Sometimes a new vehicle comes along that was designed seemingly with one purpose and intention in mind but somehow, as if by fate, it manages to become something more than you expect. At first glance, the new 2014 Nissan NV200 cargo van would appear to just be a competitor for something like the Ford Transit Connect and would only find use with delivery drivers and plumbers prone to showing off their butt cracks. But after spending a healthy amount of time piloting one around sunny San Diego recently, we came away convinced that this van might just be a terrific answer for an outdoor loving motorcycle enthusiast. Or possibly a tour bus for a moderately successful two man rock band.
Our favorite part of the NV200 is its highly unique size that is narrower than your average chunky family minivan but plenty long enough to carry a couple of motorbikes in the cargo hold which is rated to handle 1,500 pounds according to Nissan. On city streets the perfectly judged sizing of this minivan gives it a uniquely brawny look not seen on any wussy minivan. In fact, do not think of the NV200 as anything close to the societal impression of the minivan. And that separateness, much as was true of the old VW Microbus or Vanagon, is what makes it cool.
The most basic 2014 Nissan NV200 S starts at just $19,990 whereas the SV version bumps the price to $20,980 with the addition of features like cruise control and availability of options you can't get with the S model. Our test SV came with nearly everything but the rear door glass package ($190) but included a $190 exterior appearance package (body color bumpers, door handles, wheel covers) as well as the $950 technology package which adds navigation, a back-up camera, USB/i-Pod integration, Bluetooth, Bluetooth audio streaming, voice activation services as well as hands free texting. Our grand total came to just $22,120 which is terrific value for the money.
We must admit that it took us a little bit of time to get used to the fact that there was no rear view mirror mounted inside the windshield as our tester did not come equipped with the, get this, optional rear door glass package. There is also an optional back-up camera and standard extra-large side mirrors that help but we'd recommend you order the glass in the rear doors to aid in tight traffic situations. Call us wimps, we just so happen to like the security of a center mounted rear view mirror so we can see if someone is about to rear end us at 45 miles per hour. However, without the windows your cargo could stay stored in the van safely without any thieves noticing them.
There are also, in addition to the twenty D-rings mounted into the floor on SV models, and additional 20 reinforced mounting brackets along the side of the cargo hold perfect for secure fitment of partitions, cargo racks and bins for spare parts should the need arise. Then, once you remove your motorbikes there is a flat load floor left behind that would be perfect for some tent-free camping.
To us, the most interesting and versatile aspect of the NV200 was the many ways to load cargo and just how much you could squeeze into what is a rather long and narrow van. There is a total of 122.7 cubic feet of cargo space in the van not including the room left for the two front passengers. Do note that the front passenger seat does fold flat for extra-long items leaving 9 feet 8 inches or stretch out space. That could help if you have a really, really tall NBA player sleeping in your van as he could use the folded seat as a pillow no doubt. We are actually kidding about that NBA player as you will probably use it more for things like ladders.
The exterior look of the 2014 Nissan NV200 may not make you the "NV" of all your style conscious neighbors but there is something unique about it that gives it a heaping dose of "anti-style" sort of like many successful "lifestyle" vehicles that came before it such as the VW Vanagon or even Scion xB. The NV200 doesn't have time for spurious swoops and creases in the body panels with only a handsome chrome front mask giving the vehicle a sense of visual menace. Mind you, this van looks menacing only in the black color with the optional body color bumpers because as we all know, Darth Vader wouldn't have been nearly as frightening wearing a white outfit and unpainted mask.
As we have already gone over the cargo compartment of the NV200, this is where we are going to focus our attention on the passenger compartment made up of just the two front driver's and passenger's seats. In between the two comfortable chairs lies a "mobile office" of sorts that is designed to hold your laptop as well as a number of file folders should you be using this van for work as well. And just because it's a cargo van doesn't mean you can't get optional in-dash navigation, Bluetooth, USB/i-Pod integration and Bluetooth music streaming among many other offerings. Check out our pricing section to read more about what our fully loaded NV200 actually wound up costing in the end. The answer will surprise you.
As our tester was not equipped with glass in the rear doors or a rear view mirror on the windshield, it took us a moment to get acclimated to this new experience when first setting out. But surprisingly, almost immediately once in the flow of traffic we felt comfortable as we could see everything behind us thanks to the extra wide, double inset blind-spot reduction side mirrors. Sure, they added width to the van to the extent that they were a bit like the ears of Prince Charles but without them we would not have felt nearly as comfortable driving the NV200 on crowded city streets. As it was, we might still recommend you invest in the rear windows but take heart knowing this van is very easy to maneuver even in the tight traffic around Downtown San Diego.
Moving beyond visibility, you would expect the steering feel to be loose and sloppy in a cargo van as these vehicles have in the past been seemingly purpose built to play to the lowest common denominator of driver. But not only did our test NV200 steer with precision, the suspension also absorbed bumps and potholes all while keeping this rather narrow van from precarious body roll during higher speed turns. Not that we would ever do such a thing but the 2014 Nissan NV200 feels lightweight, tossable, fun and just a bit like it wants to bring out your inner driving hooligan. Again, not that we would behave that way in a van.
The 2014 Nissan NV200 comes standard with a 2.0 liter 139 horsepower/131 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine that is always a steady and capably strong workhorse even when fully laden and straining to put the power down. The engine makes a pleasantly ferocious growl, especially for a cargo van. The standard Nissan X-CVT automatic transmission is a revelation in this application as it always keeps this particular motor in the sweet spot of its power band whether you are trying to pass slow moving freeway traffic or accelerating up a steep hill, miraculously without any of the usual CVT moans and groans. Kudos to Nissan for this updated CVT and we swear we didn't drown out any noises with the 2-speaker audio system that was equipped in our tester although we do admit the stereo's sound was better than expected.
The 2014 Nissan NV200 returns an estimated 24 city/25 highway according to the EPA which is mighty impressive for a vehicle with this level of capability and a decent 14.5 gallon fuel tank ensures interstate trips can be handled without having to carry a spare gas can in the back of the van. But to be clear, there would be enough extra room for one if you did decide to carry one. The NV200's 2.0 liter 4-cylinder runs on regular unleaded so gas costs should be manageable for most anyone.
What we Loved
The spry handling and zippy acceleration around town
The affordable pricing allows for plenty of customizing!
The sensible size and shape
What We Would Change
Perhaps more power wouldn't hurt
More upscale interior plastics and trim
Rear passenger seating option
The Verdict and Competition
It isn't every day that we get excited about a van—be it a cargo van or minivan—as they are not exactly known for their charisma, charm, personality or characterful appeal. But in the 2014 Nissan NV200 we found all of these attributes and more including fuel efficiency, urban driving agility (even without the optional rear window) and all the techno goodies a modern car, truck, SUV or van buyer demands in this day and age. There is no end to what you can do with a 2014 Nissan NV200—its only limit is your imagination and the number of hobbies you want to pursue on the weekends.
As for models that compete directly in size and capability with this perfectly midsized Nissan van—well there really aren't any. The closest is the Ford Transit Connect and a gigantic Dodge Sprinter van. Otherwise, try Nissan first.
by James Hamel