2014 Nissan NV200: Useful Things Come In Small Packages

Strong points
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Useful cargo space
  • Good power
  • Reasonable fuel mileage
  • Affordable price
Weak points
  • A bit loud inside when empty
  • Not as much cargo space as its rivals
  • A tall-roof model would be a nice addition
  • Heated seats are a must for Canadian winters
Full report

They might not be glamorous, but they sure are useful.  I'm referring, of course, to the new breed of compact cargo vans that have washed up on Canadian shores over the course of the past couple of years.  The 2013 Nissan NV200 is a shining example of their ilk, a vehicle that is as frugal to operate as it is practical, and one whose attractively low purchase price has caught the attentions of fleet buyers and small business owners alike.

I had the chance to spend the week with the 2013 Nissan NV200 after having briefly driven it earlier this summer at its official launch.  I am pleased to report that the positive first impression that this little van left on me way back in May has only been reinforced by a strong performance during the chillier month of November.

Simplicity Has Its Virtues

The 2013 Nissan NV200 is nothing if not simple in both its presentation, its mechanics, and its utility.  The NV200 is intended to serve as an urban workhorse, with a wheelbase short enough to turn sharp alleyway corners and a footprint that won't block more than half a lane when the van is inevitably double-parked downtown.  Don't let it's compact dimensions fool you into thinking the Nissan is some kind of poser van - 3,474 litres of cargo space are lurking directly behind the driver's seat, accessible via either a pair of sliding side doors or a set of 40/60 split rears that have détentes to hold them open at both 90 and 180 degrees.  That being said, contractors will want to take note that the Nissan offers less total cargo volume than either the Ram C/V or the Ford Transit Connect.

I didn't get a chance to pilot the NV200 with a full load the first time I drove it, but fortunately the timing of my week-long Nissan loaner coincided with a fairly significant furniture purchase.  This meant I was able to stuff the van to the rafters with steel-and-wood shelving, adding about 300 lbs of latticework that consumed the entire length of the van's interior storage.  I had to push the passenger seat all the way forward to accommodate my cargo, but the NV200 happily swallowed it all without complaint.  Loading was a breeze thanks to the dual side openings that helped me position myself inside the van when sliding shelves in and out, and I had no issues positioning my items between the vehicle's stubby little wheel wells.

Calm and Collected

Cargo vans - especially full-size, truck-based models - have a nasty reputation for riding rough when not burdened down with a load heavy enough to dampen their oversprung chassis designs.  The 2013 Nissan NV200 is the polar opposite of these bulky vans, delivering relatively smooth performance regardless of whether laden or unladen with gear.  Sure, the NV200's empty cargo chamber did its best to amplify the bumps and bounces associated with Montreal's rough roads, but it exhibited no harshness and certainly no instability at any time, cornering with an unexpected confidence.

Enough Oomph

The 2013 Nissan NV200's acceleration was yet another surprise, and one that again outperformed my expectations.  The plucky 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood of the NV200 might underwhelm on paper with its 131 horses and 139 lb-ft of torque, but in the real world that was more than enough to get the vehicle moving forward even with a full load of cargo along for the ride.  In fact, the van was zippy off of the line to the point where I was often able to surprise cars in the lane beside me and beat them to whatever cross-street my lack of proper planning had suddenly rendered urgent.  Nissan has given the NV200 one of its well-tuned continuously-variable automatic transmissions in order to provide it with class-leading fuel economy of 8.7 l/100 km city and 7.1 l/100 km highway.

Spartan But Functional

Cargo vans aren't meant to rival luxury cars in terms of comfort, which means that the 2013 Nissan NV200 delivers in all of the important areas but ignores superfluous concerns like leather upholstery or soft-touch materials.  The twin bucket seats at the front of the NV200 are comfortable enough for an eight hour shift (although I would have liked butt-warmers), and most of the plastics found throughout the cabin felt like they'd stand up well to repeated contact and scuffing.  Nissan makes a touchscreen navigation system available with the van, which is more important than you might at first think for delivery drivers, and as with most interfaces designed by the brand it worked flawlessly in my tester.

Leader Of The New School

Unless you legitimately need the room, it's hard to imagine why you would pick up a fill-size cargo van over a versatile option like the 2013 Nissan NV200.  Good fuel efficiency, nimble handling, and an MSRP of just over $21,000 make this vehicle a strong option for small businesses or logistics companies who favour practicality over all-out size.  The Nissan NV200 is a strong competitor in the compact cargo van segment, and presents Canadians with glimpse into the future of commercial vehicles now that major automakers are willing to invest in innovative platforms rather than dump a box on a pickup frame and call it a day.

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