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Nissan's commercial van looks big, drives small

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Nissan's commercial van looks big, drives small

The NV foundation is pure truck — boxed ladder frame and solid rear axle — but there wasn't a squeak or jiggle from any of the seats or doors.

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POSTED September 12, 2012 8:07 p.m.

I found my inner bus driver after a few days with the Nissan NV passenger van and also found that tooling around in this monstrous-looking rig wasn't as scary as it may look.

At nearly 7 feet tall and 20 feet long it is not humongous, but in black paint and 17-inch chrome wheels, it had the stance of an angry milk truck. But it didn't take long to figure that there's a mellow personality under the brooding appearance. This 12-seat van drives small for its size and is solid as railroad iron.

Nissan is new to the commercial van market, joining Mercedes-Benz with its Sprinter and the more typical cargo and 15-passenger vans from GM and Ford. Chrysler's Ram division sells a cargo van based on its minivan.

The big, 15-passenger, church/passenger vans are some of the sloppiest handling rigs on the road, but they are necessary people-moving evils. Based on a heavy-duty truck chassis, they are cramped and creaky, hard to get in and out of and typically too hot or cold whatever the climate. Comfort is measured in degrees of endurance.

Nissan came to the market with some innovations and humane treatment not known before. The NV vans are offered in standard and high-roof models with V-6 and V-8 engines and five-speed automatic transmissions. There is no diesel choice, yet, which I thought would be an issue moving the test truck's nearly 5,400 pounds — empty.

The 317-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 has 385 foot-pounds of torque that kick in at a fairly low 3,400 rpm. So when the traffic sign says "Yield," you don't have to. Just hit the gas and this powertrain cranks with gusto. It cruises easily at 70 and 80 mph and is surprisingly quiet for such a metal tool shed. There wasn't a squeak or jiggle from any of the seats or doors.

The foundation is pure truck with a boxed ladder frame, solid rear axle with a stabilizer bar, leaf springs and 14-inch vented disc brakes. I didn't test the van loaded with human freight, but there was little body roll or wobble when powering through an exit ramp and no front-end push through turns.

Power is the priority in this application, and this class of heavy-duty truck doesn't have to meet EPA ratings. Some users claim highway mileage 17 mpg to the mid-20s mpg. City mpg would likely be half that.

The standard roof model is about as long and tall as a Ford Super Duty pickup but on a shorter wheelbase, so the turning circle is remarkably short at 45.2 feet. You can thread the needle in tight mall situations and cruise crowded streets without too much fear of smacking mirrors. Nissan says it's not too tall to go through most carwashes or drive-throughs.

The truck-like cab puts the engine out front, freeing up front driver and passenger space that isn't crowded by a van's engine. Essentially, the driver area reminds of a Nissan Titan pickup but with more headroom (42.8 inches). The test truck ($39,320 as tested) included a helpful but small rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors, which are quite necessary. A front view camera would help, too. There is a wide center console with sliding armrest and deep storage that will accommodate hanging files. There's a handy sliding storage tray under the driver's seat. Sun visors are the size of cafeteria trays but without a vanity mirror.

The business end is slightly less hunchy for standing/shuffling room to get into and out of the seats. There are tall head restraints, and the seat belts are integrated with the seats, which are a little more expensive but safer. There's not much room for gear or luggage if all the seats are filled, but the seats can be rolled out for more cargo space. There's a 20-inch step-in height at the side door, so a power-folding step would be helpful.

When eight (seats) is not enough, the NV is the industrial strength alternative.

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