rider for ENR

What all those aggravated work-van owners may not realize, however, is that they’re not alone in their frustration with the status quo, says Mike Hobson, Nissan’s director of commercial vehicles.

“Our research showed this segment had one of the lowest levels of owner satisfaction out there, largely because the most popular models on the market haven’t changed significantly in decades,” Hobson explains. “Just about every contractor we talked to was happy to give us a long list of things they didn’t like about their current van.”

In sketching out a vehicle that addressed those complaints, Nissan’s U.S.-based designers and engineers were starting with a blank slate. “That allowed us to build in a lot of qualities our main competitors can’t offer,” Hobson says. “Things like having the engine out front for easier servicing.”

The NV is filled with well-thought-out details designed for commercial users, from the water-resistant upholstery with specially reinforced wear strips on the outer edges of the seats to built-in mounting points for shelves and ladder racks. The NV also has vertical sidewalls to maximize cargo room, a standard rear step-bumper with a low step-in height, and more than 54 in. between the rear wheel wells, fitting 4-ft x 8-ft sheets of drywall with room to spare.

Initially, the NV will be offered with a single 146.1-in. wheelbase (an extended wheelbase version is about a year away) and three different load ratings, ranging from a light-duty 1500 version to heavy-duty 2500 HD and 3500 HD models. All three can be had with a low roof that offers 234 cu ft of cargo room. A high-roof model, which is offered only on the 2500 and 3500 models, offers 323 cu ft of load space and 75 in. of stand-up height.

Under the hood, buyers have a choice of a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 or 317-hp, 5.6-liter V-8. A five-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive round out powertrain details. Properly equipped, the NV can tow an impressive 9,500 lb.

Two different trim levels are available, including the top-of-the-line SV, which comes standard with ultrasonic rear-parking assist, a power driver’s seat and fold-flat front passenger seat. It also has a lockable center console with room for a laptop and hanging files, keyless entry and a pair of 120-volt, 400-watt AC outlets. Options include side-impact and side-curtain airbags, rearview camera, touch-screen navigation system and Bluetooth.

Several no-charge upfit packages from Adrian Steel are also available, including a cab partition, adjustable shelves and ladder racks. Buyers with no need for hardware can opt for a free exterior graphics package or a $300 credit toward the purchase price. The NV, starting at $24,590, will save you between $270 and $1,800 compared to Chevrolet and Ford and as much as $9,300 over a comparable Freightliner Sprinter 3500.

We spent time behind the wheel of the NV and found it to be very like a pickup, with plenty of head and leg room in the cab. Large window openings, big side mirrors with built-in convex inserts and the optional rearview camera offer good visibility. Equipped with the 5.6-liter V-8, the NV has the guts to haul just about anything. Performance with the 4.0-liter V-6 also is surprisingly good, though it’s obviously best suited to lighter-duty applications. Steering is nicely weighted, and the turning circle is remarkably small for such a large vehicle.

The NV—which began rolling off Nissan’s Mississippi assembly lines late last month—goes on sale from select Nissan-certified commercial vehicle dealers at the end of February.