Introducing a completely new van into a depressed market is a major challenge, but that hasn’t stopped Nissan launching the NV200. Replacing Kubistar, a rebadged version of Renault’s Kangoo, the newcomer represents the first step in the Japanese manufacturer’s long-term plan to develop a light commercial range distinctively different from the one marketed by its Alliance partner.
NV200 is an interesting initiative because it doesn’t slot neatly into any particular category; a characteristic which might turn out to be its key virtue. It’s a short-wheelbase light van with the cargo capacity of a long-wheelbase light van. In other words, while it looks as though it ought to be competing with, for example, Volkswagen’s Caddy, it’s really a rival to the Caddy Maxi.
While Nissan may be trying to cast off Renault’s designs, it is nonetheless employing its Alliance partner’s components whenever and wherever it can in order to hold down costs. That’s why NV200 is powered by a 1.5-litre Renault dCi diesel which has already seen service in Kangoo.
Maximum power of 86hp bites at 3,750rpm while peak torque of 200Nm kicks in at 2,000rpm. The four-cylinder eight-valve common rail turbocharged unit is married to a five-speed manual gearbox. CO2 output is a modest 137g/km.
A compact suspension system employing wide single-leaf springs is fitted at the rear while the front suspension set-up includes MacPherson struts. Our test vehicle’s 14in steel wheels were shod with Dunlop SP LT30 175/70 R14C tyres.
Disc brakes are fitted at the front, drums at the back, and ABS, Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution come as standard. Electronic Stability Programme is on the options list.
Electric power-assisted steering is fitted offering a commendably tight 10.6m turning circle kerb-to-kerb, and 11.1m wall-to-wall.
Top payload is 752kg and NV200 grosses at 2,000kg. It can tow a braked trailer grossing at 1,100kg and an unbraked trailer grossing at 640kg.
Access to the 4.2m3 cargo area is by way of twin, side-hinged, 70/30 split asymmetrical rear doors — the narrower one is on the offside — plus a sliding nearside door. A sliding offside door is on offer as an optional extra.
The back doors can be swung through 90° and through 180° if you flip the relevant levers and release the door stays. Unlike some arrangements, there’s no danger of trapping your fingers.
The doors open to reveal a cargo bed that is 2,040mm long and 1,500mm wide, narrowing to 1,220mm between the wheel boxes. Maximum load height is 1,358mm while the rear loading height is a commendably low 524mm. The side door aperture is 693mm wide and 1,171mm high. Dimensions for the rear door aperture are 1,262mm and 1,228mm respectively.
Half-a-dozen floor-mounted cargo tie-down points are provided. The driver is protected from being hit by any load that shoots forward because it isn’t lashed down by a full steel bulkhead.
If your NV200 is ordered with the basic E specifications rather than the more upmarket SE trim then you’ll get a ladder frame behind the driver’s seat. Handy adjustable load lashing rails positioned above the wheel boxes are available off the options list.
Nissan has managed to create a van with a bigger cargo box than expected by a bit of clever design footwork. It’s included positioning the seats as far forwards as they can possibly go.
Yet although the seats have been moved forward, there’s no lack of room in the cab, and certainly no lack of legroom so far as we can judge. Nor is there any absence of storage space.
Facilities include bins in each of the doors, a deep glovebox and a lidded storage compartment between the seats along with an oddments tray and a couple of cup-holders. There’s a shelf on top of the dashboard too.
With a useful drawer underneath it, the driver’s seat is set at just the right height to make it easy to get in and out and the occupant enjoys ample head and shoulder room. A driver’s airbag is included in the deal, as is remote central locking. Opting for the SE model also provides electric windows and mirrors. Hit a button on the dashboard and you can lock all the doors. A prominent button nearby allows you to switch on the hazard warning lights.
A stereo radio/CD player comes as standard — it features a 3.5mm Aux socket for connecting an iPod or MP3 player — along with a 12v power point. Our van was fitted with a number of options; air conditioning (£575) and metallic paint (£350). There’s a neat bit of tech on the options list that’s worth a mention; it’s a reversing camera with a small, but perfectly adequate, full-colour screen mounted within the instrument binnacle.
While the van’s interior may be distinctive, the same cannot be said of its exterior styling. It’s distressingly bland; a characteristic that it of course shares with the aforementioned Caddy and Caddy Maxi.
Despite the modest size and power output of its engine, NV200 is a lively on-the-road performer. A slick, but slightly clunky, gearchange makes it easy to get the best out of what’s on offer and the newcomer goes about its business quietly. Engine, wind and road noise are all well controlled.
What really impresses us, however, is the responsiveness of the steering; far more responsive than anything else with electric assistance that we’ve ever come across. It’s remarkably precise and direct, offers ample feedback at speed and makes a major contribution to the van’s sure-footed handling
What’s more, it’s equally useful when you’re trying to manoeuvre the vehicle into a tight parking space; circumstances in which the optional reversing camera will come into its own.
Unfortunately NV200 is let down by its ride, and it’s those dinky little 14in wheels that are at fault. While they contribute to the van’s low rear loading height and permit it to offer a respectably capacious cargo bay without growing too tall, they seem to find every pothole on the highway, and triumphantly crash straight into it.
That means that your journey can become uncomfortable at times given how pock-marked Britain’s disgracefully under-resourced roads are these days. On the positive side, however, NV200 is well-put-together, and fuel-frugal. We averaged a very respectable 51mpg during the test period. Service intervals are set at 12,500 miles and it comes with a three year/100,000 mile warranty as standard.
A cleverly designed package, NV200 offers an impressive amount of cargo space in a compact envelope. It’s a lively on-the-road performer, it’s fuel-frugal, it’s quiet and its handling is impressive, with direct steering that offers ample feedback. It’s well-put-together and well-equipped too if you specify SE trim. If it has a drawback, it’s the ride. Those 14in wheels work poorly on a vehicle this size and seem to drop with a crash into every pothole they encounter. That concern aside — and ignoring the bland and unadventurous exterior styling — we’re impressed with Nissan’s new baby. We reckon you will be too.