Nissan has its sights set firmly on the global light commercial vehicle market. Back in 2004 it set up a dedicated LCV unit and over the next four years it virtually doubled sales to 600,000.
As far as Europe is concerned it relied on re-badged versions of its Alliance partner Renault’s products to tackle the light and panel van sectors of the market, but this year sees the beginning of a big change. The intention is to launch six all-new models in Europe over the next five years and they will be badged solely as Nissan. The first of these new vans to reach these shores will be the NV200 and it is due to go on sale at the beginning of November.
Unveiled as a stunning concept vehicle at the Tokyo Motor Show two years ago the NV200 replaces the Kubistar which ceased to exist when Renault introduced the second generation Kangoo at the end of last year; Kubistar was based on the first generation model. With the new van on the way Nissan didn’t take the re-badging route, despite being left with nothing to offer in the light van sector apart from a stockpile of Kubistars.
Based on the same platform as the Micra, NV200 is, however, a very different prospect to its predecessor. For a start it’s 365mm longer and has a substantially bigger load volume at 4.2m3. The styling is more reminiscent of a scaled-down panel van than a light van.
In fact, the NV200 is a bit of an oddity. Most manufacturers now offer their light vans with a choice of two wheelbases, but NV200 has the footprint of the short-wheelbase while having the load capacity of the long-wheelbase. The most direct comparison to put this in context is the Volkswagen Caddy. NV200 is the same length as the standard Caddy, but has the load volume of the Maxi. It takes the middle ground and Nissan is banking on potential customers getting the logic behind this approach.
The load volume figure, however, doesn’t disclose the whole picture. Clever design means that NV200 boasts a load length of 2,040mm and with 1,220mm between the wheel boxes means that it can accommodate two standard Europallets. A load height of 1,358mm and gross payload of 752kg completes the picture. For reference the gross vehicle weight is 2,000kg and it can tow a 1,100kg braked trailer.
There are three reasons for this slightly TARDIS-like result; the cab design means that the seats are set as far forwards as they can go, the 55-litre fuel tank is sited under the seats and the leaf-sprung rear suspension is very compact. In conjunction with 14in wheels the latter also explains why the rear loading height is very low at 524mm.
Access to the business end is via twin side-hinged asymmetrical rear doors with the wider one on the nearside. UK models will have a nearside sliding door as standard with one for the other side available as an optional extra. As well as a conventional van, NV200 will also be available as a five- or seven-seat Combi from launch and these will have twin sliding side doors as standard and the option of a rear top-hinged tailgate.
Six sturdy load-tie rings adorn the floor and the cab occupants are protected by a ladder frame behind the driver’s seat in the E spec van and a full solid steel affair in the SE. There will be an optional Versatility Pack which consists of a folding passenger seat and swivelling mesh arrangement.
There is one thing very familiar about Nissan’s new global baby and that’s the engine. It’s the 1.5-litre Renault dCi turbodiesel also found in the Kangoo. Capable of producing 86hp at 3,750rpm and developing peak torque of 200Nm at 2,000rpm it has a CO2 output of 137g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption of 54.3mpg. The front wheels are driven via a manual five-speed gearbox. There is currently no auto or semi-auto ’box on offer, but there are plans to introduce a more powerful 106hp version of the 1.5dCi at the beginning of next year. Service intervals are set at 12,500 miles.
Braking is taken care of by discs at the front and drums at the rear, and ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution are standard on all models. ESP can be specified from the options list.
The steering is power-assisted — electric rather than hydraulic — and the kerb-to-kerb turning circle is 10.6m, rising to 11.1m between walls.
Spacious and airy, the two-seater cab has been designed very much with a working driver in mind. Getting in and out is made easy thanks to a high seat height which should make life easier for anyone on multi-drop deliveries.
A host of storage areas — there are 13 apparently — adorn the cab interior, including cup- and bottle-holders, coin trays, a glovebox, slim door pockets and a large bin underneath the driver’s seat.
As eluded to earlier there will be levels of specification on offer; E and SE. The former includes manual window winders, a driver’s airbag, multi-function trip computer — including a gear-shift indicator — radio/CD player with a 3.5mm aux-in socket, steering wheel rake adjustment and an immobiliser.
Move up to SE — and Nissan reckons 85 per cent of buyers will — and it adds electric windows and door mirrors, height adjustment for the driver’s seat and Nissan’s excellent Intelligent Key, keyless entry central locking system; you don’t even have to put a key in the ignition to start the engine. On top of the Versatility Pack, the options list includes air conditioning and a reversing camera with colour screen.
We took to the roads around Barcelona — production of the NV200 starts at Nissan’s Spanish plant at the end of October — in a half-laden window van and came away pretty impressed.
Despite being relatively low powered at 86hp, the 200Nm of torque from the 1.5dCi coped admirably and indicates that the gear ratios are well chosen. For an electric power steering system there was ample feedback from the front wheels and it weighted-up nicely as speed rose. Not too much bodyroll was evident during cornering.
The seating position is commanding, offering good all-round vision and the gearstick is well positioned for easy access from the steering wheel. The seats seemed to offer enough support, but it would be better if the steering wheel was adjustable for reach as well as rake.
The suspension coped well with the Spanish roads, but we have a niggling suspicion that the small 14in wheels may well upset this when they encounter the highways of the UK; time will tell.
The test van was fitted with a full bulkhead so noise levels were kept under control, with the engine only becoming intrusive at the top of its rev-range.
The initial batch of UK-spec NV200s are being built in Japan before production switches to Spain and Nissan reckons it will sell around 500 by March 2010, rising to 2,000 for the first full sales year. Prices will be announced closer to launch.
Although it’s not going to win any awards for its, rather bland, styling there is no denying that the NV200 is an interesting concept. It’s a master class in optimising the load capacity/footprint-on-the-road equation and we look forward to spending more time in it when it arrives in the UK.