Nissan’s Mini (Cargo) Van

2014 Nissan NV200.

2014 Nissan NV200.

A couple of months ago I wrote about Chrysler’s new Ram ProMaster cargo van, one of a slew of new work vans being introduced these days. After hardly garnering any attention for decades, vans are undergoing a revolution, with modern, more efficient models in various sizes for various commercial needs.

At the smaller end, one van that has somewhat revolutionized things for small and large businesses has been Ford’s Transit Connect. A compact model introduced a few years ago, you now seem them everywhere. Sales have been very strong, even surpassing Ford’s expectations for it.

So there’s obviously a need for a versatile van that doesn’t cost a lot to buy or operate, for uses where a full-size one isn’t necessary. Couriers, service techs, painting contractors, and others who want just the basics in a tidy package.

Last year, Nissan brought out the Transit Connect’s first true competitor: a slightly gawky looking little van called the NV200. While the baby Ford was stubby and tall, the Nissan is more elongated. And, fully able to get the job done.

Part of the Transit Connect’s appeal is its small four cylinder engine, which is good for 20 miles per gallon in mixed use driving. Likewise, the NV200 has a 2.0 liter four under its hood, and it’s quite smooth if not exactly powerful. But unlike Ford’s engine (the two make about the same horsepower), Nissan utilizes its CVT automatic transmission to get the power to the front wheels.

Acceleration isn’t what you’d call brisk, but for the light duty the power is adequate. By comparison to the original Transit Connect, it seems worlds smoother, as the Ford used a rather crude 4-speed automatic transmission that seemed more like a 5-speed missing a gear. A CVT takes some getting used to, as there are no true “stepped” gears, but it’s very efficient.

Cargo space is plentiful, which is obviously the idea. Sliding doors on both sides open very wide, and there’s a clever door arrangement at the rear: the right rear door is much wider than the left. The theory is that most access to things out back can be accomplished by just opening the one door, so make it more useful.

The asymmetrical rear doors looks a bit funny, and the whole NV200 is a little funny looking. Form over function, to be sure. One thing the eye is drawn to are the rather small wheels and tires. We now live in a world where even compact cars routinely have 16” and 17” wheels, so the 15” discs at each corner of the little Nissan look almost cartoonish.

But, the tires are small because small tires cost less. They’ll still do the job of supporting the NV200s maximum weight, but the “function over form” mandate serves the business owner in the long run. From sole proprietors to large fleets, operating costs are a key decision in buying something like a cargo van.

And those buyers are going to have some decisions to make if 2014 is the year to purchase a new small van. Ford has brought out a much revised Transit Connect, which addresses most of the previous one’s shortcoming and is even much more handsome.

Ford is also offering a passenger version of the Transit Connect, as they did previously. But Nissan is choosing to keep the NV200 cargo-only, with no option for rear seats or windows. They already have a minivan in the Quest, and offering a less expensive option might harm the Quest’s already soft sales.

There is one passenger version of the Nissan, but you can’t buy it. It’s outfitted as a taxi and is currently roaming the streets of New York City as what Nissan bills as the “taxi of tomorrow,” one of the choices cab companies have to replace the aging and discontinued Ford Crown Victorias.

The Nissan NV200 has a base price of $20,240, or $21,230 in nicer SV trim. You can add a few options here and there (including an in-dash navigation system, rear-view camera and Bluetooth) though fleet buyers will likely skip those. Nissan sent me one with all the options and the total was still under $24,000.

More new vans are coming this year, from small to large. The “van revolution” is definitely on.

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: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz

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