In the Event You Need a Big Van…


2011 Nissan NV3500.

Nissan has gotten so much glowing praise for its Leaf plug-in electric car; you’d think the company had become the poster child for green motoring. Sure, there’s a certain amount of “greenness” that rubs off on all the company’s products, but keep in mind they’re a full-line automaker.

That line has just gotten a bit fuller with the introduction of a new series of full-size commercial cargo vans. This is pretty big news, as a Japan-based auto company has never before offered a large van here. But Nissan knows that vans are an important part of business life.

Next time you’re at a Home Depot early in the morning, look around the parking lot. You’ll see lots of pickup trucks of course, but vans run a close second. For those who need to carry goods and tools — and want to keep them out of sight — a big van does the trick like a pickup truck can’t.

For years, choices among full-size vans were big boxes from GM, Ford and Chrysler. They never changed much, ran forever with little maintenance, and basically got the job done. But as cars became more stylish and feature-laden, it was only a matter of time before vans joined in too.

So here comes Nissan, with an in-your-face new large van, available in both a standard roof height and with a factory “high roof” option. The first thing you notice about it is that the front of it looks like a pickup truck. Nissan’s Titan full-size pickup is the inspiration for the nose of the NV. (Their not-very-clever name for this van. It literally stands for “Nissan Van.” Yawn.)

But beyond standing out, the long snout provides a practical benefit too. First off, there’s no engine cover intruding into the passenger compartment as you find with most vans. Secondly, having the engine out in front of the windshield makes servicing much easier.

The NV is also very easy to drive, essentially feeling like a full-size pickup truck with a big box attached to it. I sampled an NV3500 High Roof, and while it felt kind of huge (especially if you turn around and look over your shoulder and upward), it has a fairly tight turning radius, and the 5.6 liter V8 got the empty van moving swiftly.

Since my test unit was loaded up, it also had Nissan’s in-dash navigation screen that doubles as the display for the color back-up camera. It’s actually not a very expensive option at under $1,000, and provides peace-of-mind when backing this behemoth out of a parking space.

There are also other clever features that make this working van a capable job site partner. The passenger seat folds down to offer extra space to carry things, and there are numerous cubbies and bins to store all manner of whatever it is you need to keep your small business running from the road. The sliding top of the center console / armrest even has a small slot to accommodate a bulldog clip for securing papers. Pretty clever.

Like other commercial vans on the market, there are many ways to configure a Nissan NV. There are three series of duty rating: 1500, 2500 and 3500. To the latter two you can opt for the extended roof, and there are two engine choices. A V6 comes standard in the 1500 and 2500, and Nissan’s excellent V8 is available in the 2500 and comes standard in the 3500.

Base prices range from $24,590 for a 1500 Standard Roof to $32,190 for a 3500 High Roof. All NVs are built at Nissan’s factory in Canton, Mississippi, and they’re sold at select Nissan dealers that are designated as commercial vehicle outlets.

Vans might not be very exciting vehicles (though they can haul motorcycles and tow race cars, so they can certainly be part of exciting activities). But for business owners large and small, they’re an important tool in getting the job done. And Nissan is now offering a pretty good tool.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz

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